Governments across the country are planning to boost funding for health care and home care
By Olev Edur
The budget season for 2022 finished this spring for federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and while the dust has yet to settle as to all the implications, many Canadian retirees, particularly those with low incomes, could see some substantial benefits in coming years.
A recurring theme throughout was a renewed focus on—and substantial funding for—our health-care system. Given that this focus was prompted largely by the horrific consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be considered the silver lining to a particularly nasty cloud.
As a result, retirees across the country should expect greater access to medical treatments and long-term-care (LTC) resources, including support for home care.
Most budgets also provided substantial resources to address the problem of affordable housing. While many of these measures will apply to everyone, many others are geared specifically to seniors and should make it easier for them to stay in their homes. Unfortunately, space limitations preclude listing all of the relevant proposals, but the following are some of the measures of significance to retirees and give an idea of the sea change that seems to be taking place at all levels of government.
THE FEDERAL BUDGET (tabled April 7)
While health care is a provincial and territorial responsibility, the federal budget nevertheless contained several health proposals that will affect the well-being of Canadian retirees. In addition to proposing a 4.8 per cent increase (to $45.2 billion) in transfer payments to the provinces and territories, the budget put forward a total investment of almost $7.4 billion over five years to 2026–27 (including the $2 billion committed last year) to help reduce surgical backlogs. Also proposed are:
• a national dental plan, providing $5.3 billion in funding over five years and $1.7 billion each year thereafter. This year it will apply only to children under 12, but it will be expanded in 2023 to cover seniors and those with disabilities and fully implemented by 2025. It will be limited to families with incomes of less than $90,000 a year, and no co-payments will be required for those with incomes of less than $70,000.
• dementia research funding. The budget called for an investment of $20 million over five years, starting in 2022–23, for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to improve treatment and outcomes for those living with dementia and to evaluate and address mentalhealth consequences for caregivers. In addition, $30 million was committed over three years, starting in 2022–23, for the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation to help accelerate innovations in brain health and aging.
• increased educational subsidies for health-care workers. The budget proposed $26.2 million in funding over four years, starting in 2023–24 and $7 million a year ongoing, to increase by 50 per cent the forgivable portion of Canada Student Loans—up to $30,000 for nurses and up to $60,000 for doctors—for those working in underserved rural or remote communities. The government also intends to expand the list of professionals eligible under this program. In the area of housing, the federal budget contained numerous proposals for making homes more affordable. While many are aimed at the general population, some are specifically aimed at seniors and include:
• $2.9 billion in funding for the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, which has supported the construction and repair of 108,000 housing units for vulnerable Canadians, including homes for seniors and people living with disabilities. This will accelerate the creation of up to 4,300 new units and the repair of up to 17,800 existing units.
• a new Multigenerational Home Renovation Tax Credit providing up to $7,500 in support for constructing a secondary suite for a senior or an adult with a disability. Starting in 2023, this refundable credit would allow families to claim 15 per cent of up to $50,000 in renovation and construction costs incurred to construct a secondary suite.
• a new Housing Accelerator Fund worth $4 billion over five years to help municipalities speed up housing development. The goal is to create 100,000 new affordable housing units within the next five years.
• $1.5 billion over two years, starting in 2022–23, to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to extend the Rapid Housing Initiative to create new permanent affordable housing. This new funding is expected to create at least 6,000 new units.
• $475 million in 2022–23 for a one-time $500 payment to those facing housing affordability challenges.
PROVINCIAL AND TERRITORIAL BUDGETS
In addition to investing more than $40 billion over the next 10 years on 50 major hospital projects (including a new state-of-the-art Mississauga hospital) that would add 3,000 new beds over 10 years, the Ontario budget contained numerous proposals for boosting and retaining frontline health-care staff. These staff-related measures included:
• $764 million over two years to provide Ontario’s nurses with a retention incentive of up to $5,000 per person;
• $230 million in 2022–23 to enhance health-care capacity, including critical care in hospitals, in part by hiring thousands of additional staff, supporting up to 1,000 internationally educated nurses to become accredited nurses in Ontario through the Supervised Practice Experience Partnership program, and providing up to 400,000 hours of additional service delivery by medical residents to support critical-care capacity;
• a new Learn and Stay Grant for up to 2,500 eligible post-secondary students who enrol in priority programs such as nursing and work in underserved communities;
• $42.5 million over two years, beginning in 2023–24, to support the expansion of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training in the province;
• $56.8 million in 2022–23 to increase emergency health services in communities across Ontario. Ontario is also investing $49 million over three years to develop new programs to recruit, train, and retain critical-care workers. While these measures should be a boon for all Ontarians, additional measures specifically geared to retirees included:
• a new Ontario Seniors Care at Home Tax Credit of up to $1,500, starting in 2022, to help seniors aged 70-plus (and those with partners aged 70-plus) with eligible medical expenses, including expenses to support aging at home;
• $60 million over two years, starting in 2022–23, to continue expanding the Community Paramedicine for Long-Term Care program to serve all eligible seniors across Ontario;
• an additional $5.5 million in the Ontario Community Support Program, bringing the government’s total investment to approximately $22 million. Since April 2020, this program has made 1.6 million deliveries of meals, medicine, and other essentials to more than 70,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
The Quebec budget called for additional health-care funding of more than $22 billion over the next five years, including:
• $3.8 billion to cope with the rising cost of living, with a one-time costof- living support payment ($500 per adult with income up to $100,000) and facilitated access to affordable housing;
• $8.9 billion to “restore” the health-care system, including $3.7 billion for enhancing health care and services for the public;
• $2.6 billion to strengthen care and services for seniors and informal and family caregivers by reinforcing home-support services and opening seniors’ homes and alternative homes.
Quebec also proposed $634 million to improve access to affordable housing, including $416 million to increase supply by accelerating the delivery of 3,500 AccèsLogis units and building 1,000 additional units under Quebec’s affordable-housing program.
B.C.’s budget proposed a $25.5 billion commitment to health and mental-health services, including funding for:
• adding new urgent- and primary-care facilities;
• reducing wait times for surgery and diagnostic imaging;
• speeding up emergency response times by hiring more paramedics and dispatchers;
• enhancing measures to limit COVID risk in LTC and assisted-living facilities;
• providing for COVID vaccines and mental-health support;
• supporting up to 15 First Nations Primary Health Care centres.
In addition, the budget called for $27.4 billion in funding for infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, housing, and transportation;
$1.2 billion would be provided over 10 years to the Homes for BC program, which since its launch in 2018 has resulted in 32,000 home constructions begun or completed.
The Alberta budget called for the addition of $1.8 billion in operating expenses to the total health-care budget, including:
• nearly $3.7 billion for communitycare, continuing-care, and home-care programs and building 1,515 new continuing-care beds;
• $2 billion for drugs and supplemental benefits, an increase of 5.7%;
• $750 million in contingency funding to address evolving pandemic-related costs and surgical backlogs;
• $90 million per year to attract new family physicians to practise in rural and remote communities;
• funding of $2 billion for drugs and supplemental benefits, an increase of $110 million or 5.7 per cent from 2021– 22. Programs for seniors make up the largest component of this funding, with $674 million budgeted in 2022–23, supporting more than 700,000 seniors.
The provincial budget proposed a recordlevel investment of $6.8 billion in healthcare funding, including a $21.6 million increase in funding to reduce surgical waitlists. Also proposed was a new agency dedicated to recruiting doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals; hiring continuing-care aides to help deliver longterm care; and increases in funding to recruit and retain physicians, hire and train more nurses, and hire more paramedics. The budget would also fund new hospitals in Prince Albert and Weyburn and longterm- care facilities in various cities and smaller centres throughout the province.
Funding would also include $12.5 million for additional ICU beds, bringing the total to 90 across the province in 2022– 23 and 110 by 2024–25.
Prince Edward Island
The PEI budget included a $1.5 million increase (for a new total of $18.4 million) for a variety of housing-related initiatives, including additional rental supports for seniors and families through its Rental Supports and Affordable Housing program. In addition, it included the following commitments of relevance to retirees:
• an increase of $1.5 million to the Provincial Dental Care program launched in 2021;
• $2.7 million, as part of an annual investment of $10.4 million over three years to add physicians, nurses, social workers, and support staff;
• $8.7 million to increase specialized capacity within hospitals by adding physicians across multiple specialties and related supports;
• $1.2 million in increased funding for provincial home-care services, including Caring for Older Adults in the Community and at Home (COACH);
• a $280,000 increase to the Home Care program;
• $250,000 to launch a Seniors Food
Security pilot program, providing meals for aging Islanders who are experiencing food insecurity or could benefit from healthy and nutritious meals delivered to their doorstep;
• an additional $500,000 for homeowner assistance programs, including the Seniors Home Repair program and the Seniors Safe at Home program;
• $100,000 in new funding to modernize the inspection process for longterm- care facilities, as part of the LTC review begun this spring;
• $2.6 million in increased funding to the program that provides free shingles vaccines to Islanders aged 65 years or older at community pharmacies.
Nova Scotia’s budget called for a total health-care investment of $5.7 billion for 2022–23 (an increase of $413 million over the preceding year), including $1.2 billion for continuing care (an increase of $142.5 million) and $9.8 million for a new Healthcare Professionals Recruitment Office.
Other initiatives included:
• an increase of $591 million for hospice-care funding;
• $2.1 million to address surgery backlogs and fund more cataract surgeries;
• a $10.4 million increase for the seniors, family, and Community Services Pharmacare programs;
• an $18.8 million increase to the Disability Support Program in residential- and community-based settings;
• $29.1 million for the Seniors Care Grant, which helps Nova Scotians aged 65 or older stay in their homes longer;
• $11 million to extend or convert more than 190 new long-term-care spaces, including Veterans Affairs spaces, to help create more bed capacity and support patient flow.
Staffing was also a top priority, with the budget proposing:
• $2 million to support health-care-professional recruitment efforts across the province;
• $3.2 million to add 200 university nursing seats, plus $2.8 million in continuing support of the seats added since 2019;
• $66.3 million in wage support to continuing care assistants (CCAs), plus $17.2 million to support additional recruitment, retention, and training efforts in continuing care, including tuition reimbursement for CCAs;
• $15 million to continue additional staffing in long-term care due to COVID-19 public health directives;
• $25.1 million to increase LTC staffing levels to a standard of at least 4.1 hours of one-on-one care per long-term-care resident.
The Bottom Line
All these measures should result in substantial quality-of-life improvements for Canada’s elder population. In addition, many provinces have made further commitments both before and after their budgets were released; two weeks after the budget was tabled, for example, Ontario pledged an additional $1 billion in funding for home care over the next three years.
As noted above, these listings are far from comprehensive. (Apologies to those provinces and territories whose efforts are not included.) You should take the time to learn about everything that will become available in your jurisdiction as a result of these budgets and additional commitments to ensure that you don’t miss out on any new programs or benefits.
Photo by Tyler Franta on Unsplash