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NWT, Nunavut and Yukon reach health-care funding deal with federal government

Territories make health deals with Ottawa

OTTAWA — The federal government says it has reached a health-care funding agreement with the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.

It says the three territorial governments agreed Monday to new targeted federal funding over 10 years for investments in home care and mental health care.

The federal government will provide the territories with a total of $36.1 million in new financial support for health care. It says the targeted investments in home care and mental health care are in addition to the existing legislated commitments through the Canada Health Transfer.

Under the agreement, $7.4 million will go to the Northwest Territories, $6.1 million to Nunavut and $6.2 million to Yukon to support better home care, including addressing critical home care infrastructure requirements.

Over the same period, the Northwest Territories will receive $6.1 million, Nunavut $5.1 million, and Yukon $5.2 million to fund new mental health initiatives.

The territories join New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia in reaching health-care funding agreement with the federal government.

The federal government said Monday in a release that governments will develop performance indicators and mechanisms for annual reporting to citizens, as well as a detailed plan on how the funds will be spent, over and above existing programs.

"As a result of these investments, it is expected that access to mental health services for children and youth will be improved and that the number of patients in hospital who could be supported and better cared for at home or in the community will be reduced," the government said.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod noted that health care in the North faces unique challenges, and that the additional funding for seniors and mental health "will help provide better care to some of our most vulnerable residents."

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna called the home care and mental health initiatives "welcome," while Premier Sandy Silver said the agreement will "ensure Yukon residents can access the health care they need."

Health and finance ministers from the other provinces have since made repeated calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet face to face with the premiers to resume negotiations.

They have rejected Ottawa's last public offer, which called for an increase in health transfers by 3.5 per cent per year and $11.5 billion in targeted funding over 10 years, focused in areas such as mental health and home care.

The provinces, which have been receiving six per cent annual increases in federal health transfers for more than a decade, have pointed to what they describe as an evidence-based estimate that predicts health-care costs will rise by 5.2 per cent annually.

Starting in April, the increase is due to drop to the higher of either three per cent or the three-year moving average of nominal gross domestic product growth.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has suggested that these individual agreements, combined with what he calls an inadequate federal health-funding offer, could eventually break up the country's health-care system.

But some health-policy experts disagree that bilateral health agreements between Ottawa and the provinces would put the country's health-care system in a precarious position.

"It's not like the federal health transfer has been replaced by the bilateral transfers," Greg Marchildon, Ontario Research Chair in Health Policy and System Design at the University of Toronto, told The Canadian Press recently.

Others agree that it's unlikely one-on-one deals would put health care in danger.

"I think this idea that it's a slippery slope partly needs to be taken with a grain of salt," Steve Morgan, a professor of health policy at the University of British Columbia, said of concerns that side deals could harm universal health care, told The Canadian Press.

The Canadian Press