The Ontario government outlined its action plan for health care last week. In a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews discussed specific reforms the government hopes will help keep Ontarians healthy, promote faster access to family health care and streamline health services.

First, more responsibility will be given to the province’s 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). Co-ordinating primary care and managing the province’s 200 family health teams now rests with LHINs, which already administer hospital funding.

Integrating primary care into the LHINs is significant; it draws a line in the sand between the government and the opposition parties. Both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP ran on election platforms that promised to eliminate LHINs and redirect the money used for them to frontline care.

The government’s motive is clear:  give the LHINs more power to make them more relevant and influential and, in doing so, less of a political target. However, it is likely that both opposition parties will apply heavy pressure on the government when the next legislative session begins on February 21. Primary-care reform has proven challenging in the past, and the specifics of the government’s plan remain uncertain.

Matthews also began to set the stage for contract negotiations with Ontario’s doctors. She indicated that the focus needs to be on patients first, arguing that a one per cent increase in physician compensation could buy homecare for 30,000 seniors. She also stated that of the total provincial health-care budget, 23 per cent goes to physician billings.

But why is this important? Because the government is under significant Conservative pressure to freeze wages to reduce the deficit and rein in health-care spending. This announcement may also indicate the Liberals’ tone going into the contract negotiations.

The announcement also included the newly created Council on Childhood Obesity, whose mandate is to reduce childhood obesity in Ontario by 20 per cent in five years. This follows through on the Liberals’ platform commitment during the last election, and fits in with the party’s overall goal to save money in health care through preventive rather than reactive policies.

Overall, the government is presenting a decentralized health-care plan, trying to find ways to save money and reduce the burden on overcrowded hospitals and emergency rooms through different reforms. By implementing strategies such as increasing the power of LHINs, moving medical procedures out of hospitals and into non-profit clinics, a seniors’ policy involving house calls and a focus on childhood obesity, the government hopes to be seen as tackling health-care challenges seriously while minimizing political repercussions in a tenuous minority situation.

Top Tweets:

Adam Radwanski (@aradwanski):

Bringing primary care under LHINs is an idea that’s been kicking around the health sector quite a while. But will rankle the Tories and NDP.

Robert Benzie (@robertbenzie):

“LHINs are the air-traffic controllers of health care.” I see a Tory line of attack inspired by Ronald Reagan’s 1981 mass firing. #onpoli

Paul Bliss (@blissblogs):

Where do your health care dollars go? 35% hospitals, 23% Dr. salaries, 8% drugs, 6% community care, 20% other. Total is $47.1 Billion a year