Canadians are deeply concerned about their health care system. They worry about situations such as whether they will have access to diagnostic testing when they need it or whether they can get a family physician if they move to a new community. This is not what was envisioned when Canada embarked upon a universal public health care system in 1966. Over the past two years an unprecedented number of reports and commissions have been examining what can and must be done to ensure the long-term sustainability of the system. But Canadians are growing inpatient. The time for studying the issues is quickly passing. They are counting on governments, to listen to the reports and then act upon them quickly – turning the corner from debate to action.
This year’s submission from the CMA to the Standing Committee on Finance focuses on the need for action in the short and longer terms by identifying strategic investments that will ensure a strong health care system that is securely supported by a dependable and comprehensive public health infrastructure as its foundation. Hand in hand with new financing, the CMA firmly believes that additional financing must be accompanied by updated governance structures, including a Canadian Health Charter and a Canadian Health Commission that can inject real accountability into the system.
The CMA believes that the federal government has responsibility, alongside the provinces and territories, to increase its financial support of Canada’s health care system. Only by increasing funding and identifying clearly the amount allocated to health will the federal government be able to regain its position as an equal player with the provinces.
In our submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, the CMA recommended that the federal contribution to the public health care system be locked in for a 5-year period. We indicated that the longer-term goal would be for the federal contribution to rise to 50% of total spending for core services over time as new and improved services and technologies products became available. We also said that it should be tied to a built-in GDP-growth escalator once that target is reached. To be specific, in order to raise funding to the 50% target level the CMA recommends that funding for new services and technologies be introduced on a 50/50 cost-sharing basis. This would encourage provinces and territories to become early adopters of new technology and help to update the basket of core services available to Canadians.
For illustration purposes the CMA recommends an initial investment of $16 billion over the first five years starting in 2003/04 with the majority of that funding weighted towards the back-end of the five-year period. This investment would take us partway (45 federal/55 provincial cost sharing) towards reaching our goal of 50/50 cost sharing.
To further support funding for health care across the country, a buffer is needed to protect provincial and territorial health care budgets from the ebbs and flows of the economic cycle. This could be done, for example, by renewing the Fiscal Stabilisation Program or removing the cap on the current Equalisation program.
In conjunction with the longer-term financing needs of Canada’s health care system, there are some urgent objectives that cannot wait for governments to finalise and implement their plan.
The pressing nature of these issues warrants the use of one-time, targeted, special-purpose transfers in the areas of health human resources supply and training; capital infrastructure; and health information technology.
Finally, last year, our submission reflected Canadians’ concerns following the September 11, 2001 events in the United States. It highlighted people’s anxiety about security in our country, the safety of our airlines and the vulnerability of our public health infrastructure and health care systems to potential threats. We believe that this work has not been completed and there is ongoing need to support public health as a priority for Canada’s health care system particularly in the areas of emergency preparedness, childhood immunisation and a national drug strategy.
Reform of Canada’s health care system is a formidable task. It involves the participation and agreement of all levels of government as well as providers, other stakeholders and ultimately the acceptance of the end-users, Canadians. The CMA looks forward eagerly to the Romanow Commission’s recommendations and those of the Senate Committee. We will be watching carefully over the coming months on behalf of Canadian physicians, and our patients, to ensure that these discussions result in a timely, action-oriented response and that involvement of the community of providers is early, ongoing and meaningful. Canadian physicians are ready to do our part, all we ask is for the opportunity.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) values participating once again in the Standing Committee on Finance’s Pre-Budget Consultations process. We see these consultations as an essential part of Canada’s democratic process, allowing non-government organisations and individuals the opportunity to provide input into the government’s fiscal agenda.
We know Canadians value their health care system and the high-quality treatment they receive. What concerns them is whether they’ll be able to access the care they need when and where they need it. The past two years have seen the most significant public concern over Canada’s health care system in a generation. Governments have responded by examining the system through an unprecedented number of reports and commissions. In addition to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada (the Romanow Commission) and the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology’s work on the state of the health care system (the Kirby Commission), since 2000 there have been four other major provincial reviews of health care systems in Canada.i
Canadians are now looking to governments to turn the corner from studying what needs to be done to acting upon this work. This year’s submission from the CMA to the Standing Committee on Finance focuses on this need for action in the short and longer terms by identifying strategic investments that will ensure a strong health care system that is securely supported by a dependable and comprehensive public health infrastructure as its foundation. In this way, it is the belief of the CMA that health and health care go hand in hand.
The CMA believes that to achieve real reform, more than “tweaking” of our current system is required. We see change as requiring a fundamental rethinking of the system including its governance and accountability structures in order to move forward and turn the corner towards a sustainable health care system. The momentum created with the release of the Romanow Commission’s report provides a unique opportunity for the federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, to capitalise on that energy by responding in a substantive way to the report within 100 days of its release with an implementation plan.
We were very encouraged by the commitment made in the September 30, 2002 Speech from the Throne to hold a First Ministers’ Meeting early in 2003 to put in place a comprehensive plan for reform. We were also encouraged by the commitment to an action plan in the areas of health policy under direct federal jurisdiction such as addressing emerging health risks and the adoption of modern technology.
We will be watching carefully over the coming months on behalf of Canadian physicians, and our patients, to ensure that these discussions result in a timely, action-oriented response and that involvement of the community of providers is early, ongoing and meaningful.
On June 6, 2002, the CMA released its final submission to the Romanow Commission, A Prescription for Sustainability. In this submission, we outlined what the Commissioner called “bold and intriguing” changes to reaffirm and realign our health care system. Specifically, the CMA report laid out an approach for the renewal of Canada’s health care system comprised of three essential interrelated components: a Canadian Health Charter; a Canadian Health Commission; and renewal of the federal legislative framework (including federal-provincial fiscal transfers).
Canada’s health care system does not have the governance structures in place to provide for real accountability or transparency. Often governments meet behind closed doors and make decisions with little or no input from those who ultimately have to implement change and use the system. Rather, full accountability requires the involvement of all key players – federal and provincial/territorial governments, health care providers and patients.
Fundamentally, the current lack of accountability in Canada’s health care system comes down to an inherent conflict of interest between public accountability, which Canadians are demanding, and governments’ desire to retain maximum fiscal control and flexibility. Even with increased cash transfers identified in the September 2000 First Ministers Accord, the federal government has fallen well short of providing the necessary funding to ensure compliance with national principles today and for the future. Clearly, the financial means must be equal to the desired health outcomes. The CMA believes that with appropriate financial reinvestment and updated governance structures the federal government will be on the path towards putting national back into national heath care insurance system.
Canadian Health Charter
Currently, neither the Canada Health Act nor the Charter of Rights and Freedoms offers Canadians an explicit right of access to quality health care delivered within an acceptable time frame.ii Increasingly, this has resulted in an unacceptable degree of uncertainty not only for patients but also for health care providers and ultimately for those (both private and public) who contribute to the financing of the health care system.
A Canadian Health Charter would underline governments’ shared commitment to ensuring that Canadians have access to quality health care within an acceptable time frame. It would clearly articulate a national health policy that sets out our collective understanding of Medicare and the rights and mutual obligations of individual Canadians, health care providers, and governments.
Canadian Health Commission
Creating a permanent, independent Canadian Health Commission, would help address the lack of transparency and accountability at the national level. It would create an institution, the very purpose of which would be to report annually to Canadians on the performance of the health care system and the health status of the population. It would put health on the same level as other national priorities such as the environment, transportation and research. Its legitimacy would be strengthened by not having to report to any one government or governments. Rather it would forge a direct reporting relationship with Canadians and not leave Canadians hostage to ongoing inter-governmental disputes.
A Canadian Health Commission would also be uniquely situated to provide ongoing advice and guidance on other key national health care issues. Issues such as: defining the basket of core services that would be publicly financed; establishing national benchmarks for timeliness; accessibility and quality of health care; planning and coordinating health system resources at the national level; and developing national goals and targets to improve the health of Canadians.
* Implement a Canadian Health Charter and provide federal funding for a permanent Canadian Health Commission to reaffirm Medicare’s social contract and to promote accountability and transparency within the health care system.
Improved accountability is an essential, but not complete, answer with respect to reforming Canada’s health care system. The CMA believes that the federal government has a responsibility, alongside the provinces and territories, to increase its financial support of Canada’s health care system. At the same time, the CMA also believes that governments must provide financing in an accountable and transparent manner that links the funding sources with the use of those funds.
The way we see it, much of the current tension between the two levels of government on health care issues can be traced back to unilateral federal changes to the funding formula. It started with the first changes to the Established Programs Financing (EPF) in 1982, and culminated with the introduction of the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST – 1995) when the federal government unilaterally announced substantially reduced funding for health, social services and post-secondary education. By claiming to spend the same taxpayers dollar three times – once for health, again for post secondary education and again for social services – the federal government’s moral authority to uphold national principles for health is undermined.
Together, these initiatives weaken the federal government’s legitimacy in health care and encumber its ability to stand-up for Canadians, as was highlighted in the most recent Auditor General’s report.
In order to regain this authority the federal government must be willing to clearly identify a discrete contribution to health care that is large enough so as to be relevant in all jurisdictions. In our submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, we recommended that the federal contribution to the public health care system be locked in for a 5-year period. We indicated that the longer-term goal would be for the federal contribution to rise to 50% of total spending for core services over time as new and improved services and technologies became available. We also said that it should be tied to a built-in GDP-growth escalator once that target is reached.
This submission provides more detailed financial projections and recommendations on the federal contribution to the health care system. To be specific, in order to raise funding to the 50% target level the CMA recommends that financing of new services and technologies be introduced on a 50/50 cost-sharing basis. This would encourage provinces and territories to become early adopters of new technology and help to update the basket of core services available to Canadians. How quickly 50% cost-sharing of all core services were realised would depend on the rate of uptake of new technologies. However, for illustration purposes the CMA recommends an initial investment of $16 billion over the first five years starting in 2003/04 with the majority of that funding weighted towards the back-end of the five-year period. This investment would take us partway (45 federal/55 provincial cost sharing) towards reaching our goal of 50/50 cost sharing. The expectation would also be that expansion beyond the current basket of services would be funded on a 50/50 cost-sharing basis.
The key message is that the federal government must be an equal partner with the provinces and territories in providing funding for new pressures. This includes taking measures to meet the needs of Canadians living in rural and remote areas where there are unique considerations with respect to ensuring access to, and support of, physicians and other health care services.
To further support funding for health care across the country, a buffer is needed to protect provincial and territorial health care budgets from the ebbs and flows of the economic cycle. As well, varying fiscal capacities of individual provinces and territories has made it increasingly difficult to ensure the provision of reasonably comparable health services across Canada.
Currently, the federal Fiscal Stabilisation Program compensates provinces if their revenues fall substantially from one year to the next due to changes in economic circumstances. However, this program is not health-specific and only takes effect when provincial revenues drop by over 5%. The federal Equalisation program also provides some protection for have-not provinces. However, its effectiveness is limited by virtue of the “ceiling provision” that places a cap on increases in payments to the rate of national GDP growth. This provision was temporarily lifted for fiscal year 1999/2000 in conjunction with the September 2000 health accord, generating an additional $700 million in Equalisation payments to the have-not provinces.
It is the CMA’s belief that this ceiling is one of the contributing factors to the disparity that exists between provinces in their capacity to provide funding for health care services and as such, should be permanently removed.
Making improvements to either or both of these programs would help address the concern raised in the CMA’s submission to the Romanow Commission on the need to provide provinces with ways to curb the impact on the health care system from the ebbs and flows of the business cycle.
LONG-TERM FINANCING REQUIREMENTS ($16 Billion over 5 years)
* Provide funding for new core services and technologies on a 50/50 cost-shared basis with the ultimate goal of reaching 50% of provincial/territorial spending on core services over time.
* Provide greater protection against provincial/territorial revenue shortfalls for example by removing the ceiling on the federal Equalisation program or enhancing the federal Fiscal Stabilisation Program.
Short-Term Bridge Financing of Health Infrastructure
In conjunction with the longer-term financing needs of Canada’s health care system, there are some urgent objectives that cannot wait for governments to finalise and implement their plan. We think of these shorter-term objectives as requiring “bridge financing” in areas of health infrastructure that are necessary to support health care innovation.
As roads and highways are the backbone to the production and delivery of products, so too is Canada’s health infrastructure the foundation on which the health care system delivers care to Canadians. We applaud the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and other similar programs for their important contributions in this area. Increasingly, however, “infrastructure” incorporates more than bricks and mortar – it can also mean providing improving health information capacity in hospitals; providing human resource infrastructure or the latest diagnostic equipment. Experience has taught us that investments of this type lead to increased innovation, productivity and efficiency.
The pressing nature of these issues warrants the use of one-time, targeted, special-purpose transfersiii specifically in the areas of:
* Health human resources supply and training;
* Capital infrastructure; and
* Health information technology.
Health Human Resources Supply and Training
Consistently, Canadians point to the shortage of physicians as a key health care system concern. Factors underlying this shortage include physician demographics (e.g., age and gender distribution), changing lifestyle choices and productivity levels (expectations of younger physicians and women differ from those of older generations), and insufficient numbers entering certain medical fields. According to 2001 data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranked 21st out of 26 countries in terms of the ratio of practising physicians to population.iv
The need is particularly great in rural and remote areas where 30% of Canadians live but where only approximately 10% of Canadian physicians practice.v This is complicated by the fact that accessing services for patients in rural and remote areas can be difficult. In a survey done by the CMA in 1999, physicians living in rural communities indicated that their level of professional satisfaction – i.e., how they are able to meet the health care needs of their patients – fell significantly since the early 1990s. In a striking example, only 17% reported being very satisfied with the availability of hospital services in 1999 compared to 40% in 1991.
The necessary increases in undergraduate enrolment in medicine needed to address this situation require funding not only for the positions themselves, but also for the infrastructure (human and physical resources) needed to ensure high-quality training that meets North American accreditation standards. In addition, capacity must be sufficient to provide training to international medical graduates and allow currently practising physicians the opportunity to return to school to obtain postgraduate training in new skill areas.vi
As well, the CMA remains very concerned about high and rapidly escalating increases in medical school tuition fees across Canada. According to data from the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges (ACMC), between 1996 and 2001 average first-year medical school tuition fees increased 100%. In Ontario, they went up by 223% over the same period. Student financial support through loans and scholarships has simply not kept pace with this rapid escalation in tuition fees.
Findings from recent research show that high tuition fees and fear of high debt loads create barriers that discourage people to apply to medical school and potentially threaten the socio-economic diversity of future physicians serving the public. They may also exacerbate the “brain drain” of physicians to the United States where newly graduated physicians can pay down their large student debts much more quickly. In addition, high debt loads may influence physicians’ choice of specialty and practice location.
Medical Equipment and other Capital Infrastructure
The crisis in health human resources is exacerbated by an underdeveloped capital infrastructure - brick, mortar and tools. This is seriously jeopardising timely access to quality care within the health care system.
In September 2000, the federal government announced a series of new investments to support agreements by First Ministers on Health Renewal and Early Childhood Development. One of these investments was a two-year $1 billion fund for the provinces and territories, the Medical Equipment Fund (MEF), to purchase new health technologies and diagnostic equipment. However, analysis done by the CMA suggests that of the $1 billion allocated through the Medical Equipment Fund, only approximately 60% was used to pay for new (incremental) expenditures on medical equipment. It appears the remaining 40% replaced what provinces and territories would have already spent in this area from their own funding sources.
Additional analysis suggests that there continues to be a significant gap between access in Canada to medical equipment and availability of medical equipment in other OECD countries. Cost estimates suggest that an additional investment of some $1.15 billion in health technology is still needed to bring Canada up to the level of the 7-country OECD comparator country average. Of that amount $650 million is required for capital expenditures and $500 million is required to provide the provinces/territories with 3 years of operating funds.
All governments have the responsibility to be transparent and accountable to taxpayers for health care spending. The conditions of the Medical Equipment Fund did not live up to this responsibility. Provinces and territories provided widely variable and often incomplete information that is largely inaccessible to the public, and at the very least difficult to trace. To this end, one of the responsibilities envisioned for a Canadian Health Commission would be to report on the health of health care in Canada and keep Canadians informed as to how their taxpayer dollars are being spent.
Health Information Technology
While the health sector is as information intensive as other industries, it has lagged behind other sectors in investing in information and communication technologies (ICTs). The benefits that ICT promises to deliver the health care system include better quality care, enhanced access to health services (particularly for those 30% of Canadians living in rural and remote locations), and better utilisation of scarce human health resources.
As part of the September 2000 Health Accord, the federal government invested $500 million to create Canada Health Infoway Inc. with a mandate to accelerate the development and adoption of modern systems of information technology, such as electronic patient records. The CMA applauds this investment, but notes that the $500-million needs to be seen as a “down-payment”. It provides only a fraction of the $4.1 billion the CMA estimates it would cost to fully connect the Canadian health care system with all the health benefits that would flow from this in terms of improved national safety and a reduced number of duplicate tests.
Studies point to two key ingredients for successful uptake of information and communication technology: creating mechanisms to help people adapt to the new environment and testing out solutions in real work situations before moving to full-scale implementation. To date, very little investment has been directed towards helping providers prepare for new investments in infrastructure being made by the provinces, territories and the federal government.
The CMA is prepared to play a pivotal partnership role in achieving the buy-in and cooperation of physicians and other health care providers through a multi-stakeholder process.
As well, currently the majority of ICT investments have targeted acute care and primary care settings. Changing demographics in the Canadian population suggest that new pressures are likely to emerge in home care settings – an area that has hitherto been largely neglected with respect to ICT and is currently ill equipped to cope with growing demand. A potential safety valve that could be made available, however, is the application of remote healthcare solutions amenable to care provided in the home.
SHORT-TERM BRIDGE FINANCING ($2.5B over five years)
* Establish a $1-billion, five-year Health Resources Education and Training Fund.
* Increase targeted funding to post-secondary institutions to alleviate some of the pressures driving the rise in tuition fees. Provide enhanced direct financial support to students, in particular, through bursaries and scholarships.
* Establish a one-time catch-up fund of $1.15 billion to restore medical equipment to an acceptable level.
* Assist providers to improve and/or gain skill sets to work to become more ICT enabled and provide for aggressive piloting of remote ICT solutions.
The proposals as outlined above for the overall financing of the health care system recommend an incremental approach to increased federal support for health care with the more significant investments not beginning until after 2005/06. We feel that this approach would allow for the majority of funds to come from within existing (or anticipated) fiscal frameworks.
Within the context of broader discussion, the CMA brought together key experts on September 25, 2002 to discuss issues related to the interface between tax and health. One of the issues discussed was the potential for using earmarked taxes as a mechanism for raising revenue, particularly for short-term capital-type investments. With respect to any new funding mechanism, there was agreement on the need to take into account the principles of fairness, progressivity and horizontal and vertical equity in determining any new source of funding for health care services.
While some suggest that efficiencies remain in the system, that if eliminated could provide funding for future health care needs, this is not the view of CMA members working on the front-line of the health care system. CMA’s challenge to governments is to not allow the lack of a revenue source to provide an excuse for not proceeding with health care reform in Canada. The CMA is looking forward to the recommendations in the Kirby and Romanow reports to further inform work in this area.
INVESTMENTS IN PUBLIC HEALTH
In essence, public health is the organised response by society to protect and promote health and to prevent illness, injury and disability. These efforts require co-ordination and co-operation between individuals, federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, community organisations and the private sector. A major component of public health is focused on the promotion of healthy living to improve the health status of the population and reduce the burden and impact of chronic and infectious diseases. A recent commitment of $4.3 billion in the U.S. for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention challenges us to equally support activities that further strengthen Canada’s public health system.vii
The September 30, 2002 Speech from the Throne noted the importance of a strong public health system and promised to “move ahead with an action plan in health policy areas under its direct responsibility” including addressing emerging risks, adapting to modern technology and emphasizing health prevention activities. We see this as an important commitment and will be watching closely as the plan is developed. In the meantime, we have identified three areas of public health that require more immediate federal assistance.
Last year our submission to the Standing Committee addressed the urgent health security and health care issues arising out of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. The CMA raised serious concerns with the ability of Canada’s public health care system to respond to disasters and made a number of recommendations to address national preparedness in terms of security, health and capacity of the system. While there has been some movement towards meeting these needs, the CMA firmly believes that there remain significant shortcomings in our capacity to respond to health care emergencies.
At the time of an emergency, among the first points of contact with the health system for Canadians are doctors’ offices and hospital emergency rooms. As noted in past CMA submissions to the Standing Committee, we have witnessed in recent years the enormous strain these facilities can face when even something quite routine like influenza strikes a community.
Regardless of how well prepared any municipality is, under certain circumstances public health officials will need to turn to the province, territory and/or the federal government for help. The success of such a multi-jurisdictional approach is contingent upon good planning beforehand between the federal, provincial/territorial and local-level governments. There is an important role for the federal government to urgently improve the co-ordination amongst authorities and reduce the variability between various response plans in co-operation with provincial authorities (including assisting in the preparation of plans where none exist).
At the beginning of the last century, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they are now responsible for less than 5% of all deaths thanks to immunisation programs. Immunisation protects an entire population by preventing the spread of disease from one individual to another: the more people immunised, the less chance of disease. To minimise the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases the maintenance of very high levels of immunisation is required. The National Advisory Committee on Immunisation (NACI) has provided general Canadian recommendations on the use of vaccines, drawing upon the expertise of specialists in public health, infectious diseases and paediatrics from across the country.
Canadian children in all provinces are routinely immunised against nine diseases. For approximately $150 worth of vaccines, a Canadian child can be vaccinated against these diseases from infancy to adolescence, the impact of which can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, the level of immunisation varies across Canada. This is unacceptable. All children in Canada should and must have the protection that current science has made available against vaccine-preventable diseases according to the recommendations of public health experts.
The CMA recommends a two-step strategy. First we encourage the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to jointly develop goals in the area of vaccination, such as linking record-keeping systems, implementing vaccine safety guidelines and seeking purchasing partnerships. Second, we urge the federal government to work within this framework to ensure that three new vaccines be introduced across the country to prevent children from contracting varicella (chicken pox); meningitis and pneumococcus (the leading cause of invasive bacterial infections, bacterial pneumonia and middle ear infection in children).
National Drug Strategy
The development of a national strategy for addressing issues related to illicit drug use should be a priority for federal leadership and investment. Illicit drug use has adverse effects on the personal health of Canadians and the well-being of society. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public-health policy approach to address illicit drug use.
A single-handed criminal justice approach to dealing with illicit drug use is inappropriate particularly when there is increasing consensus that it is ineffective and exacerbates harm. Addiction should be regarded as a disease and therefore, individuals suffering with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation.
We applaud the recent commitment in the September 30, 2002 Speech from the Throne to implement a national drug strategy to address addiction while promoting public safety. In keeping with this, the CMA urges the government to fully implement and evaluate a national drug strategy prior to proceeding with any movement toward changes in the legal status of marijuana.
INVESTMENTS IN PUBLIC HEALTH ($700 million over three years)
* Create an assistance fund for municipal and provincial authorities to support public health infrastructure renewal at a local level, improve the co-ordination among public health officials, police, fire and ambulance services, hospitals and other services and to support the infrastructure for public health emergency response.
* Continue to invest in the resources and infrastructure (i.e., medical supplies, equipment, laboratory facilities, and training for health care professionals) needed to anticipate and respond to disasters.
* Implement a National Immunisation Strategy to achieve the optimal level of immunisation for all Canadians and ensure coverage of all children with routinely recommended childhood vaccines.
* Develop a comprehensive national drug strategy on the non-medical use of drugs that re-balances the distribution of resources so that a greater proportion is allocated to drug treatment, prevention, cessation and harm reduction.
Reform of Canada’s health care system is a formidable task. It involves the participation and agreement of all levels of government. It also requires that providers, other stakeholders and ultimately the acceptance of the end-user, Canadians are at the planning table. The Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, over the past year and a half, has undertaken a vast review of the issues impacting Canada’s health care system including Canadians’ values. As providers of care at the front-line of the health care system, Canadian physicians see themselves as key partners in this reform.
The CMA will be looking eagerly at the Romanow Commission’s recommendations and those of the Senate Committee. We will be holding the federal, provincial and territorial governments accountable for implementing, in a timely fashion, a response with clear deliverables. Clearly, we see the report’s release as offering a short window of opportunity to turn the corner on health care system reform. We need to act now and not just wait for the system to fix itself. Canadian physicians are ready to do our part, all we ask is for the opportunity.
i Since 2000 there have been four major provincial reviews of their health care systems (Caring for Medicare: Sustaining a Quality System (the Fyke Commission), April 2001; la commission d’étude sur les services de santé et les services sociaux (the Clair Commission); Patients First: Renewal and Reform of British Columbia’s Health Care System, December 2001; A Framework for Reform: Report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health (the Mazankowski Report), January, 2002.
ii A recent article by Patrick Monahan and Stanley Hartt published by the C.D. Howe Institute argues that Canadians have a constitutional right to access privately-funded health care if the publicly funded system does not provide access to care in a timely way.
iii Precedents for these types of transfers include the National Health Grants Program created in 1948 to develop hospital infrastructure across the country. More recently, several funds were created to support early child development, medical equipment, the health infoway and primary care renewal at the time of the First Ministers’ Agreement on Health in September 2000.
iv Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Health at a Glance. Paris, France: OECD; 2001.
v The CMA has developed a policy on Rural and Remove Practice Issues which was released on October 17, 2000 (CMAJ, October 17, 2000, Vol. 163 (8)).
vi Canadian Medical Forum membership includes: CMA, Association of Canadian Medical Colleges, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Canadian Federation of Medical Students, Canadian Association of Interns and Residents, Federation of Medical Licensing Authorities of Canada, Medical Council of Canada, and Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations.
vii As announced on December 20, 2001 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Copy available at: http://www.hhs.gov/news
It has been over three years since the Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA) was signed by the federal and provincial/territorial governments, with the exception of Quebec. At the time, it was heralded as an important breakthrough in federal-provincial relations that would clear the way for greater intergovernmental cooperation on pressing social policy issues such as health care renewal.
Functional federalism is essential to achieving social policy objectives that will be of benefit to Canadians from coast to coast. While SUFA may not be perfect, it is better than the alternative of federal-provincial paralysis and dysfunction. And as SUFA acknowledges, Canada’s social union is about more that how governments relate to each other: it is about how governments can and should work with external stakeholders and individual Canadians to improve the social policies and programs.
The health sector is an important test case for SUFA. It is the most cherished of Canada’s social programs. Canadians want and expect their governments to work together to improve the health care system and ensure its future sustainability. Ironically, it is also the area where government intergovernmental discord has been the greatest. On the eve of the final report of the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, it is timely to reflect on SUFA and its role in the renewal of Canada’s health system.
SUFA and the Health Sector – Strengths and Weaknesses
The attached table provides a summary of the key elements of SUFA and the CMA’s assessment of how well SUFA provisions have been applied in the health sector.
On the positive side, the health sector has fared relatively well in the area of mobility within Canada. Physicians and other regulated health care providers generally enjoy a high degree of mobility. Portability of hospital and medical benefits is largely ensured through interprovincial eligibility and portability agreements. There are, however, two areas of concern. First, there is the longstanding failure to resolve the non-portability of medical benefits for Quebec residents. Second, there is growing disparity in coverage for services that are currently not subject to national standards under the Canada Health Act, particularly prescription drugs and home care.
In the area of dispute avoidance and resolution, governments have agreed to a formal process to address concerns with the Canada Health Act. This is a positive step, though few details have been made public. The real test will be whether this new process accelerates the resolution of non-compliance issues (most of which, as the Auditor-General recently pointed out, have remained unresolved for five years or longer), and whether the federal government will have the political will to levy discretionary penalties for non-compliance.
There has also been progress on public accountability and transparency as governments have begun reporting results in 14 health indicator areas pursuant to the September 2000 health accord. The CMA is disappointed, however, that governments did not fulfil their pledge to involve stakeholders at all levels in the development of these indicators. Moreover, governments have short-changed Canadians by not providing them with a national roll-up of indicators that would facilitate comparisons across jurisdictions. Looking to the future, it will be critical to put in place a process that moves from benchmarks (indicators) to the bedside (best practices, better outcomes). This must be done in collaboration with health care researchers, providers and health managers—those individuals who understand the importance of taking research and importing it into practice. Clinical researchers across the country are doing this work and must to be supported.
Overshadowing these relative successes in the first three years of the Social Union Framework Agreement are three key challenges that must be addressed:
* inadequate institutional mechanisms to improve accountability across the system
* failure to reduce uncertainty about what the health system will deliver, now and into the future
* resistance on the part of governments to engage stakeholders in a true partnership for health system renewal
The CMA is concerned that if these fundamental weaknesses are not addressed, they will undermine future attempts to renew Canada’s health system.
With the adoption of SUFA, governments have significantly increased emphasis on performance measurement and public reporting. While this is a positive development, it also has the potential to lead towards information overload and paralysis, unless two critical elements are addressed. First, there is a need for a clear accountability framework that sets out the roles, rights and responsibilities of all key players in Canada’s health system: patients, health care providers and governments. This, in turn, requires the creation of a credible arm’s length institution to monitor compliance with this framework and rise above the fray to give Canadians the straight goods on health care. One has to look no further that the recent rekindling of the so-called “shares debate” between the federal and provincial governments as an example of why these changes are necessary.
Over the past decade, Canada’s health system has been plagued by an escalating crisis of uncertainty. Patients have faced increasing uncertainty about the accessibility and timeliness of essential health care services. Health care providers have seen working conditions deteriorate. Employers and private insurers have seen their contribution to funding health services increase unpredictably as governments have scaled back their funding commitments. Furthermore, provincial and territorial governments have had to contend with an unstable federal funding partner.
Canadians deserve better. They need more certainty that their public health system will care for them when they need it most. They need more transparency from governments about “what’s in” and “what’s out” in terms of public or private coverage. They need their governments to act on their SUFA undertaking to make service commitments for social programs publicly available such as establishing standards for acceptable waiting times for health care. And they need governments to follow through with their SUFA commitment to ensure stable and adequate funding for the health system and other social programs.
Fostering real partnerships
In the health care field, deliberations and agreements have taken place behind closed doors and governments have discounted the role that non-governmental organizations and citizens should play in decision-making. It is these very providers and patients who are expected to implement and live with the results of such cloistered decision-making. The consequences of this systematic exclusion are all too evident in the current critical and growing shortages of physicians, nurses and other health professionals. If we are to achieve the vision of a sustainable Medicare program, it is critical that governments come clean on their SUFA commitment to work in partnership with stakeholders and ensure opportunities for meaningful input into social policies and programs.
CMA’s Prescription for Sustainability – Building on SUFA
The Social Union Framework Agreement has created the necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for health system renewal. It has codified the emerging consensus on federal-provincial relations and has clarified the "rules of the game". However, it is an enabling framework that is of limited value in the health sector unless it is given life through institutional mechanisms that establish enduring partnerships not just between governments, but between governments health care providers, and patients.
In its final submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada entitled “Prescription for Sustainability”, the CMA proposes the implementation of three integrated “pillars of sustainability” that together would improve accountability and transparency in the system: a Canadian Health Charter, a Canadian Health Commission, and federal legislative renewal.
Canadian Health Charter
A Canadian Health Charter would clearly articulate a national health policy that sets out our collective understanding of Medicare and the rights and mutual obligations of individual Canadians, health care providers, and governments. It would also underline governments’ shared commitment to ensuring that Canadians will have access to quality health care within an acceptable time frame. The existence of such a Charter would ensure that a rational, evidence-based, and collaborative approach to managing and modernizing Canada’s health system is being followed.
Canadian Health Commission
In conjunction with the Canadian Health Charter, a permanent, independent Canadian Health Commission would be created to promote accountability and transparency within the system. It would have a mandate to monitor compliance with and measure progress towards Charter provisions, report to Canadians on the performance of the health care system, and provide ongoing advice and guidance to the Conference on Federal-Provincial-Territorial ministers on key national health care issues. Recognizing the shared federal and provincial/territorial obligations to the health care system, one of the main purposes of the Canadian Health Charter is to reinforce the national character of the health system.
Federal legislative renewal
Finally, the CMA’s prescription calls for the federal government to make significant commitments in three areas: 1) a review of the Canada Health Act, 2) changes to the federal transfers to provinces and territories to provide increased and more targeted support for health care, and 3) a review of federal tax legislation to realign tax instruments with health policy goals.
While these three “pillars” will address the broader structural and procedural problems facing Canada’s health care system, there is many other changes required to meet specific needs within the system in the short to medium term. The CMA’s Prescription for Sustainability provides specific recommendations in the following key areas:
* Defining the publicly-funded health system (e.g. a more rational and transparent approach to defining core services, a “safety valve” if the public system fails to deliver, and increased attention to public health and Aboriginal health)
* Investing in the health care system (e.g. human resources, capital infrastructure, surge capacity to deal with emergencies, information technology, and research and innovation)
* Organization and delivery of services (e.g. consideration of the full continuum of care, physician compensation, rural health, and the role of the private sector, the voluntary sector and informal caregivers)
On balance, the Social Union Framework Agreement has been a positive step forward for social policy in Canada, though its potential is far from being fully realized.
The CMA’s proposal for a Canadian Health Charter, a Canadian Health Commission and federal legislative review entail significant changes to the governance of Canada’s health system. These changes would be consistent with the Social Union Framework Agreement and would help “turn the corner” from debate to action on health system renewal.
The early, ongoing and meaningful engagement of health care providers is the sine qua non of securing the long-term sustainability of Canada’s health system. Canada’s health professionals, who have the most to contribute, and next to patients – who have the most at stake – must be at the table when the future of health and health care is being discussed.
The CMA’s Assessment of the Social Union Framework Agreement ANNEX
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1. All Canadians to be treated with fairness and equity
2. Promote equality of opportunity for all Canadians
3. Respect for the equality, rights and dignity of all Canadian women and men and their diverse needs
4. Ensure access for all Canadians to essential social programs and services of reasonably comparable quality
5. Provide appropriate assistance to those in need
6. Respect the principles of Medicare: comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration and accessibility
7. Promote the full and active participation of all Canadians in Canada’s economic and social life
8. Work in partnership with stakeholders and ensure opportunities for meaningful input into social policies and programs
9. Ensure adequate, affordable, stable and sustainable funding for social programs
10. Respect Aboriginal treaties and rights
[#4] Progress towards the objective of ensuring access to essential health services of reasonably comparable quality is difficult to assess. First, there is no agreed-upon definition of essential health services. Second there the development of indicators and benchmarks of health care quality is still in its infancy. However, the CMA is very concerned that the system is not headed in the right direction, with growing shortages of physicians, nurses and other health care providers. According to Statistics Canada’s recently released survey on access to health care services, an estimated 4.3 million Canadians reported difficulties accessing first contact services and approximately 1.4 million Canadians reported difficulties accessing specialized services.
[#6]Although there is broad support for the five principles of Medicare, there continue to be a number of longstanding violations of Canada Health Act that are not being addressed, including the portability of medical benefits for Quebec residents. The emergence of privately-owned clinics that charge patients for medically-necessary MRI scans is also cause for concern.
[#8] There is no formal, ongoing mechanism for input from stakeholders and the individual Canadians in debates about national health policy issues. (See also #17 below).
[#9] Ensuring adequate, affordable, and stable funding for Canada’s health system is essential to its long-term sustainability. During the 1990s, billions of dollars were siphoned out of the system to eliminate government deficits. To put Medicare back on a sustainable path, governments must make long-term funding commitments to meet the health care needs of Canadians. The CMA has recommended that the federal government should significantly increase its financial contribution to restore the federal-provincial partnership in health care, and increase accountability and transparency through a new earmarked health transfer.
Mobility within Canada
11. Removal of residency-based policies governing access to social services
12. Compliance with the mobility provisions of the Agreement on Internal Trade
[#11] Residency-based policies are generally not an issue for physician and hospital services, where inter-provincial portability is guaranteed through reciprocal billing arrangements. As noted above, however, the portability of medical benefits for many Quebec residents is limited because the province only reimburses out-of-province services at home-province (as opposed to host-province) rates.
[#12] Regulatory authorities initiated work towards meeting the obligations of the Labour Mobility Chapter of the Agreement on Internal Trade in fall 1999. A Mutual Recognition Agreement has been developed and endorsed by all physician licensing authorities.
Public accountability & transparency
13. Performance measurement and public reporting
14. Development of comparable indicators to measure progress
15. Public recognition of roles and contributions of governments
16. Use funds transferred from another order of government for purposes agreed and pass on increases to residents
17. Ensure effective mechanisms for Canadians to participate in developing social priorities and reviewing outcomes
18. Make eligibility criteria and service commitments for social programs publicly available
19. Have mechanisms in place to appeal unfair administrative practices
20. Report publicly on appeals and complaints
[#13-14] Pursuant to the September 2000 Health Accord, the federal government and provinces have developed common health indicators in 14 areas and have released a first slate of reports. However, the usefulness of these reports is hampered by missing data elements on quality of care (access and waiting times in particular) and the absence of a national roll-up to facilitate inter-provincial comparisons.
[#15] Continuing federal-provincial bickering about shares of health funding makes it clear that this provision is not being met.
[#16] The CMA’s analysis of the Medical Equipment Fund found that incremental spending by provinces on medical technology accounted for only 60% of the $500 million transferred by the federal government for this purpose.
[#17] There is no mechanism in place to ensure ongoing input from Canadians and health care providers in national health policy development. The CMA has recommended the creation of a Canadian Health Commission, with representation from the public and stakeholders to provide advice and input to governments on key national health policy issues.
[#18] Although there have been proposals to this effect in a couple of provinces, governments currently do not make explicit commitments about the quality and accessibility of health services. In order to reduce the uncertainty Canadians are feeling with respect to Medicare, the CMA has recommended the creation of a Canadian Health Charter that would set out the rights and responsibilities of patients, health care providers and governments. In particular, the health charter would require all governments to set out care guarantees for timely access to health services based on the best available evidence.
[#19-20] The Auditor-General recently reported that Health Canada provides inadequate reporting on the extent of compliance with the Canada Health Act.
Governments working in partnership
21. Governments to undertake joint planning and information sharing, and work together to identify priorities for collaborative action
22. Governments to collaborate on implementation of joint priorities when this would result in more effective and efficient service to Canadians.
23. Advance notice prior to implementation of a major policy or program change that will substantially affect another government
24. Offer to consult prior to implementing new social policies and programs that are likely to substantially affect other governments.
25. For any new Canada-wide social initiative, arrangements made with one province/territory will be made available to all provinces/territories.
26. Governments will work with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada to find practical solutions to address their pressing needs
The requirement for governments to work together collaboratively is perhaps the most important part of SUFA, yet there it is impossible for organizations and individuals outside of government to assess the degree to which these provisions have been met. This so-called “black box of executive federalism” is not serving Canadians well. In the health sector, there are too many examples of governments developing policy and making decisions with little or no input from those who will ultimately have to implement change.
To achieve a true social union, the tenets of good collaborative working relationships – joint planning, advance notice and consultation prior to implementation – must be extended beyond the ambit of federal-provincial decision-making. The CMA’s proposal for a Canadian Health Commission would go some distance in addressing these concerns. A key part of its mandate would be to bring the perspective of health providers and patients into national health policy deliberations and decision-making.
Federal spending power
27. Federal government to consult with P/T governments at least one year prior to renewal or significant funding changes in social transfers
28. New Canada-wide initiatives supported by transfers to provinces subject to:
a) collaborative approach to identify Canada wide objectives and priorities
b) Agreement of a majority of provincial governments
c) Provincial discretion to determine detailed design to meet agreed objectives
d) Provincial freedom to reinvest funding in related area if objectives are already met
e) Jointly developed accountability framework
29. For new Canada-wide initiatives funded through direct transfers to individuals or organizations, federal government to provide 3-months notice and offer to consult
There have been three new Canada-wide health initiatives supported by the federal spending power: the $500M Medical Equipment Fund, the $800 Primary Health Care Transition Fund and the $500M fund for health information technology.
The Medical Equipment Fund was created to respond to a genuine need for more modern diagnostic and treatment equipment. However, objectives were vague, money was transferred with no strings attached, and there was no accountability framework. The result, as the CMA’s analysis has shown, is that a significant portion of the funding did not reach its destination.
The jury is still out in the case of the Primary Care Transition Fund. Delivery of this program through normal government machinery will entail a higher degree of accountability than in the case of the Medical Equipment Fund. However, objectives of this initiative may be too broad to have a significant steering effect on the system as a whole.
Canada Infoway Inc. is an arm’s length body created by the federal government to disburse the $500M in health information technology funding. While this model has the advantage of being less politicized than government-run programs; accountability to Parliament and to Canadians is weaker.
Dispute avoidance & resolution
30. Governments committed to working together and avoiding disputes
31. Sector negotiations to resolve disputes based on joint fact-finding, including the use of a third party
32. Any government can require a decision to be reviewed one year after it enters into effect
33. Governments will report publicly on an annual basis on the nature of intergovernmental disputes and their resolution
Federal and provincial governments have agreed to a formal dispute avoidance and resolution process under the Canada Health Act. The Canadian Health Commission recommended by the CMA could play a useful role as an independent fact-finder.
Review of SUFA
34. By the end of the 3rd year, governments will jointly undertake a full review of the Agreement and its implementation. This review will ensure significant opportunities for input and feedback from Canadians and all interested parties, including social policy experts, the private sector and voluntary organizations.
[#34] Governments have taken a minimalist approach to the SUFA review by opting for an internet-based consultation and closed meetings with invited external representatives.
This approach is not sufficient. Future reviews should be more inclusive of all stakeholders.
This year’s submission from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to the Standing Committee on Finance focused on the need for action in the short and longer terms by identifying strategic investments that will ensure a strong health care system supported by a dependable and comprehensive public health infrastructure as its foundation. Specifically, the CMA recommended an initial investment of $16 billion over five years starting in 2003/04 and an additional $3.2 billion for shorter-term and public health initiatives.
Following our October 22, 2002 presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance, the CMA has developed four supplementary specific proposals for one-time funding in areas of urgent national need. They represent highly visible initiatives that, taken together, would substantially enhance Canada’s capacity in the health care sector in areas of federal jurisdiction. They are:
ACCESS HOME (Accelerating Community Care through Electronic Services)
Funding of specific sites across Canada to undertake aggressive, large scale project implementation of remote information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to facilitate care in home and community based settings.
PRO-MISe (Pro Medical Immigrant Selection)
Establishment of an international off-shore assessment program to pre-screen potential medical graduates who wish to immigrate to and practice medicine in Canada.
RREAL HEALTH Communication and Coordination Initiative (Rapid, Reliable, Effective, Accessible and Linked)
Increased capacity in areas of public health system to ensure communication in real time, both between multiple agencies and with health care providers, especially in times of national emergency or to meet national health needs.
PAN-CANADIAN NETWORKS OF CLINICAL EXCELLENCE
Improved national planning for specialty care across Canada by implementing needs-based planning tools; building synergies around areas of expertise; maximizing the efficiency in the delivery of care; and creating mechanisms for ensuring timely access to highly specialized quaternary care throughout Canada.
This initial facet of a comprehensive federal reinvestment strategy corresponds with priorities identified in the Speech from the Throne and with the strategic priorities identified in our submission to the Standing Committee on Finance. Together, they constitute an important next step toward implementing the government’s Speech from the Throne commitments. However, given the particular urgency of these initiatives, and their ability to stand as independent projects, we feel they would be excellent candidates for modest but meaningful allocations from the federal surplus that may become available towards the end of this fiscal year.
Each of these proposals incorporates a highly visible, targeted approach that not only builds the necessary evidence for transition to a renewed health care system but is also amenable to one-time funding. They reflect priorities that, due to their inter-jurisdictional nature, are highly unlikely to be undertaken by the provinces and territories without federal assistance. They would substantially reduce the uncertainties that Canadians feel and experience in dealing with the health system. Indeed, these initiatives provide an opportunity for the federal government to show immediate leadership in areas that fall clearly under its jurisdiction in ways that are certain to be complementary to the recommendations from the Commission on the Future of Canada (the Romanow Commission).
The Canadian Medical Association believes that the time for targeted action is now as part of a comprehensive strategy for a sustainable health care system. Canadians are counting on governments to turn the corner from debating what needs to be done to implementing necessary changes. We see time-limited, targeted reinvestments as an essential part of this renewal.
Accelerating Community Care through Electronic Services
In the September 2000 Health Accord, health information and communications technology (ICT) was highlighted as an area where First Ministers agreed to work together to strengthen a Canada-wide health infostructure to improve quality, access and timeliness of health care for Canadians. As part of the funding initiatives announced at that time, Canada Health Infoway Inc. (CHII), received $500 million in funding to accelerate the adoption of modern ICTs to provide better health care.
Given that implementation of a full health ICT strategy will require significantly more funding, CHII has given priority to the development of the electronic health record. Further, with the sunsetting of the two-year $80 million Canada Health Infostructure Partnerships Program (CHIPP) there are no other federal programs that provide funding for ITC pilot projects.
Changing demographics in the Canadian population point to emerging pressures to meet increased non-institutional care needs of our aging population. To date, the home care sector has been largely neglected with respect to ICT – the majority of current ICT investments target acute and, to a lessor extent, primary care settings – and is currently ill equipped to cope with growing demand.
Remote healthcare solutions show considerable potential to improve the care provided in home and community settings. Current projects in this area have demonstrated the benefits of using ICTs to facilitate care in non-traditional settings. Larger scale testing of remote ICT solutions should be undertaken to determine how best they can be applied to facilitate the provision of care in home and community based settings, and the implications for provider practice.
Through funding of specific sites across Canada (mini centres of excellence), engage in aggressive, large scale project implementations of remote ICT solutions to facilitate care in home and community based settings. This would involve working through how best to apply ICTs in these settings, determining what works best and developing practice procedures for the provider community.
The ACCESS-HOME proposal is based on the underlying principle of a collaborative model and the following potential key partners have been identified: provinces and territories, regional health authorities, and the private sector (e.g., March Networks).
Undertake, over a three year period, a variety of home and community care projects to learn how best to apply remote ICT solutions to facilitate provision of care in these settings. These could include projects to link primary care physicians to elderly frail patients in their home; to link patients with severe chronic conditions to specialists for remote monitoring of their conditions; to link home care nurses to patients to carry out preventive and promotion related activities on line; and to link physicians with recently discharged patients to monitor their rate of recovery.
Part of the project funding proposal would include an evaluation component to build a knowledge base of what works and why. The assessments then would be placed on the Health Canada web site to promote knowledge transfer.
FUNDING & ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS
A one-time, lump sum endowment of $50 million in this fiscal year to Canada Health Infoway Inc. (CHII) to manage the program and funds.
Over a three-year period, CHII would operate under a very clear mandate set out by Health Canada to fund projects ($1-2 million each) across the country, in urban, rural and isolated settings, to more aggressively apply ICTs to facilitate provision of care in home and community based settings and to explore the implications for practice management. Accountability for the funds and the program implementation would be set out in a Memorandum of Understanding between Health Canada and CHII.
Funds would be allocated on a cost-shared basis with a threshold of 70% federal funding. The remaining 30% would come from partnership contributions (in-kind costs, human resources, etc.). It is anticipated that it would take one year to get the projects operational and a second year to implement their mandates. The third year would be dedicated to completing the projects and undertaking evaluations in a format that would contribute to the overall knowledge base in this area.
Pro Medical Immigrant Selection
The establishment of an assessment program to pre-screen international medical graduates wanting to immigrate to Canada and practice medicine in this country.
International medical graduates have always been, and continue to be, a valuable addition to the Canadian medical workforce. Recently, the federal government passed new immigration legislation, changing the focus of immigration requirements away from an occupation basis toward a concentration on skills, training, and potential for successful integration into the Canadian workforce and society.
In light of the implementation of these provisions, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) propose the establishment of a Pro Medical Immigrant Selection (PRO-MISe) program for foreign-trained physicians seeking to immigrate to Canada. The purpose of this program would be to ensure that the anticipated increased numbers of foreign-trained medical graduates applying to immigrate to Canada receive fair treatment.
The CMA and MCC have already had a preliminary meeting with a senior advisor to the Honourable Minister Denis Coderre, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in follow-up to a meeting with his predecessor, the Honourable Elinor Caplan in May 2001.
The goal of the project is to expedite the remote processing of applications by highly qualified international medical graduates who wish to immigrate to, and practice medicine in, Canada. This could be facilitated by creating an off-shore electronic assessment system for pre-screening in their country of origin.
In these times of physician workforce shortages, Canadian jurisdictions must be cautioned against “poaching” physicians from under-serviced parts of the world to meet their own health care needs (particularly in under-serviced areas or disciplines). Ethical recruitment practices must be established and maintained.
In the longer term, the Canadian medical community strongly believes that Canada must strive for reasonable self-sufficiency in the production of physicians, while continuing to offer opportunities to qualified international medical graduates.
Even in times of physician shortages, it remains imperative that foreign applicants who wish to practise medicine in Canada undergo a comprehensive assessment of knowledge and skills, on par with the assessment of graduates of Canadian medical schools.
The process for assessing international medical graduates must be, and be seen to be, fair, transparent, and accountable to all stakeholders, expedient and cost-effective (for both the applicant and the government).
The project would be comprised of a three-phased approach. Phase I would set up five pilots sites over 4-6 months in varied geo-political areas (e.g., London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Port-of-Spain) that would test an Internet-based assessment system providing:
1. Updated and comprehensive information on the Canadian health care system and the Canadian medical education system, with a view to managing expectations regarding opportunities to practise medicine in Canada;
2. Electronic self-assessment tools for international medical graduates, containing questions comparable to those in the official Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Exam (MCCEE);
3. An electronic assessment system for the official MCCEE; and
4. Electronic forms, including the waiver currently used by CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) indicating that the applicant understands there is no guarantee of an opportunity to practise medicine in Canada.
Phase II would evaluate the project’s success. Phase III, full implementation on a global scale, would follow.
FUNDING & ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS
$5 million for Physician Assessment
A one-time, lump sum endowment of a $5 million sequestered fund in this fiscal year to be made to the Medical Council of Canada, to be managed and administered in keeping with the goals and objectives of the project (disbursement criteria would be set in collaboration with Health Canada and Human Resources Development Canada, as required).
$15 million for Assessment of Other Health Care Providers
There is a shortage of many health care providers. The CMA has had preliminary discussions with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA). The Federal Government should consider funding the development of similar programs for other professions, in partnership with CNA, CPhA and others.
RREAL HEALTH COMMUNICATION & COORDINATION INITIATIVE
Rapid, Reliable, Effective, Accessible and Linked
Through its public health initiatives society protects and promotes health and works to prevent illness, injury and disability. In today’s world these public health functions require an increasingly specialized and well-trained workforce; sophisticated surveillance, monitoring and information systems; and adequate and continuously available laboratory support. Its ultimate effectiveness, however, is dependent on the ability of the system to communicate crucial information and health advice to the right professional in real time when they need it.
The devastating impact of the failure to effectively communicate essential information is evident in examples as diverse, as the water tragedy in Walkerton, and the untimely death of Vanessa Young who died as the result of a fatal adverse drug reaction 1. In both cases, the information health professionals needed to make optimum treatment decisions was not accessible in a reliable and timely manner.
The public health infrastructure is put to the test whenever there is a disaster, large or small, in Canada and, not withstanding the best efforts of dedicated public health professionals, it does not always receive a passing grade. The public health system is further challenged by the potential for a disconnect in communications between differing jurisdictions that may be found when, for example, First Nations communities under federal jurisdiction overlap areas of provincial jurisdiction. In the aftermath of 9/11 and the anthrax scare in the United States, Canadians must be assured of a rapid, knowledgeable, expert response to emergency public health challenges.
It is essential that the federal government take a leadership role to ensure that the communication tools and information technology necessary to allow for a more rapid and informed response to situations such as natural disasters, disease out-breaks, newly-discovered adverse drug reactions, man-made disasters, or bio-terrorism is accessible in real time in all regions of the country.
A one time infusion of $30 million for the creation of a RREAL Health Communication and Co-ordination Initiative would strengthen Canada’s public health infrastructure and enhance co-ordination and communication among all levels of government, public health officials, health care providers and multiple agencies such as police, fire, ambulance and hospitals.
The RREAL Health Communication and Co-ordination Initiative would address current deficiencies, and increase the capacity of the public health system to communicate in real time, both between multiple agencies and with health care providers in order to:
* Provide a focal point for inter-jurisdictional communication and co-ordination in order to be better prepared in times of emergency; and
* Disseminate emergency information, health alerts and current best practices in public health to health professionals and targeted public health officials in real time and in an effective and accessible fashion.
The RREAL Health Communication and Co-ordination Initiative would involve such key players in public health service and delivery as the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Paediatrics Society, the Chief Medical Officers of Health, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, the Canadian Red Cross and Health Canada in a collaborative model to ensure integrated co-ordination and communication.
The initiative would undertake a planned program of demonstration projects over a five-year period.
1. To enable the widespread accessibility of information such as newly discovered adverse drug reactions to physicians and other health providers by rapid, reliable, and effective dissemination.
2. To ensure that rural and remote areas of the country and First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities under federal health jurisdiction are linked to public health information systems.
3. To enhance clinical practice guidelines to make them more user friendly and accessible to health care providers.
4. To improve the interoperability of communication technology between multiple agencies such as public health, police and fire services, disaster relief agencies and hospitals in times of emergency.
FUNDING & ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS
A one-time, lump sum endowment of $30 million in this fiscal year to a designated organization positioned to manage the administration of these funds over a five-year project duration. One option would be to establish a new Canadian Foundation for Public Health as an arms-length agency associated with the Office for Public Health at the Canadian Medical Association.
PAN-CANADIAN NETWORKS OF CLINICAL EXCELLENCE
Canada’s health care system commits to providing Canadians with reasonably comparable access to medically necessary care. This commitment must be met across the spectrum, from primary care to highly specialized care. However, low volumes associated with highly specialized care often does not warrant the ongoing maintenance of the physical and human resources necessary in all regions of the country to be able to respond to patients’ needs.
Recent evidence has found that a critical volume of patients is required to ensure a high quality standard of care. In the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s 2002 Health Care in Canada report, they state that “for many types of care and for many different surgeries, research shows that patients treated in hospitals with higher numbers of cases are often less likely to have complications or to die after surgery”. 2
Although clinical centres of excellence (hospitals/clinics that house the human and physical resources necessary to deliver care that meets or exceeds accepted professional standards) currently exist, in Canada they are generally focussed on serving the patient needs of a single province and, in some cases, the city in which they reside. There are no formal mechanisms at the national level to facilitate needs-based planning and sharing of best practices and pooling of resources for highly specialized care. The resulting capacity “deficit” manifests itself in difficulties in accessing care – an issue that has become central to the debate on the renewal of Canada’s health care system.
This proposal is about networking existing centres to achieve improved economies of scale and to accelerate quality improvement. It would build the infrastructure necessary to support and link these centres across the country. It would not aim to further consolidate or centralize the delivery of highly specialized services.
Implement a Pan-Canadian Networks of Clinical Excellence program as a means to improve the quality and accessibility of highly specialized care in Canada.
This proposal is premised on:
* A collaborative/partnership model between health organizations such as the Canadian Stroke Network, the Association of Canadian Academic Health Organizations (ACAHO); and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA);
* Support the Provincial/Territorial Premiers’ commitment to develop Sites of Excellence in various fields such as paediatric cardiac surgery and gamma knife neurosurgery 3 ;
* Consensus building and consultation;
* Build on, and learn from, existing provincial models (e.g., Cardiac Care Network of Ontario, Ontario Stroke System);
* Reliance on evidence-based practices;
* Improved quality of care;
* Rapid diffusion and adoption of new and emerging technologies;
* Pilots and on-going evaluation leading to additional networks; and
* Adoption of an evidence-based approach to network development.
Building on the experience of earlier network models, activities envisioned for a Pan-Canadian Networks of Clinical Excellence program would be to:
* Develop electronic registries to track and connect patients and physicians across the country;
* Support collaborative research extending from the bench to bedside 4 ;
* Establish and implement clinical best practices;
* Develop and implement knowledge translation plans; and
* Promote the sharing of human capital and expertise across jurisdictions.
Beyond striving to reach optimum efficiency in the delivery of sub-acute care specialties, a Pan-Canadian Networks of Clinical Excellence program would support the development of internationally competitive centres of excellence that would offer attractive employment opportunities for the best and brightest in health human resources thereby helping to attract and retain health human resources in Canada.
FUNDING & ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS
A five year phased approach to the development of the networks is envisaged.
The first phase (two years) would involve piloting and evaluating a small number of networks. Based on detailed evaluation of the pilots, the second phase (year 2) could involve additional networks to be determined through consultation with partners. It is anticipated that by year 5, there would be five networks fully operational. The funding would be ideally delivered through a single year endowment of $25 million to existing foundations such as the Canadian Stroke Network. The new consortium would allocate funding over a 5-year period based on established criteria with regular reporting to the funding consortium partnership and ultimate accountability to report back to Parliament. A steering committee would be struck with representatives from each of the participating partners to provide direction and guidance on the project’s implementation.
1 Canadian Medical Association Journal, May 1, 2001, 164(9), page 1269.
2 Dudley RA, Johansen KL, Brand R, Rennie DJ, Milstein A. (2000). Selective referral to high-volume hospitals: Estimating potentially avoidable deaths. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283(9), 1159-1166 as cited in Health Care in Canada, 2002, Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ottawa: May 2002, p. 52.
3 As agreed to at the January 24-25, 2002 Provincial-Territorial Premiers’ Meeting in Vancouver. Information available at: www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo02/850085004_e.html
4As discussed in a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health regarding Bill C-13: An Act to Establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Dr. Peter Vaughan, Secretary General and CEO, Canadian Medical Association, December 6, 1999, Ottawa, Ontario.
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-13 - An act respecting assisted human reproduction : Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
November 20, 2002
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Madame Chair and Members of the Committee:
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association Committee on Ethics. I am here today representing our members, more than 54,000 physicians from across Canada. I also wish to speak as a advocate for our patients, especially those affected by infertility and those who are or will suffer from diseases for which medical science is searching for cures.
I am accompanied today by Dr. John Williams, our Director of Ethics.
You will recall that we appeared before this Committee on October 23, 2001 in company with representatives from eight other national health provider and scientific organizations to present our views on draft legislation on assisted human reproduction. Although we were pleased that your December 2001 report recommended the establishment of an assisted reproduction regulatory body outside the Department of Health, we were disappointed that you did not find favour with other recommendations we put forward.
The government responded to your report with Bill C-56, now Bill C-13. It is this bill that we are here to address today. Although there are many details in the bill on which we would like either clarification or changes, we intend to focus our remarks on the issue that we consider of greatest importance for our patient’s wellfare and the practice of medicine. That issue is the use of the criminal power to deal with medical and scientific activities.
The Standing Committee Report and Bill C-13
In your December 2001 report, you acknowledged our position on this issue: “Some witnesses recommended the elimination of the prohibited activities category altogether. Citing the benefits of regulatory flexibility, they felt that all activities should come under the controlled activity category, including the more reprehensible activities like reproductive cloning for which licences, arguably, would never be allowed under the regulations” (page 9). However, you rejected this view on the grounds that “a licence-related prohibition of this sort would not carry the same weight or degree of social censure as the statutory prohibition…. An outright statutory ban signals more clearly that certain activities are either unsafe or socially unacceptable.
The use of the statutory ban also signals that these activities are of such concern to Canadians that their status as a prohibited activity may not be altered except with the approval of Parliament” (page 9).
Bill C-13 reflects your views on this matter. We recognize your good faith in proposing and defending this position but we are convinced that its potential for harm outweighs its potential benefits. And so we are pleased to have this opportunity to reiterate the reason why the CMA believes that Bill C-13 will adversely affect the patient-physician relationship and the advance of medical science.
Need to Change Bill C-13
As you know, our position on this matter is supported by legal scholars such as Patrick Healy, McGill University Faculty of Law, Tim Caulfield, Director of the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, and Bartha Knoppers, Université de Montréal Centre de Recherche en Droit Publique. In essence, our position is that the criminal law is a blunt instrument and very difficult to change and is therefore appropriate for activities whose status is unlikely to change over time, such as murder and theft, rather than medical and scientific activities that are constantly developing. The latter are better left to a representative regulatory body to determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations and public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Bill C-13 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” This echoes the conclusions in your report. However, as the transcripts of your hearings demonstrate, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable. As a matter of public policy, should Canadians who hold this view be denied access to medical treatment for infertility because others consider such treatments to be ethically unacceptable? Should patients who suffer from conditions for which research that is forbidden in Bill C-13 might lead to a cure be denied that opportunity? We question whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities on which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
In Canada legislators have been justifiably reluctant to use the criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research. Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction? What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
We are also concerned about the bill’s penalties for infractions: jail terms up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000. These are disproportionate to the penalties for crimes that injure persons or property and, as such, will create a climate of undue fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area, such that they will avoid any activity that is potentially covered by the bill, even to the detriment of patient care. Given the rapid advance of science and medical practice and the difficulty of anticipating new developments, it will be difficult to adjust the law to deal with new applications of prohibited activities that may be ethically acceptable.
An Alternate Solution
The CMA has stated repeatedly that we are not opposed to the prohibition of certain assisted human reproduction activities. Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, we remain convinced that an independent body on an ongoing basis should determine the activities that are permissible or prohibited on the basis of up-to-date scientific research, public input and ethical review. This can be accomplished very easily in Bill C-13 by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” (sections 5-9) to “Controlled Activities” and adding the words “except in accordance with the regulations and a licence” to each of the provisions in sections 5-9.
Consistent with this recommendation we consider that the regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and be given as much authority as possible over the matters that Bill C-13, section 65, reserves to regulations of Governor in Council. We hope that the agency will build upon the experience and expertise of existing organizations and structures in the field of assisted reproduction that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
To summarize, we strongly support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices either temporarily or permanently. However, like others who have appeared before this Committee, we do not believe that criminalizing the medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We consider that the objectives could be as well achieved by far less drastic means than criminalization and, moreover, that criminalization would create major obstacles to legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility. We recommend that the proposed agency be empowered to regulate these practices and that the criminal power be invoked when controlled activities are performed without authority of a licence from the agency or in defiance of the licensing conditions established by the agency.
Thank you, Madame Chair and members of the Committee. We will be pleased to respond to your questions.
Good afternoon. As was said in my introduction, my name is Anne Doig and like the chair, I am a family physician. I practice as a "full service" family physician, which means that I provide care in hospital as well as in my office, including obstetrical services. I have practiced in Saskatoon for almost 32 years.
It is my pleasure to be here today. As President of the Canadian Medical Association, I represent all physicians, but today, I am proud to represent women participating in what is now a traditional occupation for them, that is, medicine.
Joining me today is Dr. Mamta Gautam, a specialist and champion of physician health and well-being. For 20 years, she worked as a psychiatrist treating physicians exclusively in her private practice in Ottawa, and has been hailed as "the Doctor's Doctor."
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has reported full-time university enrolment increased by more than 190,000, or 31%, between 2000 and 2006 and now stands at record levels.
Full-time male enrolment has passed 350,000 students and full-time female enrolment has passed 460,000.
Women account for two-thirds of full-time enrolment growth since 1971, a surge driven by the rapid increase in women's participation in the professions, including medicine.
As it stands now, the males outnumber females among practicing physicians by 67%-33%. While there are still more men than women in practice, the percentage of female first-year residents in 2008 was 57%. This is a reversal of the percentage when I graduated, and an increase from 44% fifteen years ago. This means that a significant majority of physicians close to the beginning of their medical careers, are women.
Not surprisingly, given those figures, there are many medical disciplines where the proportion of females is much higher than it was even just a few years ago.
For instance, in general surgery - long held to be a bastion of male physicians - females comprised 18% of the 1993 first year residents compared to 40% in 2008. Just over half of first-year family medicine residents in 1993 were female compared to 64% today.
However, women medical graduates still tend to choose to pursue residency training in family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology in greater proportions than their male counterparts. As has always been the case, males continue to have a stronger preference for surgery - 23% compared to 11% of females - although that gap is narrowing.
So, the overall numbers of women physicians are increasing as are the percentages of those going into what one might call non-traditional specialties, albeit at a slower rate.
The so-called feminization of medicine brings with it several other issues and I will touch on two major ones.
First, work-life balance.
The rise in the number of women physicians is bringing a positive shift in the way physicians practice and the hours that they keep.
Very few of today's young physicians - male or female - are willing to work the long hours that physicians of previous generations did.
That said, data from the 2007 National Physician Survey, which included responses from over 18,000 physicians across the country, show that, on average, male doctors still work nearly 54 hours per week, while female doctors work 48 - although many work more than that. These figures do not include time on call, nor time spent on child care or other family responsibilities. Many members of the Committee can empathize with this level of commitment.
In contrast, the European Union Work Time Directive has said that the maximum work week must be 48 hours. If Canada were to try to apply that directive to physicians our health care system would grind to a halt.
The number of physicians opting to be paid by a means other than pure fee-for-service has dramatically increased. FFS rewards the doctor financially for seeing more patients. Female physicians typically spend more time in each patient encounter, a trait that is valued by patients but not rewarded by FFS remuneration.
The second issue is stress.
In spite of their increasing numbers, women in medicine still report higher rates of incidents of intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse than their male colleagues.
As well, many female physicians continue to assume primary responsibility for home and family commitments in addition to their practice workload, thus compounding their stress levels.
Female physicians are more likely to work flexible hours; flexibility in work schedules has been the method by which female physicians balance their professional and personal lives. Yet, as they take on more and strive to be more flexible that in itself creates more stress as they battle to be "all things to all people".
The CMA identified the need to address and mitigate the unique demands on women physicians in its 1998 policy on Physician Health and Well-Being. I have brought copies to be shared with you today.
As I mentioned at the start, I am joined today by Dr. Gautam who has considerable expertise in the stressors faced by physicians - and women physicians in particular - and in managing them.
We will be happy to discuss the participation of women in medicine and to answer questions that you may have.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the Government of Canada's consultation on ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system. Ensuring sufficient income in retirement is a concern for CMA's more than 72,000 physician members and the patients they serve. With the aging of the Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities. Two areas in need of government attention are tax-assisted savings vehicles for high-earning and self-employed Canadians, and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Like the Canadian population at large, physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older - for whom retirement planning is an important concern. In addition, the vast majority of CMA members are self-employed physicians and, as such, they are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes physicians more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehicles. As we saw during the recent economic downturn, the volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short- and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to 'sell low'.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, Mr. Mintz reported that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits, which is why the government should consider raising these limits.
The CMA supports exploring ways to expand tax-assisted options available for retirement saving, particularly measures that would allow organizations to sponsor RPPs and Supplementary Employee Retirement Plans (SERPs) on behalf of the self-employed.
Such changes could allow the growing ranks of self-employed Canadians to benefit from the security and peace of mind already available to Canadians with workplace pensions. CMA members favour a voluntary approach, both for employers/plan sponsors in deciding whether to sponsor such plans and for potential plan participants in choosing whether or not to participate.
Just as the government should explore ways to modernize the rules governing registered pension plans to account for today's demographics and employment structures, so too should it explore ways to help Canadians save for their continuing care - including home care and long-term care - needs. When universal, first-dollar coverage of hospital and physician services-commonly known as 'medicare' - was implemented in Canada in the late-1950s and 1960s, health care within an institutional setting was the norm and life expectancy was almost a decade shorter than it is today. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs.
The attached backgrounder highlights the pressing need for greater support for home and long-term care in Canada, as well as some principles and options for governments to help Canadians pay for these services. It should be noted that the introduction of Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in the 2008 federal budget created a new savings vehicle to support Canadians' continuing care needs. The CMA was pleased to see its introduction.
Government action on these two related issues would benefit all Canadians. Expanding retirement-saving options for physicians would provide a strong incentive for physicians to stay in Canada. Similarly, by helping Canadians save for their own continuing care needs, governments could contribute to the health of elderly citizens and ease the demand on unpaid caregivers and government-funded continuing care.
Ensuring that Canadians have the tools at their disposal to save for their continuing care needs and that Canada's physicians have the right tools to save for retirement are important issues for the CMA. Canada's physicians have long been active on these issues and government action on these files would benefit all Canadians. We are pleased to take part in Finance Canada's consultations and would welcome any further opportunities to participate.
Anne Doig, MD, CCFP, FCFP
Thank you Madame Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As mentioned, I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I am a family physician by training and a member of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Medical Isotopes.
The working group was created to advise the Minister of Health in 2008 when the first major sustained shutdown of the Chalk River occurred. When I agreed to join the group, I certainly didn't expect it to still be going over two years later. And, while I am a member of the working group, I want to be clear, that today I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our more than 72,000 physician members across the country.
My comments are a reflection of the Working Group's June 2008 Lessons Learned report and I regret to say that a good portion of our observations are still true today.
I congratulate the Senate for looking specifically at the AECL proposals and for looking at implications for patients. While the CMA is not taking a specific position on the proposal in
Bill C-9 for Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL), in whole or in part, to be sold off to the private sector, we do believe that it is in the best interests of our patients that Canada remains a leader in the sector.
As well, Canada's doctors strongly believe that the impact on individual patient care must be considered and factored into any decisions that might result in disruptions of the supply of medical isotopes.
The CMA acknowledges that the federal budget did include $48 million over two years for research, development and application of medical isotopes and alternatives. Further, there was another allocation of $300 million on a cash basis for AECL's operations in 2010/11 to cover anticipated commercial losses and support the corporation's operations to ensuring a secure supply of medical isotopes and maintaining safe and reliable operations at the Chalk River Laboratory.
However, the CMA remains preoccupied with Canada's ability to ensure a long-term, stable and predictable supply of medically necessary isotopes. That is why we are uneasy about the federal government's exit strategy from the isotope production sector.
The report of the federal government's Expert Panel on the Production of Medical Isotopes, (December 2009) and the federal government's response to that report, (March 2010) appears to focus on the viability of this specific sector of the nuclear industry and has not alleviated our concerns. The government's response to the Panel Report was disappointing to the medical community. The government's decision to abandon Canada's long-standing international leadership in this sector is disheartening.
Of particular concern is the absence of both immediate and medium-term solutions to address the current and impending challenges facing nuclear medicine. This is simply unacceptable.
The CMA, along with our colleagues in the medical community, continues to assert that ensuring access to safe and reliable medical procedures and the provision of high-quality patient care must be the fundamental consideration of government decisions. While the production cost of isotopes cannot be ignored, particularly in times of global fiscal challenges, the medical application and benefits received are of paramount importance and must be neither discounted nor dismissed.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key factors in successful outcomes in cardiac and cancer cases. Without early diagnosis and treatment, patients have an increased risk of needing greater medical intervention later on. With more intensive treatment comes a corresponding increase in costs to the health care system and, most importantly, poorer outcomes for patients.
Specific concerns identified by the CMA and the medical community include, but are not limited to the following:
* Canada's current dependence on international reactors, without a practical back-up plan should these reactors experience difficulties, or shutdown for routine maintenance.
This is especially worrisome as the international agency, the Association of Imaging Producers & Equipment Suppliers (AIPES) warns of the unprecedented level of shortages, in a large part due to the Canada's Chalk River nuclear reactor remaining off line until August 2010 or beyond. In a recent Supply Crisis Update, AIPES points out that with a number of international reactors off-line for scheduled maintenance, the remaining reactors -the OPAL (Australia), Maria (Poland) and REZ (Czech Republic) reactors-are producing Mo99, but their combined output is limited to 15 - 20 % of the world requirements.
* The abandonment of Canada's international responsibilities and world leadership in this sector is counter to the government's own innovation and productivity agenda.
* A growing reliance on emerging technology, cyclotrons and liner accelerators that have yet to be proven as a suitable secure alternative source of radiopharmaceutical.
* A projected future supply chain that is reliant on external sources, rather than domestic production, in times of domestic supply shortages. As well, we are concerned that the federal government is leaving it to the marketplace, solely relying on current distributors to identify external sources supply, rather than searching to identify alternative safe sources of supply.
* Basing Canada's supply strategy on relicensing of the Chalk River reactor five years past its current license with no current guarantees that the plant will return and remain in production, let alone meet relicensing standards.
* The apparent lack of a federal contingency plan if, in 2016, alternative sources of supply and alternative emerging technology does not meet clinical needs.
* An analysis of the overall costs to the health care system as a result of the increased costs incurred during the prolonged period of shortages of isotopes supply and the rising costs as the demand for the alternative diagnostic and treatment models is not apparent.
* Initiatives to help mitigate increased costs for governments and particularly for nuclear medicine facilities do not exist.
The just released survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that two-thirds of nuclear medicine facilities reported that they experienced an increase in the cost of isotopes and that they were managing but exceeding their budget due to vendor surcharges. Only 2% reported that the isotope supply disruptions had no economic impact.
Canada's medical community therefore strongly urges that consideration be given to:
* investing in a mixed-use reactor for research and isotope production, as per the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Isotopes Production report of December, 2009;
* putting in place appropriate strategies and contingency plans to meet the health needs of Canadians; in particular consider a national deployment of PET technology for cancer detection and follow up.
* enhancing transparency by the government that provides more information on the short and medium-tern detailed plans to address isotope shortages;
* increasing the direct consultation with the official representatives of the nuclear medicine and medical community;
* making a public commitment to keep the Chalk River NRU reactor operational beyond the arbitrary date of 2016, as long as necessary and until secure alternative supplies of isotopes or alternative radiopharmaceuticals are proven and are in place; and,
* ensuring that the CNSC resurrects the external medical advisory council to facilitate communication between the medical community and the commission. Prior to 2001, members of the council provided CNSC staff with insight into how operational and policy decisions would affect patient care across the country.
Canada's doctors believe that the federal government must maintain a leadership role in this sector and must not compromise the medical needs of Canadians.
The Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) pre-budget submission is based on the premise that healthier Canadians are more productive Canadians. It also recognizes that the delivery of quality health care, in a timely manner, is paramount and is not mutually exclusive of any productivity agenda. With the recent release of its Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change That Works. Care That Lasts. policy document, the CMA declared its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. Physicians are reaching out to the Canadian public, opinion and business leaders, governments, interested parties and stakeholders to find ways to improve our health care system and to make sure that the upcoming reforms will focus on better serving patients.
Canada's health care system cannot continue on its current path, especially as pressure grows from an aging population. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. We must work together toward a common vision of what we aspire for our health care system.
The CMA commends the federal government for publicly stating it will honour its previous commitment of a 6% annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer through to 2014. This sustained predictable funding has brought some long-term stability to the publicly financed health care sector. However, the CMA believes that the health care system must be capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressure. Capacity and innovation strategies need to be developed and implemented to meet emerging health necessities.
In this brief, the CMA identifies a number of key issues related to health human resources and infrastructure that require immediate attention if the Canadian economy is to retain its competitive position in the global economy. Pressure is mounting on the system and there is a need to move beyond data collection to interdisciplinary collaboration. Including health care providers in the decision-making process would lead to better health public policy decisions, and result in much needed pan-Canadian health human resource planning. By making strategic direct investments in health human resources, public health and retirement savings, the federal government would retain its leadership role and contribute to the sustainability of a patient-centred health care system.
Health care's contribution: A more productive and innovative economy
The health care system in Canada employs over a million people, or 7.5% of the labour force. In 2009, Canada invested $183 billion in health care, representing 11.9% of our GDP. The benefits of health care investments not only contribute to a higher quality of life for all Canadians, but the economic multiplier effect of the initial investment is estimated to create an additional $92 billion in economic activity, such as in the high technology sector, financial services and R&D jobs.i Further federal investments in the health care system contribute to ensuring a more productive and innovative economy.
Better Health, Improved Productivity
The Conference Board of Canadaii, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) iii, the World Health Organizationiv, the Commonwealth Fundv, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policyvi all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" as well as efficiency. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better. We know that investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
Our proposals are informed by regular consultations with our 72,000 physician members and reflect what they believe are the most pressing gaps that exist in our health care system today. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians, but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come.
* Please note that the sum of the following recommendations would add less than 0.5% to the current $25 billion Canada Health Transfer that is committed to the provinces.
Recommendations for the 2011 Federal Budget:
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
1. The federal government should fulfill the balance of its 2008 election promisevii of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
2. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
3. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
4. The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crises.
C. Improving retirement savings options for the self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
5. The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
6. The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
7. The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists and further waits for advanced diagnostics and treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada and the lack of long-term pan-Canadian planning to ensure needs are met.
Canada ranks 26th of 30 OECD member countries in physician-to-population ratio. The lack of physicians in Canada puts the system under pressure and the impact of this is being felt by patients across the country. A Centre for Spatial Economics studyviiicommissioned by the CMA, found that the Canadian economy is expected to lose $4.7 billion in 2010, as a result of excessive wait times for just four procedures: joint replacements, MRIs, coronary artery bypass surgery and cataract surgery. When people wait too long for care businesses face increased human resource costs to replace lost or affected employees. There is a loss in output and especially productivity. The reduction in output would lower federal and provincial government revenues in 2010 by $1.8 billion. The econometric model in the report used to calculate these costs also estimates that to cut wait times to government recommended benchmarks would require a $586 million investment or just 2% of the current Canada Health Transfer. This investment would boost GDP by $6.2 billion.
The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, and other health professionals are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside Canada.
The CMA commends the federal government for recently announcing the Northern and Remote Family Medicine Residency Program in Manitoba, which constitutes an investment of just over $6.9 million. The program will provide extensive medical training for 15 additional family medicine residents over the next four years. We urge the government to build on this announcement and honour its full commitment. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working abroad, including approximately 9,000 Canadian-trained physicians. We know that many of the physicians who do come back to Canada are of relatively young age, meaning that they have significant practice life left. While a minority of these physicians return on their own, many more can be repatriated in the short term through a relatively small but focussed effort by the federal government, led by a secretariat within Health Canada.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promiseix of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the Public Health Agency of Canada should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." Seven years later, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system.
Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. During the H1N1 outbreak, real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Greater adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care and better public health electronic health records (EHRs), with the ability to link systems, will augment existing surveillance capacity and are essential to a pan-Canadian system. International strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could provide annual system-wide savings of $6.1 billion. A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded their pre-existing constrained resources. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crises eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crisis.
C. Improved retirement savings options for self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
With the aging Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Of keen interest to the medical profession are measures to help self-employed Canadians save for their retirement. Physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older. Self-employed physicians, like many other self-employed professionals, are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes them more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehiclesx. The recent economic downturn has shown that volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short-and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to sell at a low price.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report, Mr. Mintz wrote that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits and the government should consider raising these limits.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
According to Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the population (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to between 23% and 25% by 2031xi. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act (CHA) first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs. These needs are an important part of the retirement picture as the federal government considers options for ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system.
Additional information is contained in CMA's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance during its study on Retirement Income Security of Canadians (May 13, 2010).
Recommendation 6: The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than a million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities, and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers. Canada lags behind several countries, including the U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S. in terms of supporting informal caregivers.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
The CMA encourages the federal government to consider the recommendation found in the report entitled; Raising the Bar:A Roadmap for the Future of Palliative Care in Canada supported by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.
The recommendations contained in the CMA's pre-budget submission represent our priority recommendations for federal investments that will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come. As the federal government's commitment to the provinces through the 2004 Health Care Accord expires in 2014, it is imperative that investments are made that not only provide better care but are also sustainable for our country's economy.
Appendix Table 1
i The additional economic activity generated by the health care sector is based on a conservative 1.5 multiplier. The CMA is pursuing precise estimates of the benefits of health care investments in Canada. Please see:
Economic Footprint of Health Care Services in Canada Prepared for: Canadian Medical Association by Carl Sonnen
with Natalie Rylska Informetrica limited January 2007 In economics, the multiplier effect or spending multiplier is the idea that an initial amount of spending (usually by the government) leads to increased consumption spending and so results in an increase in national income greater than the initial amount of spending. The existence of a multiplier effect was initially proposed by Richard Kahn in 1930 and published in 1931. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_multiplier Snowdon, Brian and Howard R. Vane. Modern macroeconomics: its origins, development and current state. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005. ISBNS 1845422082, 9781845422080. p. 61.
ii How Canada Performs 2008: A Report Card on Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
iii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
iv World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.
v Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Davis, Schoen, Schoenbaum, Doty, Holmgren, Kriss, Shea
vi Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008, Health Consumer Powerhouse, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, FC Policy Series No. 38 see:www.fcpp.org/pdf/ECHCI2008finalJanuary202008.pdf
vii Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
viii The economic cost of wait times in Canada, the Centre for Spatial Economics, July 2010.
ix Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
x A more detailed outline of the issues surrounding pension reform can e found in CMA's Submission on Pension Reform Backgrounder for the Standing Committee on Finance, May 13, 2010. www.cma/submissions-to-government
xi Statistics Canada. Populations projections. The Daily, Thursday, December 15, 2005.
We are very pleased to appear on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association before this Senate committee as part of your study of pandemic preparedness and the H1N1 experience in Canada.
Earlier this year, the CMA collaborated with the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the National Specialty Society of Community Medicine to present a picture of lessons learned from the frontlines of the pandemic.
Together we represent over 80,000 physicians engaged in all aspects of Canada's health care and public health systems.
The report includes recommendations that, if acted upon, would help ensure that a strong foundation is in place to protect Canadians from future health threats.
As President of the CMA and a practising physician, I am here to present my association's point of view.
Physicians have a unique and critical role to play during public health emergencies. Many people turn to their physician first for information and counseling. Physicians are the first line of defence.
This was certainly the case during the H1N1 pandemic. This role was intensified by the confusion created by the great variation in mass vaccination programs across the country.
Many physicians felt that their urgent need for clinically relevant information was not well recognized by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Public Health Network and, in some cases, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels.
The lack of national leadership on clinical guidance led to delays and the proliferation of differing guidelines across the country.
Standard clinical guidance, adaptable to local circumstances, is the norm in medical practice. Nationally disseminated clinical practice guidelines on vaccine sequencing, use of anti-virals and hospital treatment would have created consistent clinical responses across the country.
We recommend that the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis.
The CMA also recommends that the Public Health Agency of Canada work closely with the medical specialty societies, as it did successfully with Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology in the development of clinical guidance for the care and treatment of pregnant women.
Many physicians and public health workers have complained that multiple levels of government provided similar, but not identical, advice. The differences led to skepticism among both physicians and the public and the inundation of messages led to overload.
In situations where scientific evidence is rapidly changing, as was the case during the H1N1 pandemic, we need a national communication strategy, targeted to physicians that can build on communication processes already in place.
It is especially important during a health emergency to build on existing systems that work well and can minimize the chances of conflicting messages.
It is also important that two-way lines of communication between public health and primary care are established. Embedding primary care expertise into public health planning at all levels would help us avoid problems and improve our response.
We believe that the H1N1 immunization process did not adequately engage physicians in planning and delivery.
A number of difficulties, such as the impact of bulk packaging, the sequencing of patients and the logistics of inventory management, led to friction between front-line public health practitioners and family physicians.
These could have been avoided with strengthened consultation, interdependence and mutual understanding before the crisis.
A number of witnesses have noted the importance of surveillance. There is no doubt that greater use of electronic medical records - or EMRs - in primary care could have facilitated surveillance and communications.
Family practice clinics with EMRs were able to quickly identify high-risk patients, communicate with them to schedule vaccination appointments, and collect the required data for public health.
Another aspect of pandemic planning that cannot be ignored is the possibility that physicians themselves might fall ill.
Physicians have never hesitated to provide care to patients during times of crisis, but this obligation must be balanced by a reciprocal obligation of society to physicians.
Following the SARS outbreak, the CMA prepared Caring in a Crisis, a policy paper that addresses the need to take into account and plan for what would happen when health care providers become part of the statistics of those infected.
We urge the committee to consider this challenge in your deliberations.
My last point addresses the lack of surge capacity in Canada's health system.
To mount a response to H1N1, public health units pulled human resources from other programs and many critical services were delayed, suspended or cancelled altogether.
The resources of our critical care infrastructure were stretched to their limits in many hospitals and frontline health care providers were inundated with telephone calls and visits from the worried well and an increase in visits from those with flu symptoms.
If H1N1 had been the severe pandemic that was expected and for which Canada had been preparing, our health system would have been brought to its knees.
The CMA has been warning of the lack of surge capacity in our health system for over a decade.
Canada remains vulnerable to the risks presented by epidemics and pandemics. If we are to be prepared for the next emergency, a long-range plan to build our public health capacity and workforce and to address the lack of surge capacity in our health system must become a priority.
We therefore very much appreciate the review to Canada's response to the H1N1 pandemic that has been undertaken by this Committee, and we look forward to your report.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to commend the multi-party group of Members of Parliament who have come together to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.
The challenge we face today in caring for our aging population is only going to get greater. Statistics Canada has projected a rapid increase in the proportion of seniors in the population. The first wave of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year. By 2031, seniors will account for roughly one-quarter of the population, nearly double the 13.9% observed in 2009.1
Canadians are clearly concerned about their ability to cope with future health care expenses, either their own or those of their parents. Respondents to the CMA's 2010 Annual National Report Card on Health Care survey anticipate a range of implications associated with our aging population:
* 29% reported that they will likely alter their retirement plans (e.g., work longer) to help pay for their own future costs or those of their parents;
* Almost one in five (19%) anticipates moving their parents into their own home and supporting them financially; and
* One in six (16%) anticipates paying for their parents to live in a nursing home.2
The CMA believes that the federal government could play a key role in allaying Canadians' concerns about the future by leading negotiations with the provinces and territories and taking direct action on extending access along the continuum of care. These actions should focus on three priority areas:
* Increasing access by all Canadians to affordable prescription drugs;
* Supporting informal caregivers; and
* Increasing access to palliative care at the end of life.
If nothing is done to extend Medicare to cover more of the continuum of care, it will erode over time as a national program. When the Canada Health Act (CHA) was passed in 1984, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this had declined to 42% as of 2009.3 While there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (more than 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care, these programs are not subject to the CHA principles and coverage across the provinces and territories varies significantly.
Access to Prescription Drugs
The federal government missed an excellent opportunity to modernize Medicare in July 2004 when Premiers called on it to upload responsibility for drug programs. The Premiers stated that "a national pharmaceutical program should immediately be established. The federal government should assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug plan for all Canadians, and be accountable for the outcomes."4
The federal government did not give this offer even fleeting consideration. Instead, the September 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care contained a watered-down version of the First Ministers' 2003 commitment to ensure that all Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by the end of 2005/06.
The 2004 Accord reduced this commitment to the development of costing options for pharmaceutical coverage, as part of a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS).5 Costing options were included in the 2006 progress report of the NPS but they included estimates of the cost of catastrophic coverage wildly exceeding those of Romanow and Kirby, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion.6 Nothing further has been heard about the NPS since stakeholder consultations were held in fall 2007.
As recently as September 2008, the provinces and territories (PTs) were still interested in federal participation in pharmaceuticals. In the communiqué from their annual meeting, the PT health Ministers called for a three-point funding formula to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage, including:
* PT flexibility and autonomy in program design;
* Prescription drug costs not to exceed 5% of net income; and
* Federal and PT governments to cost share 50/50, estimated at $2.52 billion each in 2006.7
Again there was no reaction from the federal government. Since then the PT governments have appeared to be giving up hope of federal participation in access to pharmaceuticals. At their June 2009 meeting, the western Premiers announced they would develop a joint western purchasing plan for pharmaceuticals,8 and more recently at the August 2010 meeting of the Council of the Federation, Premiers agreed to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance for common drugs, medical supplies and equipment.9 Health Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at their September 2010 meeting.10 One can speculate that had the federal government taken up the Premiers' offer in 2004, many aspects of the NPS would be in place by now.
Meanwhile, access to prescription drugs presents a hardship for many Canadians. In the CMA's 2009 National Report Card survey, nearly one in six (14%) reported they had either delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs. This ranged from more than one in five (22%) with annual incomes of less than $30,000 to just over one in 20 (7%) of those with incomes greater than $90,000.11
The wide geographic disparity in out-of-pocket drug expenditures is shown in the table below, which is compiled from Statistics Canada's 2009 Survey of Household Spending. Table 1 shows the percentage of households spending more than 3% and 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs, by province, in the year prior to the survey.
[Note - see PDF for correct display of table information]
% of Households Spending Greater than 3% and 5% of After-tax Income
on Prescription Drugs, Canada and Provinces, 2008
Geography >3% >5%
Canada 7.6 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 11.6 5.4E
Prince Edward Island 13.3 5.8E
Nova Scotia 8.9 3.8
New Brunswick 9.1 4.1E
Quebec 11.6 3.3
Ontario 4.7 2.2E
Manitoba 12.0 5.2
Saskatchewan 11.5 5.9
Alberta 4.6E 2.2E
British Columbia 7.5 3.6
E - Use with caution - high coefficient of variation
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 109-5012
Under both thresholds there is a more than two-fold variation across provinces in the incidence of catastrophic drug expenditures. At the 5% threshold the range is from 2.2% of households in Ontario and Alberta to 5.8% in PEI and 5.9% in Saskatchewan. With the growing availability of more expensive drugs, this variation is only likely to be exacerbated in the years ahead.
The federal government should negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with the provincial/territorial governments.
This program should be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies. Such a program should include the following elements:
* A mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* Uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income);
* Federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both;
* Group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size; and
* A continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs).
In negotiating this plan, consideration should be given to the following:
* Establishing a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
* Assessing the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
* Provision of adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans; and
* Provision of comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada.
Supporting Informal Caregivers
As the population ages, the incidence of diseases associated with dementia is projected to increase dramatically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada has reported that the 2008 level of an estimated 103,728 new dementia cases is expected to more than double to 257,811 per year by 2038. Over this period, the demand for informal caregiving will skyrocket. In 2008, the Alzheimer Society reports, the opportunity cost of unpaid care giving was estimated at almost $5 billion. By 2038 this cost is expected to increase by 11-fold, to reach $56 billion, as the overall prevalence of dementia will have risen to 1.1 million people, representing 2.8% of the Canadian population.12
The burden of informal care giving extends beyond the costs related to dementia. Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey has documented the extent to which Canadians are providing unpaid assistance to family, friends or other persons with a long-term health condition or physical limitation.
Nationwide, 1.4 million adults aged 45 or over living in the community were receiving care in 2007. Of this number almost one in two (46.9%) were receiving both paid and unpaid care, almost three in 10 (27.4%) were receiving unpaid care only, and just under one in five (18.8%) were receiving paid care only. This underscores the importance of the informal sector.
In terms of who was providing this care, an estimated four million Canadians were providing care, of whom one million were aged 65 or over, while almost two million (1.8) were in the prime working age range of 45 to 54. The provision of unpaid care represents a significant time commitment.
The caregivers who reported helping with at least one activity spent an average 11.6 hours in a typical week doing so. Those providing care reported significant personal consequences. One in three reported spending less time on social activities (33.7%) or incurring extra expenses (32.7%), almost one in five cancelled holiday plans (18.7%) or spent less time with their spouse (18.7%), and more than one in 10 (13.7%) reported that their health had suffered.
The 2.5 million informal caregivers who were in the paid labour force were likely to report that caregiving had had a significant impact on their jobs. Almost one in four (24.3%) reported missing full days of work and one in six (15.5%) reported reducing hours of work.
Compared to the total population, informal caregivers were more likely to report stress in their lives. Almost three in 10 (27.9%) reported their level of stress on most days to be either quite a bit or extremely stressful compared to fewer than one in four (23.2%) of the total population.13
As the demand for informal care grows, it seems unlikely that the burden of informal caregiving will be sustainable without additional support.
The federal government took the positive step in 2004/05 of introducing Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits for people who are away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and at risk of dying within 26 weeks.14 So far, however, this program has had limited uptake. In 2007/08, 5,706 new claims were paid.15 This pales in comparison to the 235,217 deaths that year (although not all of these would be candidates for this type of care).16
The federal government should implement measures within its jurisdiction, such as the use of tax credits, to support informal caregivers.
Increasing Access to Palliative Care at the End of Life
The Senate of Canada, and Senator Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided exemplary leadership over the last 15 years in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. The Senator's 2005 report Still Not There noted that only an estimated 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care and that for children the figure drops even further to just over 3%.17 The 2005 report repeated the 1995 call for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. To date, palliative care in Canada has primarily centred on services for those dying with cancer. However, cancer accounts for less than one-third (30%) of deaths in Canada.
Diseases at the end of life, such as dementia and multiple chronic conditions, are expected to become much more prevalent in the years ahead. The demand for quality end-of-life care is certain to increase as the baby boom generation ages. There will be an estimated 40% more deaths a year by 2020. While the proportion of Canadians dying in hospital has been decreasing over the past decade, many more Canadians would undoubtedly prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of their lives than current capacity will permit.
In the 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers built on their 2003 Accord by agreeing to provide first dollar coverage for certain home care services by 2006, including end-of-life care for case management, nursing, palliative-specific pharmaceuticals and personal care at the end of life. Seven years later we have no comprehensive picture of the availability of end-of-life care across Canada.
The Health Council of Canada's last detailed reporting on the implementation of the 2003 Accord was in 2006. At that time, the only province to report comprehensive end-of-life care was British Columbia.18 For most other jurisdictions, end-of-life care was discussed under "next steps." Since then, the Health Council has ceased comprehensive reporting on the Accord.
In the 2007 National Physician Survey, doctors across Canada were asked to rate the accessibility of the range of services for their patients. Just one in three (32%) rated access to palliative care services as either excellent or very good.19
In 2006, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Home Care Association jointly issued a 35-point "gold standard" for palliative home care, covering the areas of case management, nursing care, pharmaceuticals and personal care, which they commended to governments.20
In its April 2009 report, the Special Senate Committee on Aging recommended a federally funded national partnership with provinces, territories and community organizations to promote integrated, quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, the application of gold standards in palliative home care to veterans, First Nations and Inuit, and federal inmates, and renewed research funding for palliative care.21
In 2010, the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCC), of which the CMA is a member, released its Blueprint for Action 2010 to 2020. The four priorities are:
* Ensure all Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative end-of-life care;
* Provide more support for family caregivers;
* Improve the quality and consistency of hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada; and
* Encourage Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life.22
This blueprint embodies the sound ideas that have emerged over the past decade.
In June 2010, Senator Carstairs released her latest report Raising the Bar, which, while acknowledging some of the achievements that have been made in palliative care, repeats her previous calls for a national role and active engagement of the federal government.23
A wide range of stakeholders either have, or should have, a significant stake in the issue of palliative care. They include patients and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, caregivers (both formal and informal), the institutional and community health sectors, and the employer/business community.
The CMA urges the federal government to collaborate with the provincial and territorial governments to convene a national conference in 2011 to assess the state of palliative care in Canada.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. Catalogue no. 91-520-X. Ottawa. Minister of Industry, 2010.
2 Canadian Medical Association. 10th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2010/report_card/2010-National-Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
4 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers' action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federation. July 30, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/850098004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
5 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
6 Health Canada. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
7 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual Conference of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. September 4, 2008. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
8 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers taking action on pharmaceuticals. June 18, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo09/850114004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
9 Council of the Federation. Premiers protecting Canada's health care systems. http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/pdfs/PremiersProtectingCanadasHealthCareSystem.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. P/T health Ministers work together to advance common issues. September 13, 2010. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/860578004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
11 Canadian Medical Association. 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2009/report_card/Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
12Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rising tide: the impact of dementia on Canadian society. http://www.alzheimer.ca/docs/RisingTide/Rising%20Tide_Full%20Report_Eng_FINAL_Secured%20version.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
13 Statistics Canada. 2007 General Social Survey: Care tables. Catalogue no. 89-633-X. Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2009.
14Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Information for health care professionals: EI Compassionate Care. http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/publications_resources/health_care/ei_ccb.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
15 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Table 2.12 Compassionate care benefits. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/employment/ei/reports/eimar_2009/annex/annex2_12.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
16 Statistics Canada. Deaths 2007. The Daily, Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
17 Carstairs S. Still not there. Quality end-of-life care: a status report. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Still%20Not%20There%20June%202005.pdf. Accessed 09/24/09.
18 Health Council of Canada. Jursdictional tables on health care renewal. Companion document to Health care renewal in Canada Measuring up? Annual report to Canadians 2006. Toronto, ON, 2007
19 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian Medical Association. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2007. Q25a. Please rate the accessibility of the following for your patients. http://www.nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/nps/2007_Survey/Results/ENG/National/pdf/Q25/Q25aALL.only_NON.CORE.only.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
20 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Canadian Home Care Association. The pan-Canadian gold standard for palliative home care. http://www.chpca.net/resource_doc_library/pan-cdn_gold_standards/Gold_Standards_Palliative_Home_Care.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
21 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. April 2009. http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/rep-e/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
22 Quality End -of-life Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2020. http://www.chpca.net/qelccc/information_and_resources/Blueprint_for_Action_2010_to_2020_April_2010.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
23Carstairs S. Raising the bar: a roadmap for the future of palliative care in Canada. June 2010. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Raising%20the%20Bar%20June%202010%20(2).pdf. Accessed 09/29/10.