Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.
Credits: Antonella Artuso/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency
"I think we need to have a discussion about what's fair," Health Minister Deb Matthews said Tuesday of the proposal in Living Longer, Living Well, a new report on a Seniors Strategy for Ontario -- prepared by Dr. Samir Sinha.
Ontario's population of seniors is expected to double over the next two decades, putting enormous stress on the province's health-care budget and requiring improvements to the system to meet the needs of the aging, the report says.
A key recommendation to the Ontario government is that it commit to a 4% increase in funding for home care and community care for the next three years.
An income-tested co-payment as has been implemented in the majority of other Canadian provinces could help pay for some of these services, the report says.
Currently, home care funded through the Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) -- including medical and personal support services such as bathing -- is provided at no cost to the patient.
Tight budgets are forcing CCACs to limit services, forcing some needy seniors into programs where there are co-payments or to go without the care, the report says.
Matthews said that while the co-payment proposal warrants study, she is moving forward right away with two other recommendations to improve access for seniors to family physicians, nurse practitioners and personal support workers.
"There's tons of good stuff in this report," NDP health critic France Gelinas said, highlighting its suggestions for more community-based physiotherapy and a fall prevention program.
But Gelinas said any move to add user fees to home care would act as a barrier for seniors.
"There are already a lot of co-payments that exist right now," she said. "(Matthews) has to realize that in order to stay in your home you also need meal preparation and laundry and vacuuming and somebody to shovel the driveway and cut the grass and split the wood... all of that exists with a co-payment right now."
Tory health critic Christine Elliott said PCs are prepared to direct services to people who need it the most.
"Means testing is only one way to look at that," Elliott said.
But seniors have a right to be skeptical about promises from the Ontario Liberals that new funds would improve health-care services, she said.
"Since the inception of the health tax a number of years ago, we've seen money being squandered on things like Ornge and eHealth and so on," Elliott said.