Over the hills and far away

Earlier, we reported the province transferred $78.7 million to the Alberta government to pay for British Columbians being cared for by that province's health system - British Columbians like Melanie Folk. According to information supplied by the health ministry, that's a 40 percent increase since 2001/02. By comparison, transfers from the Alberta government to British Columbia for similar expenditures amounted to $24.2 million - a 30 percent increase over the same time period. In an email to Public Eye, health communications manager Sarah Plank wrote, "The primary reason (for the difference) is geography. British Columbians who live in the eastern parts of the province are geographically closer to Edmonton or Calgary than they are to the Lower Mainland. When they require specialized health services, it is part of the normal referral pattern for them to go to Edmonton or Calgary. By contrast, Albertans who live in the Western part of that province, are still closer to Edmonton or Alberta than they are to any tertiary facility in B.C., so they would generally remain in Alberta, unless Alberta were at capacity." But New Democrat health critic Adrian Dix has a different interpretation.

Speaking with Public Eye, Mr. Dix said, "What's happened in B.C. - particularly in the Interior - is the centralization of services, the closing of hospitals, that has precipitated these dramatic increases" in the number of patients being treated east of the Rocky Mountains. "Of course it's a good thing that we cover services when people go to Alberta. That goes without saying. But it is indicative of the current government's failure to provide healthcare where and when you need it."

But Ms. Plank calls that an "inaccurate" comment, rejecting suggestions the increase in transfer payments to Alberta may indicate a need for additional capacity in British Columbia's health system. "Health care funding is not only on the rise, it is at record levels," she wrote. "This year alone the Health budget is $13.1 billion - an increase of $885 million since last year, and up $3.59 billion since 2001. That is a 37 percent increase. More than 3,200 net new seniors care beds have been added to the system since 2001. B.C. is performing almost half a million surgeries annually, more than have ever before been provided in the province. New hospitals are being built in Abbotsford, Surrey, Victoria, Kelowna and Vernon, which will also add acute care capacity."

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