B.C. targeting $360 million in health care cuts
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, July 15, 2009 9:50PM PDT
British Columbia's new health minister has told regional health authorities to cut costs to avoid a $360-million deficit because the province won't be providing any bailout money as costs continue to climb.
In a letter emailed Wednesday to health authority chief executives, Kevin Falcon said he expects about 40 per cent of the savings to come through cuts to administration and overhead, and speeding up shared services such as bulk purchasing.
"You will also face some tough choices in the year head to live within your means," Falcon's letter says.
He told reporters in Victoria that health authority managers have committed to balancing their budgets this year.
"That, I think, is a very positive thing," Falcon said. "It's not easy for them, but they recognize that receiving a 20-per-cent budget increase over three years is pretty good given the economic situation that the province and the country finds itself in."
Chief executives of the major health authorities sent out memos this week saying most of the savings will come through measures like administrative cuts, smarter purchasing practises and overtime bans.
But some health services will be capped or reduced, including MRI scans and elective surgeries.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority is also considering selling non-essential assets.
The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority will be cutting elective surgeries during the 2010 Winter Olympics, based on the experience of other host cities that saw demand fall during the Games.
Patients in B.C. hospitals could also find themselves paying more for private rooms and hospital visitors will face higher parking fees.
"We try and do as much as possible so that all our changes are invisible to the public," said David Plug, public affairs vice-president at Fraser Health, the largest of five regional authorities.
"But given the scope of our challenge, we will have to make some modest caps or reductions in services," he said Wednesday.
David Ostrow, interim chief executive at Vancouver Coastal Health, said there could also be changes to contracts for services such as home care provided by for-profit and not-for-profit agencies.
"We would want to be looking with those agencies to make sure their administrative costs are at low levels and things like that," he said.
But everything will be done to ensure patients are not affected by cutbacks, Ostrow said.
Patient services is priority one, two and three with us," he said. "We would be looking in every way at decreasing other costs before we get to cutting back on patient services.""
Health authorities are spending at deficit rates this year, despite previous cost-cutting efforts and a boost in the provincial health-care budget. A growing and aging population is putting pressure on services.
The current B.C. health-care budget is about $15.7 billion and is expected to climb by more than $2 billion by 2011 -- up 87 per cent since 2001.
Last year, the Liberal government topped up its budgets but Falcon has ruled that out this time.