Pumping more money into the Manitoba healthcare system that already isn’t working is not a real solution
More money doesn’t mean fewer problems.
For years, different groups in Manitoba have claimed that the government has consistently been cutting healthcare spending to the detriment of patients and those working in the healthcare system.
The Manitoba Health Coalition has a page on its website called “timeline of cuts.” The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives criticized the government of Manitoba’s latest budget for not addressing “seven years of healthcare cuts.” The Opposition New Democratic Party also regularly bemoans the government’s apparent cuts to healthcare spending.
Despite all the rhetoric, the Manitoba government has consistently increased healthcare spending.
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In 2018, the Manitoba government spent $6.6 billion on health care. This year it plans to spend $7.7 billion. Back in 2018, the government spent about $4,857 per person on health care. In 2023, it plans to spend about $5,350.
And it’s comparable to what other, richer, provinces are spending. British Columbia is projecting to spend $5,300 per person this year on health care. Saskatchewan is spending slightly more at $5,800 a person, and Alberta plans to spend $5,200.
So, why these misleading claims of cuts?
Of course, some of it is just run-of-the-mill politicking, but there have been some real problems in Manitoba’s healthcare system.
According to a report released by Doctors Manitoba, two in five doctors in the province are planning to retire, leave or reduce their clinical hours within the next three years. Over a quarter of patients who visited The Health Sciences Centre emergency room in Winnipeg last year left without seeing a doctor, all while overall wait times for procedures have been getting worse. In 1993, the average wait time to get treatment in the province was only 10.5 weeks. Last year, it had almost quadrupled to 41.3 weeks.
It’s easy to see money as the solution, but with years of consistent spending increases, it’s hard to believe money alone will fix the problem. Despite spending about the same per person as Manitoba, British Columbia’s average wait time was only about half as long as Manitoba’s last year.
Even if the government of Manitoba wanted to open the fiscal floodgates and spend more, it can ill afford to do so. In 2023, The government is still projecting a deficit of $363 million. Years of deficits have ballooned the debt and increased the amount of money the government wastes on interest charges.
This year, the government is going to spend $1.3 billion on interest charges. That’s equivalent to taking almost 20 percent of the proposed healthcare budget and tossing it in the paper shredder. If the government had been more prudent in the past and paid down its debt, that money could be used to pay the average salaries of almost 7,000 doctors.
Instead of looking only at the money, the government of Manitoba should follow the lead of other jurisdictions with far more successful healthcare systems.
For example, the governments of New Zealand, Australia, The Netherlands, Norway and Germany all have universal healthcare systems that perform better than those in Canada while spending similar or lower amounts of money, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund.
The key hallmark of these other systems is that they offer much more flexible care options than Canada.
The Netherlands, for example, requires all citizens to purchase a base level of insurance funded by the government and premiums. Dutch Citizens can then take this insurance and shop around for the best doctor or hospital, creating health competition between healthcare providers. In the same study highlighted above, the Netherlands scored second highest in the rankings, while Canada scored second last.
Manitoba healthcare is in a tough spot, but pumping more money into a system that already isn’t working is not a real solution. For the sake of taxpayers and patients, the government needs to look at new and innovative ways to improve the system without blowing the budget.
Gage Haubrich is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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