The recently elected NDP government in Alberta raised eyebrows with its relatively small cabinet of 12 ministers. But that is just a taste of what is to come. Unless Premier Rachel Notley can achieve what PC administrations failed to do and halt the inexorable increase in health-care spending, she will soon have an even smaller cabinet. Just two: the Premier and her minister of health.
Spending on health care in Alberta is very high and is increasing quickly. Since 1980, the amount spent on health has increased from 18 per cent of all provincial government revenue to more than 40 per cent. The amount devoted to all other spending has, of course, correspondingly fallen: from 82 per cent of revenue in 1980-81 to less than 60 per cent.
Over the period 1999-2000 to 2013-2014, spending on health grew at an average annual rate of 8.7 per cent while total provincial revenue grew at an average annual rate of 6 per cent. This is the crux of the problem: The cost of health care is growing significantly faster than government revenue.
As a result, we face the prospect of steadily declining investments in education, social services and other spending. Less than 20 years from now, health spending will absorb more than 65 per cent of all government revenue. The “problem” with health care has never been a shortage of money. The problem has been that we are not getting better outcomes for having thrown so much of our tax revenues at it.
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