2 min

PWAs & the budget

There’s no help in the last provincial budget for poorer people with AIDS who desperately need affordable housing.

“HIV/AIDS is more than just a health care issue,” says Stephen Squibb, executive director of the Ontario AIDS Network. “The recent budget is a little disappointing in the area of the other social supports which are important to treatment issues, to education, prevention and risk reduction efforts.”

The Mike Harris government’s May 2 budget has not increased funding for disability or social assistance benefits, nor provided any new commitments to support subsidized housing.

And Pam Bowes, of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, says many of her clients are still struggling to make ends meet with benefits that have not been increased in more than four years. This at a time when it’s hard to get access to provincially-funded nutritional supplements (liquid food for people who have a tougher time eating solids).

Bowes says PWAs face years on waiting lists for co-op or subsidized housing. And with rent controls canceled, many face huge market rent increases.

Bowes says finances have forced some PWAs to leave the city – potentially compromising their access to primary health care.

“In terms of the budget as a whole, the failure to deal with

poverty and housing issues is a terrible blow for people living with

HIV/AIDS,” agrees the AIDS Committee Of Toronto’s Lee Zaslofsky.

Zaslofsky is also concerned about homecare. As new drug treatments have allowed people to stay at home, some require urgent home care should the drugs fail. Others need help when sent home after a hospital stay.

Although government budget documents claim to have allocated $110-million to enhance medical supervision in home care settings, the effects have yet to trickle down to enhance home nursing support.

The Tories have reached a tentative four-year agreement with the Ontario Medical Association to encourage family doctors to shift from the current OHIP fee-for-service plan to a new voluntary group practice model. This would cap doctors’ salaries and make them responsible for providing comprehensive care to their patients, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

The idea is to save money, allow patients better service and cut back on emergency room crowding.

On the other hand, many doctors may not like it because they’ll end up making less money.

Zaslofsky says it’s too soon to tell the impact of all this. He says some patients may benefit, provided that their primary care physicians are knowledgeable about HIV.

He also worries the new funding formula means other doctors will be discouraged from treating people who require more intensive primary care.

The greatest impact on health care for those with AIDS or other catastrophic illnesses may be in what was left out of the budget.

While acute-care hospital operating funds have been increased slightly, no funding increases have been announced for other front-line services such as emergency rooms, long-term care beds, nursing staff and home care programs.

Ontario’s global health budget of $22-billion for this year will include $1.4-billion of new funding to support previously-announced and new commitments for the capital construction of hospitals and research laboratories, and other infrastructure projects, though these would not directly affect care in the immediate.