Federal Health Minister seeks national health data system in exchange for increased funding to provinces

Federal Health Minister seeks national health data system in exchange for increased funding to provinces

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, right, responds to questions as B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix listens during a news conference with their provincial counterparts after the first of two days of meetings, in Vancouver, on Nov. 7.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is prepared to increase health care funding to provinces and territories if they commit to a national health data system as a measure of accountability, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Monday.

But Quebec promptly rejected any strings attached to additional funding, casting doubt on the prospect of a national agreement being reached at this week’s meeting of health ministers in Vancouver.

British Columbia, the host of this week’s meeting, had expected to emerge with an agreement on national data sharing, but Quebec’s Health Minister said Ottawa can go online and look at its publicly shared health information.

Mr. Duclos made his remarks to reporters in Vancouver, while his provincial and territorial counterparts were meeting privately next door.

“In the spirit of collaborative leadership, I’m glad to confirm that the Canadian government is ready to increase health care investments through the Canada Health Transfer,” Mr. Duclos said.

“We would do this if provinces and territories are prepared to commit to a meaningful expansion in the sharing and use of common key health indicators and to build a world-class health data system for Canada.”

Mr. Duclos declined to provide specifics on how much funding that might be, saying his government would not engage in “a futile fight on percentage points, tax points and transfers,” and is instead focused on results. He added the federal government is also prepared to make bilateral agreements with provinces and territories on issues of shared priorities, such as increased access to family health teams and mental-health services.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters that any conditions attached to additional funding was not acceptable.

“This is good news because at least we are starting off on the right foot by saying there will be more money, which was not even on the table a few days ago,” he said in French. “If the federal government wants statistics, we have a dashboard that is public and available.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, who is co-chairing this week’s meeting, said the ministers were looking forward to seeing the details of Mr. Duclos’s offer later that day.

“It’s good news that there appears to be a change of heart on the part of the federal government in contributing to the Canada Health Transfer. That would always be good news,” he said.

“But I’m saying, and I think what provincial ministers are saying, yes we have an obligation to provide the public with information about the health care system, and that includes indicators about how we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that. … We’re happy to consider those options but we’ll wait to see the details of what Mr. Duclos has to say.”

Mr. Dix said the provinces and territories have each, individually, increased data collection and transparency.

“In terms of outcomes, the outcomes are going to be clear, and as Mr. Dubé has said, we intend to deliver that information and the expectations, whether the news is challenging or not challenging, to our citizens of our provinces,” he said. “We’re going to continue to build out public information available to everyone, whether they’re ordinary citizens or federal ministers, so that they understand the value of what we’re doing and its central importance.”

Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said provinces are already addressing the challenges in the health care system, and now Ottawa needs to do its part.

“It’s really important for us to be able to individually – and we’ve already done it – make changes that are putting investments into our hospitals, into our primary care, into our colleges and universities,” she said. “But we also need the federal government to say, ‘We see the commitments you’re making. Now we want to assist in the ongoing costs.’”

The meeting of health ministers on Monday wrapped up with a statement that noted each province and territory has “unique priorities” that include advancing digital health and health data management. The ministers will meet with their federal counterpart on Tuesday.

Ottawa’s offer is the latest volley in a back-and-forth between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments over health care funding.

At a meeting in July, premiers argued that health care funding began as a 50-50 split between the federal government and provinces and territories, with Ottawa’s share dwindling to 22 per cent. They asked for an additional $28-billion in funding a year, without conditions.

The federal government countered that when the transfer of tax points is taken into account, the share of provincial and territorial spending covered by the Canada Health Transfer averages 33 per cent today, which is similar to the historical average.

B.C. Premier John Horgan, who chaired that meeting, said then that Ottawa’s demand for accountability on how new money is spent was “creating a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“I think it’s a cop-out and it’s a mechanism to divert attention,” Mr. Horgan said. “It all goes into a pot and it all comes out for the services Canadians need. That’s our jurisdiction.”

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