What Jason Kenney isn’t telling you about health spending

When Jason Kenney says “just the facts”, I think what he means is “just some of the facts”.

This past Tuesday, Jason Kenney sent out this random tweet about health spending in Alberta.

There’s a lot here that I wanted to dive into, so let’s just get into it.

$20.9 billion in health spending

So, this is technically true, but there’s some information Kenney is leaving out that can provide some context.

According to p. 8 of the 2020 –21 First Quarter Fiscal Update and Economic Statement, the provincial government is spending $20.917 billion on operating expenses for the health ministry.

However, what Kenney left out of his tweet is that in the 2020–2021 budget originally released in February, the UCP government had actually budgeted only $20.616 billion for operating expenses in the health ministry. In other words, this provincial government had originally planned on spending $254 million less this year than they had actually spent last year.

Then the pandemic hit. The only reason the budget is $301 million higher this year than they had budgeted is because of the pandemic. And it’s primarily for two reasons, which Kenney leaves out:

  • They’re putting off planned spending cuts to Alberta Health Services’ budget
  • Seniors drugs costs have increased more than they had planned

And to be sure, those planned AHS spending cuts are still coming; they just might be next year instead.

42% of the entire Alberta budget

Again, this is kind of true.

Operating expenses for the various ministries (including COVID-19 additional spending) is $50.917 billion. $20.917 billion is 41.1% of that. Not quite 42% but pretty close.

However, that’s just operating expenses. There’s still capital grants and investment, amortization, debt payments, disaster assistance, and so on. If we add all those up, it’s another $6.5 billion or so, for a total of $64.295 billion. But that means health spending also increases, to $26.645 billion. And that’s still 41.4%.

Pretty close.

Health spending up 17% since 2015

As I already established, health spending for the 2020–2021 budget year is set to $20.917 billion. In the 2014–2015 year, it was $17.874 billion. And yes, we are spending 17.02% more in the current budget year than we did in the final budget year of the PC government.

But that’s not accounting for inflation or population growth. If we do account for these, last year’s health spending should’ve been $20.969 billion. This year, it should’ve been $21.739 billion.

So while it’s true that spending is up about 17% over the last 6 years, we’re still actually underspending on health this year—by $822 million.

Alberta per capita spending is second highest

Again, kind of true.

But once more, this doesn’t account for inflation. Here’s what per capita spending looks like in Alberta when you account for inflation (assuming 2% inflation next year and the following year) between 2016 and 2023.

While we may be spending more per capita than almost all the other provinces, our per capita spending has been dropping for the last 3 years and is projected to drop for at least the next 2.

We’re spending roughly $200 less per person in Alberta than we were in 2017–2018, and that’s going to drop to about $550 less per person by the next election.

So, per capita spending probably isn’t something we should be touting.

When Jason Kenney says “just the facts”, I think what he means is “just some of the facts”.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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