By Barbara Willet, Executive Director
Health Nexus has long recognized that our health is influenced by many factors outside of the traditional realm of the health care sector, such as education, income, food, and housing. The 2017 Ontario budget not only outlined significant investments in our health care system but also important investments in other areas that address the underlying determinants of health.
The government continued its commitment to reducing poverty, restating its 3-year basic income pilot plus a basic income pilot for First Nations. There were also important revisions to social assistance, improved access to affordable child care and post-secondary education, as well as critical investments in housing assistance, homelessness prevention and social infrastructure. Two small but notable projects announced were the Reducing and Preventing Food Waste pilot and the Supermarket Recovery Program which aim to address food surplus and reduce unnecessary food waste.
Health was front and centre in the budget with a significant increase in health care spending to improve access, wait times and the patient experience -- all key elements of the Patients First Action Plan. The biggest news, however, was the launch of a universal child and youth pharmacare program, which will offer a comprehensive range of prescription drugs at no cost to all children and youth up to age 24.
The announcement of a Cabinet Committee to drive system change in mental health highlighted this as a significant government priority. There will be additional funding to provide faster access to mental health services, including new supportive housing units and structured psychotherapy. Also mentioned was the development and evaluation of a network of “one-stop” hubs for youth to access a range of services including mental health and addictions services in a youth-oriented environment.
Over and above the specific investments and announcements, what stood out to me as I read the budget was its language: references to fairness, equity and inclusion abound, as does the government’s commitment to indigenous communities. The budget contains much that aligns with our organizational values and priorities and will contribute to healthy, equitable and inclusive communities.