Time to fix what ails us

The territory's health field is awash with red ink. So now what? We're going to have a new hospital residence, hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City, and be $67 million in debt. How will the Yukon Hospital Corp.

The territory’s health field is awash with red ink.

So now what?

We’re going to have a new hospital residence, hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City, and be $67 million in debt.

How will the Yukon Hospital Corp. manage this debt and keep costs down into the future?

These are important questions.

The Conference Board of Canada says the Yukon will be running a deficit this year and next. And into the future.

This is a new thing for the territory.

And it’s health spending that concerns the conference board most.

A report issued last week predicts a 4.8 per cent annual increase in health costs, driven in large part to an aging population.

That led the conference board to predict costs will nearly double by 2020.

The good news is the territory is expected to have new mining properties opening up, which will expand the territory’s economy.

But not enough.

Health-care costs alone will outstrip mining expansion. And the territory’s small population probably won’t be capable of feeding the demand for labour.

That suggests the need for out-of-territory workers, who file taxes in other jurisdictions. That saps the territory’s resources – they use the region’s services, including its hospitals, but don’t help fund them.

So what’s the territory to do? It’s up to Health Minister Glenn Hart to tell us. But he’s in hiding. With Premier Dennis Fentie, presumably.

This isn’t like a tea leaf reading by Chicken Little. The Conference Board of Canada is a respected not-for-profit national research body.

And in the last decade, health spending rose to $199 million from $108 million according to Yukon budget documents.

The cost of running the Health and Social Services Department was predicted to top $229 million this year.

A July report issued by Hart’s Health Department suggested that within eight years the Yukon would see a $250-million gap between our needs and our means to pay for it.

The conference board report merely backs all this up.

The Yukon Hospital Corp. is about to take on $67 million in debt. It’s doing so to keep the cost off the territory’s borrowing ledger. Interest on that debt is expected to exceed $50 million. And that just covers the cost of construction of the three buildings.

The Yukon will then have to outfit, staff and run the two remote hospitals, one in Watson Lake, a region with declining population.

Hart has stated he’s not going to impose health premiums. He’s actually blocked from doing so by provisions in the collective agreement with the territory’s public-sector union. As long as there are more government than private-sector workers in the territory, there would be little net benefit to such premiums – it would simply anger nongovernment workers without providing much of a boost to government coffers.

And, beyond that pledge, he’s done nothing to explain the department’s long-term strategy for delivering health care and keeping costs under control.

He may very well have a crackerjack plan.

It’s beyond time he told us what it is. (Richard Mostyn)

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