After a month-long stalemate on federal funding for healthcare, the provinces and Trudeau Liberals appear to be inching closer to making a deal.
In December, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the current healthcare cost-sharing arrangement with the federal government is not sustainable.
"At 22% federal funding, 78% provincial funding, I'd just put forward that's not sustainable moving forward, and the healthcare cost-sharing, an investment-sharing arrangement that was brought forward several decades ago, was never anticipated to be with this small of the federal share," said Moe.
Despite Canadians observing median wait times of 27.4 weeks to access medical treatment, including critical surgeries, treatments and procedures, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented: "If I were to send people all the money they need in the provinces, there is no guarantee those folks would be waiting less time in the hospitals."
"There is no point putting more money into a broken system. And those are harsh words," added Trudeau.
But his Health Minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, confirmed significant progress in reaching a long-term health funding deal with the provinces.
"I'm very optimistic and looking forward to significant and positive developments in the weeks ahead," said Duclos Friday.
He also confirmed that the feds and provinces determined five shared priorities, including supporting health workers, reducing backlogs, and modernizing the system.
According to government sources, the Trudeau Liberals are considering a hybrid solution to improve the flow of ongoing funding through Canada Health Transfer (CHT) payments, including bilateral agreements with provinces willing to expand the financing of mental health and long-term care.
The Government of Canada website says that the CHT is the most significant transfer to provinces and territories and that "it provides long-term, predictable funding for health care and supports the principles of the Canada Health Act, which are: universality; comprehensiveness; portability; accessibility; and public administration."
Moe added his province needs to receive more from the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to meet its healthcare demand. Since 2012/13, Saskatchewan has gradually increased CHT payments from $906 million in 2012-2013 to $1.33 billion in 2021/22. All other provinces and territories also experienced gradual increases in transfer payments from previous federal governments.
In 2014/15, provincial and territorial CHT were allocated per capita cash. As announced in December 2011, total CHT cash levels are set in legislation to grow by 6% until 2016/17. Total CHT cash grew in line with a three-year moving average of nominal GDP in 2017/18, with funding guaranteed to increase by at least 3% annually.
Initially, provinces had reservations concerning Ottawa's demand that spending be targeted and tracked for achievable goals, but now, some provincial leaders are open to the idea.
The premiers have said they want to see a bump in federal cost-sharing from 22% to 35%, pointing towards a new deal that could see provinces receive approximately $70 billion over the next decade.
While a timeline has yet to be set, federal sources claim a meeting between health ministers nationwide could take place in the next couple of weeks.
The reports of a potential agreement come amid public and political pressures over overflowing emergency rooms, a lack of beds in children's hospitals, and significant staffing issues in several provinces.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) anticipates a shortage of over 2,000 workers in hard-to-recruit positions over the next five years. "These positions include key frontline staff like continuing care assistants, medical lab technicians, and registered nurses. As well as in-depth, in-demand positions like cooks in rural and remote areas," she said.