On April 7, 2022, the federal government delivered its 2022 budget. One of the key focus areas is health care, especially to respond to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic caused. There is no doubt the pandemic has shone a light on the gaps and failings in our health care system. As a result, the federal government has indicated it wishes to continue working with provinces and territories to invest in health care. Below, we outline some of the key budget plans from the federal government and what they mean for health professionals and the health care system:
Dental care for Canadians
For the most part, dental procedures are not covered through provincial health plans like OHIP. The federal government is investing $5.3 billion in the next five years to provide dental care for Canadians. The rollout is slow, as it will start with 12-year-olds in 2022; expand to under 18-year-olds, seniors, and persons living with a disability in 2023, with full implementation by 2025. The program will be restricted to families with an income of less than $90,000 annually with no co-pays for those under $70,000 annually in income.
Addressing the COVID-19 backlog in surgeries and procedures
During the pandemic, hospitals understandably shifted their focus to respond to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, this resulted in the cancellation or delay of almost 700,000 medical procedures. Hospitals and staff will need to catch up on the backlog in surgeries and procedures, which will take years to clear. In 2020-2021 the federal government provided provinces with $4 billion to assist in eliminating the backlog; it will now give an additional $2 billion.
Student loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses in rural and remote communities
There is no question that rural communities in Canada are underserved, with many individuals living in those areas unable to access primary health care services. Part of the problem is due to a shortage of doctors and nurses. The federal government plans to address this shortage through student loan forgiveness for those doctors and nurses who work in rural or remote communities. The federal government plans to increase the maximum amount of forgivable Canada Student Loads by 50 percent, meaning nurses working in these areas will have up to $30,000 in loan forgiveness and doctors will have up to $60,000.
Researching the long-term impacts of COVID-19
Scientists, researchers, and health care professionals have come a long way in understanding how to treat and prevent COVID-19. However, many outstanding questions about COVID-19 remain — including its long-term impacts on Canadians. The 2022 budget proposes to provide $20 million over five years to support additional research on the long-term effects of COVID-19 infections on Canadians and its impact on health care systems.
Increased support for brain health and dementia research
An estimated one in four Canadian seniors over the age of 85 are diagnosed with dementia. The federal government plans to provide $20 million over five years to help ramp up efforts to learn about dementia and brain health and to improve treatment and outcomes for persons living with dementia. The government also plans to provide $30 million over three years to the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation to accelerate innovative solutions to allow individuals to age safely in the setting of their choice while maintaining cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being.
Supporting mental well-being with the Wellness Together Canada Portal
The pandemic prompted an unprecedented rise in the levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, in April 2020, the federal government launched the Wellness Together Canada portal. Since then, over two million people have used the portal to access free information and support. The federal government proposes to provide $140 million over two years to continue the portal and provide Canadians with the tools and services to support their mental health and well-being.
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