B.C. seeks relief for aging population costs

When people retire to B.C. from Alberta and other provinces, they bring the majority of their health care needs with them

When people retire to B.C. from Alberta and other provinces, they bring the majority of their health care needs with them, but some of the federal health care money stays behind.

That’s the message B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake is taking to the first meeting between provincial ministers and the new Liberal government in Vancouver next week.

Lake said B.C.’s objection to the health care funding formula adopted by the former Conservative government in 2011 was that it was based on population, with no age component.

“As you age your health care costs become higher and higher,” Lake said.

“So to have a pure per-capita transfer actually was a disadvantage for populations that were older, such as British Columbia, and much more of an advantage to populations like Alberta that are younger.”

Lake and Premier Christy Clark noted that B.C. is on track to double the number of hospice beds for terminally ill patients, to help keep up with the aging baby boom population and those who are moving west to retire.

“We talk about palliative care, we talk about care for people with dementia, we talk about hospice care,” Clark said. “That’s expensive, and that’s why the old funding formula needs to be restored.”

The previous formula was introduced by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, who in 2004 agreed to six per cent annual increases to provincial health transfers in what he called “a fix for a generation.”

After the Conservative majority government was elected in 2011, then-finance minister Jim Flaherty tied health care increases to economic growth, with a minimum increase of three per cent per year, to begin in 2017.

In a campaign stop in B.C. last fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to add another $3 billion to the health care budget to start, and “sit down with the provinces immediately” to renegotiate the formula.

That meeting is set for Jan. 20 and 21 in Vancouver, chaired by federal Health Minister Jane Philpott.

Studies by the Canadian Institute for Health Information confirm the steep increase in health care costs for people as they enter their senior years, much of it for end-of-life care.