Dear Minister Freeland:
We are a national consortium of experts who serve and advocate for the needs and rights of older people. We are delighted by the recent appointment of a new Minister of Seniors, and send our congratulations to the Honourable Filomena Tassi. We are also encouraged by our Government’s commitment to support the health and economic well-being of all Canadians, and heartened by your promise to listen to, and to be informed by feedback from Canadians. It is in this spirit that we are writing today regarding the need for Canada to provide support and leadership with a goal of developing and ratifying a United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Older Persons.
In the context of massive global demographic shifts and an aging population, insightful and careful reflection by the leaders of our organizations has led to universal and strong support for the creation and implementation of a UN Convention to specifically recognize and protect the human rights of our older persons.
A UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons will:
enshrine their rights as equal with any other segment of the population with the same legal rights as any other human being;
categorically state that it is unacceptable to discriminate against older people throughout the world;
clarify the state’s role in the protection of older persons;
provide them with more visibility and recognition both nationally and internationally, which is vitally important given the rate at which Canadian and other societies are ageing;
advance the rights of older women at home and as a prominent factor in Canada’s foreign policy;
have a positive, real-world impact on the lives of older citizens who live in poverty, who are disproportionately older women, by battling ageism that contributes to poverty, ill-health, social isolation, and exclusion;
support the commitment to improve the lives of Indigenous Peoples; members of the LGBTQ community, and visible and religious minorities; and,
provide an opportunity for Canada to play a leadership role at the United Nations while at the same time giving expression to several of the Canadian government’s stated foreign policy goals.
We have projected that the cost and impact of not having such a Convention would have a significant negative impact on both the physical and mental health of older Canadians. The profound and tragic consequence would have a domino effect in all domains of their lives including social determinants of health, incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases, social and psychological functioning, not to mention massive financial costs to
society. There is recognition of this need internationally and ILC-Canada, along with other Canadian NGOs and organizations have been active at the UN to help raise awareness of the ways a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons would contribute to all countries.
Changes have already been implemented by our Government that are consistent and aligned with a UN Convention, such as improving the income of vulnerable Canadian seniors, funding for long term care and support for community based dementia programs. These initiatives are all in keeping with support for a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. They are also reflective of our country’s commitment to engage more fully with the United Nations and provide Canada the stage to demonstrate leadership on a vital international issue. It is an opportunity to champion the values of inclusive government, respect for diversity and human rights including the human rights of women.
Scientific evidence demonstrates that human rights treaties help to drive positive change in the lives of vulnerable groups of people. In many countries in the world, older people are not adequately protected by existing human rights law, as explicit references to age are exceedingly rare. Even in countries like Canada, where there are legal frameworks that safeguard older people, a Convention would provide an extra layer of protection, particularly if the Convention has a comprehensive complaints mechanism.
Older adults need to be viewed as a growing but underutilized human resource. By strengthening their active role in society including the workforce, they have tremendous capacity, knowledge, and wisdom to contribute to the economy and general well-being of humankind.
We are requesting you meet with our representatives, to discuss the vital role of a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons and the role your government could play in improving the lives of older people in Canada and around the world. The fact that Canada is ageing is something to celebrate. We are all ageing, whether we are 20 or 85. This is a ”golden opportunity” to showcase Canada as a nation that will relentlessly pursue doing the “right thing” for humanity by supporting a UN Convention that ensures that our future is bright.
Please accept our regards, and thank you for your attention to this request. We await your response. Sincerely,
Margaret Gillis, President, International Longevity Centre Canada
Dr. Kiran Rabheru, Chair of the Board, International Longevity Centre Canada
Linda Garcia, Director, uOttawa LIFE Research Institute
cc: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Filomena Tassi Minister of Seniors
The Honourable Jean Yves Duclos
Minister for Families, Children and Social Development
Ambassador Marc-Andre Blanchard
Permanent Representative to Canada at the United Nations
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
International Longevity Centre Canada
Dr. Kiran Rabheru
Chair of the Board, International Longevity Centre Canada
Linda Garcia, PhD
LIFE Research Institute
Dr. Laurent Marcoux
Canadian Medical Association
Andrew Padmos, BA, MD, FRCPC, FACP
Chief Executive Officer
Dani Prud’Homme Directeur général FADOQ
Peter Lukasiewicz Chief Executive Officer Gowling WLG
Dr. Dallas Seitz, MD, FRCPC
Dr. Frank Molnar
President, Canadian Geriatrics Society
Dr. David Conn
Canadian Coalition for Senior’s Mental Health
Director - Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health
Chief Executive Officer, Speech-Language & Audiology Canada
President Canadian Nurses Association
Janice Christianson-Wood, MSW, RSW Title/Organization: President, Canadian Association of Social Workers / Présidente, l’Association canadienne des travail-
Chief Executive Officer/Chef de la direction
Ondina Love, CAE
Chief Executive Officer Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
National Association of Federal Retirees /Association nationale
des retraités fédéraux
Laura Tamblyn Watts
National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly
Dr. Keri-Leigh Cassidy
Founder Fountain of Health
Dr. Beverley Cassidy Geriatric Psychiatris Seniors Mental Health
Dalhousie University Dept of Psychiatry
Jenny Neal and Janet Siddall
CO Chairs, Leadership Team Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN)
President and CEO
Dr. Becky Temple, MD, CCFP, CCPE
Medical Director Northeast, Northern Health Medical Lead Privilege Dictionary Review, BCMQI
J. Van Aerde, MD, MA, PhD, FRCPC
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics - Universities of Alberta & British Columbia, Canada
Associate Faculty - Leadership Studies - Royal Roads Univ, Victo- ria, BC, Canada
Past-President - Canadian Society of Physician Leaders Editor-in-Chief / Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership
Dr. Rollie Nichol, MD, MBA, CCFP, CCPE
Associate Chief Medical Officer, Alberta Health Services
Dr. Shannon Fraser, MSc, FRCSC, FACS
Secretary / Treasurer, CSPL Chief General Surgery Jewish General Hospital
Linda Gobessi MD FRCPC
Geriatric Psychiatry Community Services of Ottawa Ottawa
Executive Director / Directrice générale
Services communautaires de géronto- psychiatrie d’ Ottawa Geriatric Psychiatry Community Services of Ottawa
Ging-Yuek Robin Hsiung, MD MHSc FRCPC FACP FAAN
Ralph Fisher and Alzheimer Society of BC Professor Director of Clinical Research
Director of Fellowship in Behavioural Neurology UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer and Related Disorders
Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine University of British Columbia
Senior Social Worker Baycrest Health Sciences
Harinder Sandhu, D.D.S., Ph.D
Professor and Past Director
Schulich Dentistry & Vice Dean, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
Dr. Christopher Frank,
Chair of Geriatric Education and Recruitment Initiative
Jennie Wells, MD
Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario Department of Medicine
Chair/Chief Division of Geriatric Medicine Parkwood Institute
Laura Diachun, MD
Program Director, Undergrad Geriatric Education University of Western Ontario
Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine Parkwood Institute
Sheri-Lynn Kane, MD Program Director Internal Medicine Dept of Medicine Education Office
Niamh O’Regan, MB ChB,
Assistant Professor, University of Western Ontario Parkwood Institute
Michael Borrie, MB ChB, FRCPC
Professor, University of Western Ontario Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Jenny Thain, MRCP (Geriatrics)
Assistant Professor, University of Western Ontario Department of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine Victoria Hospital
Peter R. Butt MD CCFP FCFP
Assoc. Professor, Department of Family Medicine, College of Medicine,
University of Saskatchewan
Mamta Gautam, MD, MBA, FRCPC, CCPE Dept of Psychiatry, University of Ottawa Psychiatrist, Psychosocial Oncology Program, The Ottawa Hospital
President and CEO, PEAK MD Inc.
Dr. Shabbir Amanullah
Arun V. Ravindran, MBBS, MSc, PhD, FRCPC, FRCPsych
Professor and Director, Global Mental Health and the Office of Fellowship Training, Department of Psychiatry,
Graduate Faculty, Department of Psychology and Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto
Sarah Thompson, MD, FRCPC Geriatric Psychiatrist Seniors’ Mental Health Team
Addictions and Mental Health Program
Louise Plouffe, Ph.D.
Director of Research, ILC Canada (retired)
Kimberley Wilson, PhD, MSW
Assistant Professor, Adult Development & Aging, Department of Family Relations & Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph
Andrew R. Frank M.D. B.Sc.H. F.R.C.P.(C)
Cognitive and Behavioural Neurologist Medical Director, Bruyère Memory Program Bruyère Continuing Care
Diane Hawthorne Family Physician BSc, MD, CCFP, FCFP
Dr. Ken Le Clair
Prof Emeritus Queens University and. Lead Policy Physician Consultant to Ontario. Seniors Behavioral Support Initative Queens University
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities to discuss issues related to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). This tax measure, which is recognition by the federal government that persons with a severe disability may be affected by having reduced incomes, increased expenses or both, compared to those who are not disabled i, helps to account for the intangible costs associated with a severe and prolonged impairment. It also takes into account disability-related expenses that are not listed in the medical expense deduction or which are excluded by the 3% threshold in the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
Physicians are a key point of contact for applicants of the DTC and, given the way the program is structured, a vital participant in its administration. It is for these reasons that we come before you today to address specific concerns related to the program’s performance. In addition, we would like to discuss the broader issue of developing a coherent set of tax policies in support of health and social policy.
The Integration of Tax Policy with Health Policy and Social Policy
The federal government, through a variety of policy levers such as taxation, spending, regulation and information, has played a key role in the development of our health care and social systems. To date however, discussion about the federal role in these areas has centered largely on federal transfers to the provinces and territories and the Canada Health Act.
However, in looking at how to renew Canada’s health and social programs, we should not limit ourselves to these traditional instruments. Today we have a health system that is facing a number of pressures that will challenge its sustainability. These pressures range from an aging and more demanding population in terms of the specialty care services and technology they will seek; the cry for expanding the scope of medicare coverage to include homecare and pharmacare; and a shortage of health personnel. These are only some of the more immediate reasons alternative avenues of funding health care, and thus ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens, must be explored.
In our pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance ii, the CMA recommended that the federal government establish a blue ribbon National Task Force to study the development of innovative tax-based mechanisms to synchronize tax policy with health policy. Such a review has not been undertaken in over 25 years since the Royal Commission on Taxation in 1966 (Carter Commission).
The CMA is echoing its call for a National Task Force to develop new and innovative ways to synchronize tax policy with health policy and social policy. A study of this nature would look at all aspects of the taxation system, including the personal income tax system, in which the DTC is a component.
The remainder of our brief addresses issues specific to the DTC.
Physician Involvement in the DTC Program
The CMA has in the past provided input with respect to the DTC program. Our working relationship on the DTC program with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) has been issue-specific, time-limited and constructive.
Our first substantive contact in regard to the DTC program was in 1993 when the CMA provided Revenue Canada with a brief review of the program and the T2201form. It is interesting to note what our observations were in 1993 with regard to this program because many of them still hold true today.
Here are just some of the issues raised by the CMA in 1993 during our initial review of the program:
* The tax credit program may not address the needs of the disabled, it is too hit and miss. The DTC program should be evaluated in a comprehensive way to measure its overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
* The program should be called the “Severe Disability Tax Credit Program” – or something equivalent to indicate that not everyone with a disability is eligible.
* The program puts physicians in a potential conflict with patients—the responsibility of the physician to advocate for the patient vs. gate-keeper need for Revenue Canada. The physician role should be to attest to legitimate claims on the patients’ behalf.
* Revenue Canada should clarify the multiplicity of programs. There are numerous different federal programs and all appear to have varying processes and forms. These overlapping efforts are difficult for patients and professionals.
* A major education effort for potential claimants, tax advisers and physicians should be introduced.
* A suitable evaluation of claimant and medical components of the process should be undertaken.
The CMA does not have a standardized consultative relationship with the CCRA in regard to this program. An example of this spotty relationship is the recent letter sent by the CCRA Minister asking current DTC recipients to re-qualify for the credit. The CMA was not advised or consulted about this letter. If we had been advised we would have highlighted the financial and time implications of sending 75 to 100 thousand individuals to their family physician for re-certification. We also would have worked with the CCRA on alternative options for updating DTC records. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. This clearly speaks to the need to establish open and ongoing dialogue between our two organizations.
Policy Measure: The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patients’ advocacy groups.
We would now like to draw the Sub-committee’s attention to three areas that, at present, negatively impact on the medical profession participation in the program, namely program integrity, program standardization (e.g., consistency in terminology and out-of-pocket costs faced by persons with disabilities) and tax advisor referrals to health care providers.
A primary concern and irritation for physicians working with this program is that it puts an undue strain on the patient-physician relationship. This strain may also have another possible side effect, a failure in the integrity of the DTC program process.
Under the current structure of the DTC program, physicians evaluate the patient, provide this evaluation back to the patient and then ask the patient for remuneration. This process is problematic for two reasons. First, since the patient will receive the form back immediately following the evaluation, physicians might receive the blame for denying their patient the tax credit—not the DTC program adjudicators. Second, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he or she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit.
For the integrity of the DTC program, physicians need to be free to reach independent assessment of the patient’s condition. However, due to the pressure placed by this program on the patient-physician relationship, the physician’s moral and legal obligation to provide an objective assessment may conflict with the physician’s ethical duty to “Consider first the well-being of the patient.
There is a solution to this problem it’s a model already in use by government, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Program. Under the CPP Disability Program, the evaluation from the physician is not given to the patient but, it is sent to the government and the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. Under this system, the integrity of patient-physician relationship is maintained and the integrity of the program is not compromised.
Policy Measure: The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
Fairness and Equity
The federal government has several programs for people with disabilities. Some deal with income security (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits), some with employment issues (e.g., Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), and some through tax measures (e.g., Disability Tax Credit). These government transfers and tax benefits help to provide the means for persons with disabilities to become active members in Canadian society.
However, these programs are not consistent in terms of their terminology, eligibility criteria, reimbursement protocols, benefits, etc. CMA recommends that standards of fairness and equity be applied across federal disability benefit programs, particularly in two areas: the definition of the concept of “disability”, and standards for remuneration to the physician. These are discussed in greater detail below.
1) Defining “disability”
One of the problems with assessing disability is that the concept itself is difficult to define. In most standard definitions the word “disability” is defined in very general and subjective terms. One widely used definition comes from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) which defines disability as “any restriction or inability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”
The DTC and other disability program application forms do not use a standard definition of “disability”. In addition to the inconsistency in terminology, the criteria for qualification for these programs differ because they are targeted to meet the different needs of those persons with disabilities. To qualify for DTC, a disability must be “prolonged” (over a period of at least 12 months) and “severe” i.e. “markedly (restrict) any of the basic activities of daily living” which are defined. Though CPP criteria use the same words “severe” and “prolonged” they are defined differently (i.e., “severe” means “prevents applicant from working regularly at any job” and “prolonged” means “long term or may result in death”). Other programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Canada, have entirely different criteria.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others (e.g., tax preparers/advisors) involved in the application process. This can lead to physicians spending more time than is necessary completing the form because of the need to verify terms. As a result if the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible this could result in errors on the part of physicians when completing the forms. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits.
Policy Measures: The CMA would like to see some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must become uniform.
In addition, the CMA would like to see the development of a comprehensive information package for health care providers that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
The remuneration for assessment and form completion is another area where standardization among the various government programs would eliminate the difficulties that some individuals with disabilities currently face. For example, applicants who present the DTC Certificate Form T2201 to their physicians must bear any costs associated with its completion out of their own pockets. On the other hand, if an individual is applying to the CPP Disability Program, the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself.
Assessing a patient’s disabilities is a complex and time-consuming endeavour on the part of any health professional. Our members tell us that the DTC Certificate Form T2201 can take as much time and effort to complete as the information requested for CPP Disability Program forms depending, of course, on the patient and the nature of the disability. In spite of this fact, some programs acknowledge the time and expertise needed to conduct a proper assessment while other programs do not.
Although physicians have the option of approaching the applicant for remuneration for the completion of the DTC form, they are reluctant to do so because these individuals are usually of limited means and in very complex cases, the cost for a physician’s time for completing the DTC Form T2201 can reach as much as $150. In addition, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he/she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit. Synchronizing funding between all programs would be of substantial benefit to all persons with disabilities, those professionals completing the forms and the programs’ administrators.
Policy Measure: We strongly urge the federal government to place disability tax credit programs on the same footing when it comes to reimbursement of the examining health care provider.
Tax Advisor Referrals
With the complexity of the income tax system today, many individuals seek out the assistance of professional tax advisors to ensure the forms are properly completed and they have received all the benefits they are entitled to. Tax advisors will very often refer individuals to health professionals so that they can be assessed for potential eligibility for the DTC. The intention of the tax advisors may be laudable, but often, inappropriate referrals are made to health professionals. This not only wastes the valuable time of health care professionals, already in short supply, but may create unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient seeking the tax credit.
The first principle of the CMA’s Code of Ethics is “consider first the well-being of the patient.” One of the key roles of the physician is to act as a patient’s advocate and support within the health care system. The DTC application form makes the physician a mediator between the patient and a third party with whom the patient is applying for financial support.
This “policing” role can place a strain on the physician-patient relationship – particularly if the patient is denied a disability tax credit as a result a third-party adjudicator’s interpretation of the physician’s recommendations contained within the medical report. Physicians and other health professionals are not only left with having to tell the patient that they are not eligible but in addition advising the patient that there may be a personal financial cost for the physician providing this assessment.
Policy Measure: Better preparation of tax advisors would be a benefit to both patients and their health care providers. The CMA would like CCRA to develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax preparers and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability. This would provide some guidance as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to see a health professional for a professional assessment.
As raised in a previous meeting with CCRA, the CMA is once again making available a physician representative to accompany DTC representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies, prior to each tax season, to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and initial assessment, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
The DTC is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. However, there needs to be some standardization among the various programs to ensure that they are effective and meet their stated purpose. Namely, the CMA would like to make the following suggestions:
1. The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
2. The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not circumvent differences in eligibility criteria.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed, for health care providers, that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
5. That the federal government applies these social programs on the same footing when it comes to their funding and administration.
6. That CCRA develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax advisors and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability.
7. That CCRA employ health care providers to accompany CCRA representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and personal assessment of disability, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
These recommendations would certainly be helpful to all involved - the patient, health care providers and the programs’ administrators, in the short term. However what would be truly beneficial in the longer term would be an overall review of the taxation system from a health care perspective. This could provide tangible benefits not only for persons with disabilities but for all Canadians as well as demonstrating the federal government’s leadership towards ensuring the health and well being of our population.
i Health Canada, The Role for the Tax System in Advancing the Health Agenda, Applied Research and Analysis Directorate, Analysis and Connectivity Branch, September 21, 2001
ii Canadian Medical Association, Securing Our Future… Balancing Urgent Health Care Needs of Today With The Important Challenges of Tomorrow”, Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations, November 1, 2001.