May 4, 2023

In Focus: Public Spending on Health Care in Canada

Most people are aware that health care is a significant area of spending for governments in Canada.

But just how much are federal and provincial/territorial governments spending? What does that money go towards? And how does spending vary across different jurisdictions and age groups in Canada? These are just a few of the questions explored in the full report, but scroll below for the highlights.

Report Highlights:

  • Governments are spending more: Public spending, both per capita and as a share of GDP, has trended upward, particularly more recently with the spending pressure associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Governments spend the most on hospitals: One-third of all public spending on health care is spent on hospitals; however, over the decades, hospitals have received a declining share of government dollars as other spending priorities pick up a larger share.
  • Health care represents a growing portion of provincial budgets: Today, health care spending takes up about two-fifths of each province’s total spending on programs, up from around a quarter five decades ago.
  • Despite bringing health spending down, Alberta is still overspending: Alberta has recently brought public spending on health care in line with the other major provinces, but after adjusting for population age, Alberta is still spending significantly more than comparator provinces.
  • Federal contributions to health care in Alberta have grown: A recent change to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) formula meant a large cash influx for the province, bringing federal cash contributions in Alberta in line with other provinces.


Growing health care spending has not solved the challenges facing Canada’s health care system.

The country struggles to maintain an efficient and sustainable health care system. An aging population, increased demand for health care services, rising costs, and inadequate access to care are just some of the challenges confronting health care systems across the country.

Policymakers and decision-makers are wrestling with these problems, often responding with increased funding for health care. Funding is certainly one part of the conversation, but broader reforms will also be necessary to create a health care system that sustainability serves all Canadians.

However, before we take a closer look at potential solutions, it is worthwhile to gain a better understanding of health spending in Canada. And that’s why we created an In Focus report on public spending on health care in Canada.

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