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Federal budget 'disappointing' on health care: CMA

The president of the Canadian Medical Association has criticized last week's federal budget, calling it "disappointing" in its relative lack of attention to health care.

A March 21 news report published in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, summarized some key points in the new budget, and then went on to say:

Canadian Medical Association President Anna Reid says the relative paucity of attention to health care in the budget is "disappointing."

"I'm not sure that there's a good understanding that healthy Canadians are the key to a healthy economy," she added. "We've been trying to make this point that you cannot have a healthy economy and a productive country unless you have highly functioning healthy Canadians."

Among the few health care initiatives are:

• $48 million over two years to improve telehealth and videoconferencing technology as well as electronic health records in First Nations communities;

• $4 million over two years to increase the number of mental health wellness teams serving remote First Nations, likely adding four teams to the existing seven;

• $3 million for palliative care training for primary care professionals, delivered through the Pallium Foundation of Canada;

• GST/HST exemption at point of sale on provincially subsidized home-care services for seniors or the disabled, and on the accompanying medical supplies; and

• A doubling of the existing taxes on manufactured tobacco products, such as snuff, chewing tobacco and loose tobacco, to keep taxation of these products on par with cigarettes.

In contrast to Reid's assessment, Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq said the budget "had significant investments for health care."

"Transfers to provinces and territories are at record highs and continue to grow," she says. In addition there are new investments in palliative care, patient-oriented research, First Nations and Inuit health and other areas.

"To do all this, while still staying on track to balance the federal books by 2015, shows that our government continues to play a leadership role in health care," says Aglukkaq.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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