Per capita health funding in Alberta continues to erode in 2024 budget

Adjusted for inflation, per-capita health care funding in Alberta will significantly erode in 2024, according to budget documents released on Thursday February 29.

The Alberta government expects population growth of 3.7% in this year, and also expects that inflation plus population growth will amount to an increase in 7.2% of general government costs. (This puts the government’s inflation estimate at about 3.4%, which lines up with Stats Canada’s consumer price index estimate.)

The operational budget for health care (excluding mental health care and care for addictions) is only increasing by 4.4%. And the operational budget for mental health care and addictions is actually decreasing, from a forecasted $180 million for 2023-2024 to only $171 million for 2024-2025, a cut of nearly 5%.

An increase of 4.4% doesn’t keep pace with the expected 7.2% rise in costs, and -5% of course doesn’t keep pace with anything.

Where non-mental-health care and non-addictions care is concerned, that 4.4% isn’t across the board—some parts of the system get hit much worse than others.

The Alberta government is budgeting nearly an 8% increase in compensation for doctors, which actually slightly beats the erosion of population growth plus inflation. But acute care, the domain of AHS, is only going up from $4.34 billion last year to $4.4 billion in 2024-2025. That’s a miniscule bump of barely over 1% which amounts to far less than population growth plus inflation.

Image via RPAP

Some money is to be found in the capital budgets. The budget for “recovery communities” is jumping from $60 to $167 million, an increase of 178 per cent. 

The Alberta government forecasts that its capital spending on general health care facilities (like hospitals) was only $983 million last year, while it is budgeting $1.2 billion for 2024-2025. But we have reason to be somewhat skeptical. In 2023-2024 the government budgeted to spend $1.183 billion on capital projects, which means $200 million of those planned capital projects did not manage to go forward as planned.

2024-2025’s health capital budget of $1.2 billion is just over a 1.5% increase over 2023-2024’s budgeted $1.183 billion, again falling far short of the government’s 7.2% estimate for costs from population growth plus inflation.

Complicating matters is the government’s proposal to “refocus the health care system,” by which they mean reallocating responsibilities into four buckets: primary care, acute care, continuing care and mental health & addictions. AHS retains most of acute care, but some of their other responsibilities are being assigned to other agencies and arms of government.

We can only speculate as to the government’s motives in making this reconfiguration—perhaps it’s simply about trying to look like they’re doing something—but muddying the budget this way certainly makes it easier to hide the cuts.

Voters who believed Danielle Smith would fix health care in 90 days won’t find that promise kept in the 2024 budget. If you made the safe bet that per-Albertan funding for health care under Smith and the UCP would continue to erode, though, give yourself a little pat on the back.