B.C.’s health-care costs reach $19.2 billion and rising: Auditor General

LAST year in B.C., the health sector spent $19.2 billion. Of that, the Ministry of Health spent $17.4 billion, or 37% of overall provincial expenses. This is three times more than the next largest ministry (Education). Health spending per person in B.C. is $4,050 annually; the Canadian average is $4,095, according to an information report on health funding in the province released by the Office of the Auditor General of B.C.

“Between 2013 and 2018, health spending is projected to increase by $2.7 billion,” said Auditor General Carol Bellringer on Tuesday. “This is more than the combined budget for the 11 smallest ministries, or the budget for the third largest ministry (Social Development and Social Innovation).”

She also noted, “Not all areas of B.C.’s health-care system are expanding at the same rate.” From 2012-13 to 2015-16, acute-care (emergency, post-surgical, critical-care) spending went up 11%; residential care (seniors’ homes, community group homes) went up 5%; community care (in-home nursing care) went up 14%; mental-health and substance-use services went up 3%. Public health and wellness (prevention programs, screening, communicable disease control) went down 1%.

A significant portion of the province’s health-care funding comes from the federal government via the Canada Health Transfer; B.C. received $4.5 billion last year. How much is transferred is about to change. Since 2006, the transfer has grown by 6% a year, but as of April 2017 onward, it will only grow by about 3% a year. Under the recently signed agreement with Health Canada, B.C. will also receive an additional $1.4 billion from the federal government over the next 10 years.

In its 2015 report on B.C.’s fiscal sustainability, Bellringer’s office noted that rising health-care costs might threaten the provincial government’s ability to provide services and meet financial commitments, both now and in the future.

This report is an update to the office’s 2013 information piece on health spending in the province.

The full report is available on the Office of the Auditor General website at: www.bcauditor.com/pubs