On Thursday, April 27, 2017 the Ontario government revealed its new budget. It is the first balanced budget in a decade and health care funding is a major focus. If the budget is approved, there will be an additional $11.5 billion utilized towards health care initiatives over the next three years, which is $7 billion higher than previously planned. Funding will go towards a new pharmacare program, reducing hospital overcrowding, producing shorter wait times, dementia initiatives, as well as implementing new mental health and addiction services, amongst other projects. These funding initiatives are discussed below.
Beginning on January 1, 2018, a new provincial pharmacare program will cover prescription medication for individuals under the age of 25 ("youth"), regardless of family income or private insurance. The program will cost $465 million per fiscal year.
Upon approval, the new system will give youth access to the 4,400 different drugs that are currently covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program for families on social assistance and eligible elderly people. However, parents will not be required to pay the deductibles and co-pay costs that those groups pay.
The program will provide access to common prescriptions (such as antibiotics and asthma inhalers), as well as treatments for cancer and rare diseases. While hospital-based cancer medication is already free under OHIP, the program will cover oral cancer medication and at-home oncology care.
Youth will be able to access medication by merely showing a health card. Ontario will be the first province in Canada to implement a program of this breadth.
Overcrowding of Hospitals
There is a significant overcrowding issue in Ontario hospitals, with occupancy rates reaching over 100% across the province. Over the next 10 years, the Ontario government will spend an additional $9 billion towards constructing new hospitals and renovating existing ones.
As an additional tool to alleviate overcrowding in hospitals, there will be a $100 million boost towards home care, in the hopes to encourage those who are able to be cared for at home to take this alternative. Of that amount, $80 million will be utilized to provide nurses for at home patients, resulting in 350,000 hours of additional nursing care.
The remaining $20 million will be geared towards respite for unpaid caregivers. The funding will cover approximately 600,000 hours of respite services. Furthermore, the Ontario government announced an emphasis on education and training programs to be offered to unpaid caregivers.
Additionally, the Ontario government announced its plan to implement a program for "alternative-level-of-care" patients. These patients are healthy enough to leave the hospital, but not yet well enough to live independently and do not have other arrangements in place. The "alternative-level-of-care" group is said to make up 15% of the patients in Ontario hospitals. The province will provide these patients with vouchers that will cover the cost of recovering in a private retirement home until they are able to move back home or to a government funded long-term care home. The program will be tested this year and the government will utilize the results to inform future policies in this regard.
Shorter Wait Times
Over the next three years, $1.3 billion will be targeted towards reducing wait times for patients who require access to medical procedures. Large portions of that amount will be allotted towards the following:
- reduce wait times and improve access to MRIs;
- increase the number of knee and hip replacements;
- increase the number of cataract surgeries;
- increase stroke and chemotherapy services;
- increase availability of cardiac services, complex spine operations and organ/tissue transplants; and
- expand online access to medical services.
Additionally, there will be a focus on inter-professional health care models, which will facilitate greater efficiency when accessing medical services and treatments.
It is estimated that approximately 175,000 people in Ontario are living with dementia. The government is proposing to spend $100 million on dementia initiatives over a three-year period. Programs covered by this investment include: increasing access to adult programs for those suffering from dementia, raising public awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of the disease, and improving the coordination of care between caregivers and specialists.
Mental Health Services
While details on this initiative have not yet been made public, a portion of the budget allotted towards health care will concentrate on mental health and addiction initiatives, including psychotherapy, youth services and supportive housing.
Since the April 27th announcement, the government continues to announce new health care programs that will be funded by the Ontario budget.