N.B. premier hopes a health care deal with feds reflects shared priorities – New Brunswick

N.B. premier hopes a health care deal with feds reflects shared priorities – New Brunswick

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says he hopes any deal with the federal government for additional funding for health care will not impose “priorities” on the province.

But he is optimistic that an agreement can be reached that addresses access to primary care and reflects the province’s aging population.

“What I hope is that the prime minister and the (health) minister will say: ‘OK, what are the priorities’ because this is where we want to present the challenges we face directly and not try to impose priorities on us . ,” he said.

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Premiers from across the country will meet with the federal government next week to begin talks on boosting health transfers to the provinces. The premiers put up a united front, calling for Ottawa to increase transfers from 22 per cent of health care costs to 35 per cent.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos have indicated their willingness to do so, but have also spoken about the need to ensure that the funding is results-driven and can attach strings to a increase in federal cash.

2:08 Trudeau plans to meet with prime ministers to negotiate health care funding

Higgs says he and his Atlantic counterparts hope to see additional funding that reflects the region’s rapidly aging population and the additional toll that could take on the health care system.

“Just the cost of health care generally goes up with an aging population, that’s well documented,” he said.

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“It may be that more hip and knee surgeries are going to happen here just based on the population on a per capita basis than you would see in like Alberta, so there will be very specific connections that you can make with the aging population and the criteria of care we all need.”

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But as Higgs prepares for the talks, opposition party leaders in the province are calling on the federal government to ensure the money sent to the province is well spent.

Liberal health critic Rob McKee says the funding should be earmarked for health care spending.

“There definitely needs to be some accountability. We know that this government has taken large federal transfers in the past and it seemed like they were just padding their surpluses,” he said.

The Higgs government is the only provincial government that has remained in the black throughout the pandemic and produced a record surplus of $777 million last year. Forecasts for the first quarter for this year show the government on track for a surplus of $774 million.

Green leader David Coon says he wants to see federal dollars come with a condition that they cannot be used in for-profit health care delivery.

1:32 NB prime minister talks about expansion of private health care service

Coon expressed concern about a recent piece of legislation that he says opens the door to surgery clinics run by corporate healthcare companies. The bill allows the regional health authorities to enter into agreements with service providers to perform simple operations outside hospitals. A pilot is underway in Bathurst, where a clinic provides cataract surgery.

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The government has said the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure private for-profit clinics do not open in the province, but Coon argued the bill does not expressly exclude them.

Coon wants to see the Fed provide that additional level of security.

“That money should support publicly owned, publicly managed health care services in the province. So, in a sense, that string is attached,” he told reporters last week.

Negotiations will begin on February 7 in Ottawa.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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