Health Care News

The Alberta Government has released its 2019 budget and it contains many announcements that impact the health of Albertans.

Overall, the 2019-20 revenues are projected at $50.01 billion, spending at $56.5 billion, producing a deficit of $8.7 billion once you include the $1.5 billion provision to exit the crude by rail program. The Government has a 2.8% budget reduction each year over the next four years. However, Health has seen an increase of $200 million this year or a 1% increase. This includes:

  • $100 million dollars for a mental health and addiction strategy
  • $40 million dollars to address the opioid crisis
  • $20 million dollars for palliative care

Changes that impact our members

Key changes that were announced in this budget include:

  • Expansion of the Biosimilars Initiative
  • Expansion of Maximum Allowable Cost (MAC) pricing for medications
  • Elimination of non-seniors dependants and spousal coverage on the Alberta Seniors Drug Benefit Program
  • The Assure Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), the Alberta Seniors Benefit, Income Support, and Special Needs Assistance programs will no longer be indexed to inflation.

For those of you who are not aware of MAC pricing, this is a cost containment tool already in use by the Alberta Government sponsored drug plans. The definition is:

“Maximum Allowable Cost Price or MAC Price means the maximum amount established by the

Minister that will be paid by the Government of Alberta for a Drug Product in a MAC Grouping for members of a Plan”

Other budget items that will impact our members directly include:

  • Expanded scope of practice for LPNs and changes to the funding mix for health care professionals in long-term care
  • the Ministry Business plan highlights the potential for other changes in scope of practice in order for the government to control the growth of the health budget but this is not defined.
  • Physician compensation is flat and held to $5.4 billion. We can expect this government to limit cost growth in this area in 2020.
  • A 4% administrative savings is identified in this budget and is expected to be defined once the AHS Review is complete in Dec.

Hints of change in 2020-21

Of course, it is important to remember that this budget only covers until Mar. 31, 2020. It contains several flags about what we can expect in 2020-21 including:

  • Exploration of income testing for those on the Alberta Seniors Drug Benefit Program.
  • The development of a detailed plan to address surgical wait times. Examples of privatized services offered in other provinces have been outlined already.
  • The need for adjustments to the schedule of medical benefits and measures to reduce the rate of growth in the supply of physicians.
  • Plans to change the Health Care Insurance Act to allow the Minister to control where physicians practice.

Now what?

I would highly recommend a review of the UCP election platform and of the MacKinnon report in order to prepare for upcoming government announcements and budgets. This budget clearly reflects the UCP platform themes of job creation, economic growth, protecting front-line services and, getting back to balanced budgets by 2023. It includes 24 UCP platform commitments, as well as many of the recommendations put forth by the MacKinnon Report.

You can find the UCP Platform here:

https://www.albertastrongandfree.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Alberta-Strong-and-Free-Platform-1.pdf

and the MacKinnon Report here:

https://www.alberta.ca/mackinnon-report-on-finances.aspx

You can review the full budget documentation here:

https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/budget-2019-a-plan-for-jobs-and-the-economy