FAO: Increase funding or healthcare will suffer

Ontario’s fiscal watchdog warns that the quality of healthcare and access to it are at risk of deteriorating unless the provincial government increases funding.

In a report released Wednesday, the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) says healthcare spending has not kept up with the rate of inflation or a growing and aging population which drive the cost of providing care upward.

Together those healthcare cost drivers are climbing at a rate of 4.3% a year while spending on health care ticks  2.9% higher a year. Getting the two in sync would cost an estimated $2 billion more a year.

The province does have other options.

The FAO says the government could find efficiencies and take temporary measures like spending and wage freezes or delaying maintenance work to maintain the quality of care without adding funding.

But the watchdog adds those measures would have to be "significant" and have limits.

Healthcare represents the biggest chunk of the provincial budget, close to $58 billion last year.

In 2017, the provincial government pledged $6.9 billion in added healthcare funding over the next three years. But it isn't all going to improve care.

The FAO says $1.2 billion of the money is for a one-time pension plan adjustment. Another $1.2 billion is for a new program, OHIP+, which offers free prescriptions to Ontarians under 25.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa will release the Liberals' election budget on March 28th. Sousa has said it won't be balanced.