01/17/2013 03:34 EST | Updated 03/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Auditor General Report Slams BC Health Spending

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VICTORIA - British Columbia politicians have long touted their plans to make the province a model for healthy living and disease prevention, but a new report says the government isn't supporting that goal with cash.

B.C.'s auditor general says the province spends less than five per cent of its annual $15.5 billion health-care budget on population wellness and disease prevention.

John Doyle's report released Thursday highlighted the $536 million the Health Ministry budget allocated to population health and wellness programs even though the well-being of British Columbians has been a major focus in every government throne speech since 2008.

In the 2005 budget, former premier Gordon Campbell made healthy living and physical fitness one of his five great goals for a golden decade.

"We've identified an area here that the government has said frequently is a very important area in terms of the health care system and when we look at the dollars, here's the picture we see," said assistant auditor general Morris Sydor who was commenting on behalf of Doyle who was ill with the flu Thursday.

Sydor said the report does not suggest the government should be spending more or less money on preventative health care or other health issues related to the current budget, but instead tracks spending trends over a four-year period.

But he said there are some B.C. health-care authorities where spending on preventative and healthy living programs hasn't increased over the four-year period.

"What that does then is, obviously, raise questions around how we make decisions around where the priorities for spending should be, how do we ensure that the right amounts are going to the right locations."

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said B.C. spends less on health care per capita than some other provinces, but the province enjoys some of the best health outcomes for its residents, especially when it comes to cancer rates.

"You're the least likely statistically to get cancer if you are here in British Columbia," she said. "Some of that is directly attributable to our screening and prevention programs, the fact that we have the lowest smoking and obesity rates."

MacDiarmid said the prevention programs don't come with huge budgets, but the government still puts much thought and effort into spreading the message that healthy living has its benefits.

"It is important to look at the investment, but it is also really important to look at how we are doing," she said.

The report states B.C. spends almost 40 per cent of its total budget on health care, with acute care costs reaching $7.4 billion annually.

Physicians and other health care professionals comprise about $3.4 billion of the budget, and the Pharmacare program, which subsidizes the cost of drugs, is worth about $1 billion.

Sydor said the report, "Health Funding Explained," isn't a traditional audit, but was designed to help the public and legislators understand where health-care dollars are being spent.

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