The Canadian Medical Association wishes to commend the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for undertaking this study of the issue of chronic diseases related to aging.
It is a timely issue, since the first members of the Baby Boom generation turned 65 in 2011 and it's predicted that by 2031 a quarter of Canada's population will be 65 or older. Though chronic disease is not exclusive to seniors, its prevalence does rise with age: according to Statistics Canada, about 74% of Canadians over 65 have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis or depression and nearly 25% have three or more. The proportion is higher among people 85 years old and over.
What are the causes of chronic disease? There are many. Some of them are rooted in unhealthy behaviour: smoking, poor nutrition and, in particular, lack of physical activity. Physicians are concerned about rising obesity rates in Canada, for example, because obesity increases one's risk of developing chronic diseases later in life.
But there is more to chronic disease than unhealthy behaviour. It is also affected by a person's biological and genetic makeup, as well as by his or her social environment. Lower income and educational levels, poor housing, and social isolation, which is a greater problem for seniors than for other populations, are all associated with poorer health status.
Now the good news: chronic disease is not an inevitable consequence of aging. We can delay the onset of chronic disease, and perhaps even reduce the risk that it will occur. Patients who do have existing chronic disease, their conditions can often be controlled successfully through appropriate health care and disease management, so that they can continue to lead active, independent lives.
Thus the CMA supports initiatives promoting healthy aging - which the Public Health Agency of Canada defines as "the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, mental and social health as people age." Healthy lifestyles should be encouraged at any age.
For example, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which CMA supports, recommend that people 65 or older accumulate at least two-and-a-half hours per week of aerobic activity such as walking, swimming or cycling. Experts believe that healthy aging will compress a person's period of illness and disability into a short period just prior to death, enabling a longer period of healthy, independent and fulfilling life.
For those who are already affected with chronic diseases, treatment is long term and can be very complex. People with diabetes, for example, need a continuous ongoing program to monitor their blood sugar levels and maintain them at an appropriate level; people with arthritis or other mobility problems may require regular physical therapy. For the patient, chronic disease means a long-term management that is much more complicated than taking antibiotics for an infection. People with two or more chronic conditions may be consulting a different specialist for each, as well as seeking support from nurse counsellors, dieticians, pharmacists, occupational therapists, social workers or other health professionals.
Often, management requires medication. The majority of Canadians over 65 take at least one prescription drug, and nearly 15% are on five drugs or more, which increases the possibility that, for example, two of those drugs could interact negatively with each other to produce unpleasant and possibly serious side effects.
Long-term, complex chronic disease care is in fact the new paradigm in our health care system. About 80% of the care now provided in the United States is for chronic diseases, and there is no reason to believe Canada is greatly different. Hence, it is worth considering what form, ideally, a comprehensive program of chronic disease management should take, for patients of any age.
The CMA believes it should include the following four elements:
* First, access to a primary care provider who has responsibility for the overall care of the patient. For more than 30 million Canadians, that primary care provider is a family physician. Family physicians who have established long-standing professional relationships with their patients, can better understand their needs and preferences. They can build a relationship of trust, so that patients are comfortable in discussing frankly how they want to treat their conditions: for example, whether to take medication for depression or seek counselling with a therapist. The family physician can also serve as a co-ordinator of the care delivered by other providers. This leads to our second recommended element:
* Collaborative and coordinated care. The CMA believes that, given the number of providers who may be involved in the care of chronic diseases, the health care system should encourage the creation of interdisciplinary teams or, at minimum, enable a high level of communication and coordination among individual providers. We believe all governments should support:
o Interdisciplinary primary care practices, such as Family Health Networks in Ontario, which bring a variety of different health professionals and their expertise into one practice setting;
o Widespread use of the electronic health record, which can facilitate information sharing and communication among providers; and
o A smooth process for referral: for example, from family physician to specialists, or from family physician to physiotherapist. The CMA is working with other medical stakeholders to create a referral process tool kit that governments, health care organizations and practitioners can use to support the development of more effective and efficient referral systems.
The patient may also need non-medical support services to help cope with disability related to chronic disease. For example, a person with arthritis who wants to remain at home may need to have grab bars, ramps or stair lifts installed there. Ideally, a coordinated system of chronic disease management would also include referral to those who could provide these services.
* The third necessary element is support for informal caregivers. These are the unsung heroes of elder care. An estimated four million Canadians are providing informal, unpaid care to family members or friends. About a quarter of these caregivers are themselves 65 or older. Their burden can be a heavy one, in terms of both time and expense. Stress and isolation are common among caregivers.
The federal government has taken steps to provide much-needed support to informal caregivers. The most recent federal budget, for example, increased the amount of its Caregiver Tax Credit. We recommend that the government build on these actions, to provide a solid network of support, financial and otherwise, to informal caregivers.
* The fourth and final element is improving access to necessary services. Only physician and hospital services are covered through the Canada Health Act, and many other services are not. All provinces have pharmacare programs for people over 65, but coverage varies widely between provinces and many, particularly those with lower incomes, find it difficult to pay for their necessary medications. Seniors who do not have post-retirement benefit plans - and these are the majority - also need to pay out of pocket for dental care, physiotherapy, mental health care and other needed supports. We recommend that all levels of government explore adjusting the basket of services provided through public funding, to make sure that it reflects the needs of the growing number of Canadians burdened by chronic disease. In particular, we recommend that the federal government negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with provincial/territorial governments.
In conclusion, the CMA believes the committee is wise to consider how we might reduce the impact - on individual patients, the health care system and society - of chronic disease related to aging. Chronic disease management is a complex problem, but warrants close attention as it is now the dominant form of health care in Canada. We look forward to the results of the Committee's deliberations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities to discuss issues related to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). This tax measure, which is recognition by the federal government that persons with a severe disability may be affected by having reduced incomes, increased expenses or both, compared to those who are not disabled i, helps to account for the intangible costs associated with a severe and prolonged impairment. It also takes into account disability-related expenses that are not listed in the medical expense deduction or which are excluded by the 3% threshold in the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
Physicians are a key point of contact for applicants of the DTC and, given the way the program is structured, a vital participant in its administration. It is for these reasons that we come before you today to address specific concerns related to the program’s performance. In addition, we would like to discuss the broader issue of developing a coherent set of tax policies in support of health and social policy.
The Integration of Tax Policy with Health Policy and Social Policy
The federal government, through a variety of policy levers such as taxation, spending, regulation and information, has played a key role in the development of our health care and social systems. To date however, discussion about the federal role in these areas has centered largely on federal transfers to the provinces and territories and the Canada Health Act.
However, in looking at how to renew Canada’s health and social programs, we should not limit ourselves to these traditional instruments. Today we have a health system that is facing a number of pressures that will challenge its sustainability. These pressures range from an aging and more demanding population in terms of the specialty care services and technology they will seek; the cry for expanding the scope of medicare coverage to include homecare and pharmacare; and a shortage of health personnel. These are only some of the more immediate reasons alternative avenues of funding health care, and thus ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens, must be explored.
In our pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance ii, the CMA recommended that the federal government establish a blue ribbon National Task Force to study the development of innovative tax-based mechanisms to synchronize tax policy with health policy. Such a review has not been undertaken in over 25 years since the Royal Commission on Taxation in 1966 (Carter Commission).
The CMA is echoing its call for a National Task Force to develop new and innovative ways to synchronize tax policy with health policy and social policy. A study of this nature would look at all aspects of the taxation system, including the personal income tax system, in which the DTC is a component.
The remainder of our brief addresses issues specific to the DTC.
Physician Involvement in the DTC Program
The CMA has in the past provided input with respect to the DTC program. Our working relationship on the DTC program with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) has been issue-specific, time-limited and constructive.
Our first substantive contact in regard to the DTC program was in 1993 when the CMA provided Revenue Canada with a brief review of the program and the T2201form. It is interesting to note what our observations were in 1993 with regard to this program because many of them still hold true today.
Here are just some of the issues raised by the CMA in 1993 during our initial review of the program:
* The tax credit program may not address the needs of the disabled, it is too hit and miss. The DTC program should be evaluated in a comprehensive way to measure its overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
* The program should be called the “Severe Disability Tax Credit Program” – or something equivalent to indicate that not everyone with a disability is eligible.
* The program puts physicians in a potential conflict with patients—the responsibility of the physician to advocate for the patient vs. gate-keeper need for Revenue Canada. The physician role should be to attest to legitimate claims on the patients’ behalf.
* Revenue Canada should clarify the multiplicity of programs. There are numerous different federal programs and all appear to have varying processes and forms. These overlapping efforts are difficult for patients and professionals.
* A major education effort for potential claimants, tax advisers and physicians should be introduced.
* A suitable evaluation of claimant and medical components of the process should be undertaken.
The CMA does not have a standardized consultative relationship with the CCRA in regard to this program. An example of this spotty relationship is the recent letter sent by the CCRA Minister asking current DTC recipients to re-qualify for the credit. The CMA was not advised or consulted about this letter. If we had been advised we would have highlighted the financial and time implications of sending 75 to 100 thousand individuals to their family physician for re-certification. We also would have worked with the CCRA on alternative options for updating DTC records. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. This clearly speaks to the need to establish open and ongoing dialogue between our two organizations.
Policy Measure: The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patients’ advocacy groups.
We would now like to draw the Sub-committee’s attention to three areas that, at present, negatively impact on the medical profession participation in the program, namely program integrity, program standardization (e.g., consistency in terminology and out-of-pocket costs faced by persons with disabilities) and tax advisor referrals to health care providers.
A primary concern and irritation for physicians working with this program is that it puts an undue strain on the patient-physician relationship. This strain may also have another possible side effect, a failure in the integrity of the DTC program process.
Under the current structure of the DTC program, physicians evaluate the patient, provide this evaluation back to the patient and then ask the patient for remuneration. This process is problematic for two reasons. First, since the patient will receive the form back immediately following the evaluation, physicians might receive the blame for denying their patient the tax credit—not the DTC program adjudicators. Second, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he or she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit.
For the integrity of the DTC program, physicians need to be free to reach independent assessment of the patient’s condition. However, due to the pressure placed by this program on the patient-physician relationship, the physician’s moral and legal obligation to provide an objective assessment may conflict with the physician’s ethical duty to “Consider first the well-being of the patient.
There is a solution to this problem it’s a model already in use by government, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Program. Under the CPP Disability Program, the evaluation from the physician is not given to the patient but, it is sent to the government and the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. Under this system, the integrity of patient-physician relationship is maintained and the integrity of the program is not compromised.
Policy Measure: The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
Fairness and Equity
The federal government has several programs for people with disabilities. Some deal with income security (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits), some with employment issues (e.g., Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), and some through tax measures (e.g., Disability Tax Credit). These government transfers and tax benefits help to provide the means for persons with disabilities to become active members in Canadian society.
However, these programs are not consistent in terms of their terminology, eligibility criteria, reimbursement protocols, benefits, etc. CMA recommends that standards of fairness and equity be applied across federal disability benefit programs, particularly in two areas: the definition of the concept of “disability”, and standards for remuneration to the physician. These are discussed in greater detail below.
1) Defining “disability”
One of the problems with assessing disability is that the concept itself is difficult to define. In most standard definitions the word “disability” is defined in very general and subjective terms. One widely used definition comes from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) which defines disability as “any restriction or inability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”
The DTC and other disability program application forms do not use a standard definition of “disability”. In addition to the inconsistency in terminology, the criteria for qualification for these programs differ because they are targeted to meet the different needs of those persons with disabilities. To qualify for DTC, a disability must be “prolonged” (over a period of at least 12 months) and “severe” i.e. “markedly (restrict) any of the basic activities of daily living” which are defined. Though CPP criteria use the same words “severe” and “prolonged” they are defined differently (i.e., “severe” means “prevents applicant from working regularly at any job” and “prolonged” means “long term or may result in death”). Other programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Canada, have entirely different criteria.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others (e.g., tax preparers/advisors) involved in the application process. This can lead to physicians spending more time than is necessary completing the form because of the need to verify terms. As a result if the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible this could result in errors on the part of physicians when completing the forms. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits.
Policy Measures: The CMA would like to see some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must become uniform.
In addition, the CMA would like to see the development of a comprehensive information package for health care providers that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
The remuneration for assessment and form completion is another area where standardization among the various government programs would eliminate the difficulties that some individuals with disabilities currently face. For example, applicants who present the DTC Certificate Form T2201 to their physicians must bear any costs associated with its completion out of their own pockets. On the other hand, if an individual is applying to the CPP Disability Program, the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself.
Assessing a patient’s disabilities is a complex and time-consuming endeavour on the part of any health professional. Our members tell us that the DTC Certificate Form T2201 can take as much time and effort to complete as the information requested for CPP Disability Program forms depending, of course, on the patient and the nature of the disability. In spite of this fact, some programs acknowledge the time and expertise needed to conduct a proper assessment while other programs do not.
Although physicians have the option of approaching the applicant for remuneration for the completion of the DTC form, they are reluctant to do so because these individuals are usually of limited means and in very complex cases, the cost for a physician’s time for completing the DTC Form T2201 can reach as much as $150. In addition, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he/she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit. Synchronizing funding between all programs would be of substantial benefit to all persons with disabilities, those professionals completing the forms and the programs’ administrators.
Policy Measure: We strongly urge the federal government to place disability tax credit programs on the same footing when it comes to reimbursement of the examining health care provider.
Tax Advisor Referrals
With the complexity of the income tax system today, many individuals seek out the assistance of professional tax advisors to ensure the forms are properly completed and they have received all the benefits they are entitled to. Tax advisors will very often refer individuals to health professionals so that they can be assessed for potential eligibility for the DTC. The intention of the tax advisors may be laudable, but often, inappropriate referrals are made to health professionals. This not only wastes the valuable time of health care professionals, already in short supply, but may create unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient seeking the tax credit.
The first principle of the CMA’s Code of Ethics is “consider first the well-being of the patient.” One of the key roles of the physician is to act as a patient’s advocate and support within the health care system. The DTC application form makes the physician a mediator between the patient and a third party with whom the patient is applying for financial support.
This “policing” role can place a strain on the physician-patient relationship – particularly if the patient is denied a disability tax credit as a result a third-party adjudicator’s interpretation of the physician’s recommendations contained within the medical report. Physicians and other health professionals are not only left with having to tell the patient that they are not eligible but in addition advising the patient that there may be a personal financial cost for the physician providing this assessment.
Policy Measure: Better preparation of tax advisors would be a benefit to both patients and their health care providers. The CMA would like CCRA to develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax preparers and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability. This would provide some guidance as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to see a health professional for a professional assessment.
As raised in a previous meeting with CCRA, the CMA is once again making available a physician representative to accompany DTC representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies, prior to each tax season, to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and initial assessment, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
The DTC is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. However, there needs to be some standardization among the various programs to ensure that they are effective and meet their stated purpose. Namely, the CMA would like to make the following suggestions:
1. The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
2. The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not circumvent differences in eligibility criteria.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed, for health care providers, that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
5. That the federal government applies these social programs on the same footing when it comes to their funding and administration.
6. That CCRA develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax advisors and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability.
7. That CCRA employ health care providers to accompany CCRA representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and personal assessment of disability, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
These recommendations would certainly be helpful to all involved - the patient, health care providers and the programs’ administrators, in the short term. However what would be truly beneficial in the longer term would be an overall review of the taxation system from a health care perspective. This could provide tangible benefits not only for persons with disabilities but for all Canadians as well as demonstrating the federal government’s leadership towards ensuring the health and well being of our population.
i Health Canada, The Role for the Tax System in Advancing the Health Agenda, Applied Research and Analysis Directorate, Analysis and Connectivity Branch, September 21, 2001
ii Canadian Medical Association, Securing Our Future… Balancing Urgent Health Care Needs of Today With The Important Challenges of Tomorrow”, Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations, November 1, 2001.
I would like to thank the Committee for inviting the Canadian Medical Association to appear on this very important topic.
As a family physician in Saskatoon and the past president of the CMA, I can assure you that Canada's physicians have an acute interest in drawing attention to the health consequences of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, and the challenge of obesity.
We know that obesity is a contributor to a number of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and liver disease, as well as breast, colon and prostate cancer.
We know that over-consumption of salt, sugars, and saturated and trans fats can be a factor in hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and kidney disease.
And we know that Canadians have become dramatically less physically fit in recent decades.
As a country, we need to espouse a culture of health and wellness, based on good nutrition and physical activity.
Finding solutions will require a collaborative, system-wide approach involving all levels of government, the health, education, industry, finance and transportation ministries, and the private sector.
We know that if provided with support when young, children can adopt healthy life styles. That is why the CMA continues to call on governments across the country to work with school boards to:
* provide at least 30 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades, given by trained educators in the field;
* provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices and clearly post the nutrition content of the foods they sell; and
* ban junk food sales in all primary, intermediate and secondary schools in Canada.
The CMA has advocated policies and regulations for food safety, and promoted healthy eating and physical activity as key components of healthy living and the prevention of disease.
The CMA policy statement Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Weights calls for a Canada-wide strategy for healthy living that includes:
* information and support for Canadians to help them make healthy choices;
* support for health professionals in counselling patients on healthy weight and in treating existing obesity;
* community infrastructure that makes healthy living choices easier; and
* public policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
All Canadians need access to nutritious food at affordable prices. The price of milk, produce and other healthy foods varies greatly in different parts of Canada. In remote areas, they are even more expensive because of high transportation costs. In urban areas, nutritious food may be unaffordable for people on low incomes and unavailable as grocery stores move to the suburbs thus creating "food deserts". Among other strategies, governments should consider: implementing school meal programs; and taking into account the cost of nutritious food when setting social assistance rates.
The proliferation of packaged, prepared foods and fast foods has contributed to excess amounts of salt, sugar, saturated and trans fat and calories in our diet.
While we welcome the federal government's support for the reduction of trans fats and sodium levels in processed foods, reliance on the food industry to voluntarily reduce these ingredients has not been successful. We believe that regulation is needed to safeguard the health of Canadians.
Healthy living begins with an awareness of the impact of food and exercise on health. While individuals must take responsibility for making healthy choices, the CMA believes that governments have an obligation to provide guidance on healthy eating and physical activity that can be easily incorporated into daily lives.
We commend the federal and provincial/ territorial governments for their recent Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights. Physicians were also pleased to see the revised Canada's Food Guide in 2007, and the recent update to Canada's Physical Activity Guide.
The CMA supports nutrition and caloric labeling on packaged foods to help Canadians make informed food choices. The federal nutrition labeling awareness initiative is useful to consumers but we think information can be simplified. For example, the UK is testing front of pack 'traffic light' coding for fats, salt, sugar and calories. The CMA has also called for a clear display of caloric counts, and sodium, trans-fats and protein levels on restaurant and cafeteria menus.
The CMA believes encouragement of active transportation, that is walking and cycling, is a way to increase physical activity. Communities need to make it easier for Canadians to be physically active in their day-to-day life by providing sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly intersections; bike lanes, paths and parking spaces; and trails, parks and green spaces.
One area that we believe warrants further study is the use of incentives to promote healthy behaviours. By transferring funds or other benefits to an individual, incentives provide immediate rewards for behaviours that can lead to long-term health gains. An example in Canada is the Children's Fitness Tax Credit, which is intended to help children be more active by off-setting some of the costs incurred by families for sports and leisure programs.
Government disincentives largely involve the use of regulation and taxation in order to change individual behaviour. This helps to create an environment in which healthy choices are easier to make.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of nutrition and physical activity to our health. Encouraging Canadians to make healthy choices requires a wide ranging, long-term and collaborative approach.
The CMA believes this challenge should be met urgently. Canada's physicians are more than ready to work with governments to ensure that Canadians can improve and maintain their health.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance examines how increasing retirement income saving options, improving access to prescription drugs, and planning for a Canadian Health Quality Alliance to promote innovation in the delivery of high quality health care can enhance our health care system and, in turn, make our economy more productive. Higher quality health care and expanded options for meeting the needs of retired and elderly Canadians will contribute to the ultimate goals of better patient care, improved population health and help our country reach its full potential.
Polls show that Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned about the future of their health care system, particularly in terms of their ability to access essential care. The CMA's 2011 pre-budget submission responds to these concerns and supports a healthy population, a healthy medical profession and a healthy economic recovery. Our recommendations are as follows:
Recommendation # 1
The federal government should study options to expand the current PRPP definition beyond defined contribution pension plans. Also, the federal government should expand the definition of eligible administrators of PRPPs beyond financial institutions to include organizations such as professional associations.
Recommendation # 2
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, should establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Recommendation # 3
The federal government should convene a time-limited national steering committee that would engage key stakeholders in developing a proposal for a pan-Canadian Health Quality Alliance with a mandate to work collaboratively towards integrated approaches for a sustainable health care system through innovative practices in the delivery of high quality health care.
Over the past year, the CMA has engaged Canadians across the country in a broad-based public consultation on health care and heard about their concerns and experiences with the system. This exercise was undertaken as part of the CMA's Health Care Transformation (HCT) initiative, a roadmap for modernizing Canada's health care systemi so that it puts patients first and provides Canadians with better value for money.
We have heard through these consultations that Canadians do not believe they are currently getting good value from their health care system, a feeling borne out by studies comparing Canada's health care system to those in leading countries in Europe. We also heard that Canadians are concerned about inequities in access to care beyond the basic medicare basket, particularly in the area of access to prescription drugs. While all levels of government need to be involved, it is the federal government that must lead the transformation of our most cherished social program.
1. Retirement Income Improvement
Issue: Increasing retirement savings options for Canadians with a focus on improving their ability to look after their long-term care needs.
The CMA remains concerned about the status of Canada's retirement income system and the future ability of Canada's seniors to adequately fund their long-term and supportive care needs. The proportion of Canadian seniors (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to almost 25% by 2036. Statistics Canada projections show that between 2015 and 2021 the number of seniors will, for the first time, surpass the number of children under 14 years of age.ii
The CMA has been working proactively on this issue in several ways, including through the recently created Retirement Income Improvement Coalition (RIIC), a broad-based coalition of 11 organizations representing over one million self-employed professionals.
The coalition has previously recommended to the federal government the following actions:
* increased retirement saving options for all Canadians, particularly the self-employed;
* changes to the Income Tax Act, Income Tax Regulations and the Employment Standards Act to enable the self-employed to participate in pension plans;
* the approval of Pooled Retirement Pension Plans (PRPP) as a retirement savings program for the self-employed;
* changes to the current tax-deferred income saving options (increase the percentage of earned income or the maximum-dollar amount contribution limit for RRSPs);
* a requirement that registration to all retirement saving options be voluntary (optional); and
* opportunities for Canadians to become better educated about retirement saving options (financial literacy).iii
The CMA appreciates that federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers are moving ahead with the introduction of Pooled Registered Retirement Plans (PRPPs). The CMA, as part of the RIIC, has been providing input into the consultation process. However, PRPPs represent only one piece of a more comprehensive retirement savings structure.
Recommendation # 1
The federal government should study options that would not limit PRPPs to defined contribution pension plans. Target benefit plans should be permitted and encouraged. Target benefit plans allow risk to be pooled among the plan members, providing a more secure vehicle than defined contribution plans.
Also, the administrators of PRPPs should not be limited to financial institutions. Well-governed organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
The CMA also continues to be concerned about the ability of Canadians to save for their long-term health care needs. The Wait Time Alliance - a coalition of 14 national medical organizations whose members provide specialty care to patients - reported recently that many patients, particularly the elderly, are in hospital while waiting for more suitable and appropriate care arrangements. Mostly in need of support rather than medical care, these patients are hindered by the lack of options available to them, often due to limited personal income.
The CMA has previously recommended that 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. This remains pertinent.
2. Universal access to prescription drugs
Issue: Ensuring all Canadians have access to a basic level of prescription drugs.
Universal access to prescription drugs is widely acknowledged as part of the "unfinished business" of medicare in Canada. In 1964 the Hall Commission recommended that the federal government contribute 50% of the cost of a Prescription Drug Benefit within the Health Services Program. It also recommended a $1.00 contributory payment by the purchaser for each prescription. This has never been implemented.iv
What has emerged since then is a public-private mix of funding for prescription drugs. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has estimated that, as of 2010, 46% of prescription drug expenditures were public, 36% were paid for by private insurance and 18% were paid for out-of-pocket.v
Nationally there is evidence of wide variability in levels of drug coverage. According to Statistics Canada, 3% of households spent greater than 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs in 2008. Across provinces this ranged from 2.2% in Ontario and Alberta, to 5.8% in P.E.I. and 5.9% in Saskatchewan.vi
Moreover, there is significant variation between the coverage levels of the various provincial plans across Canada. For example, the Manitoba Pharmacare Program is based on total income, with adjustment for spouse and dependents under 18, while in Newfoundland and Labrador, the plan is based on net family income.vii,viii
The Commonwealth Fund's 2010 International Health Policy Survey found that 10% of Canadian respondents said they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.ix Moreover, there have been numerous media stories about inequities in access across provinces to cancer drugs and expensive drugs for rare diseases.
The high cost of prescription drugs was frequently raised during our public consultations this year. The need for a national drug strategy or pharmacare plan was mentioned by an overwhelming number of respondents, many of whom detailed how they had been affected by the high cost of drugs.
The cost to the federal government of a program that would ensure universal access to prescription drugs would depend on the threshold of out-of-pocket contribution and the proportion of expenses that it would be willing to share with private and provincial/territorial public plans. Estimates have ranged from $500 millionx, and $1 billionxi, to the most recent estimate from the provincial-territorial health ministers of $2.5 billion (2006).xii
Recommendation # 2
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, should establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Such a program should include:
* a mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* a uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans and across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures, on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs;
* 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;
* a requirement for 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).
3. Innovation for Quality in Canadian Health Care
Issue: Development of a proposal to establish a Canadian Health Quality Alliance to promote innovation in the delivery of high-quality health care in Canada.
There is general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer compared to similar nations. Clearly, we can do better. However, progress has been slow on a comprehensive quality agenda for our health care system. At the national level, there is no coordination or body with a mandate to promote a comprehensive approach to quality improvement.
Over the past two decades, health care stakeholders in Canada have gradually come to embrace a multi-dimensional concept of quality in health care encompassing safety, appropriateness, effectiveness, accessibility, competency and efficiency. The unilateral federal funding cuts to health transfers that took effect in 1996 precipitated a long preoccupation with the accessibility dimension that was finally acknowledged with the Wait Time Reduction Fund in the 2004 First Ministers Accord. The safety dimension was recognized with the establishment of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) in 2003. Competence has been recognized by health professional organizations and regulatory bodies through the development of peer-review programs and mandated career-long professional development.
While six provinces have established some form of health quality council (B.C., Alta., Sask., Ont., Que., N.B.), there is no national approach to quality improvement beyond safety. Given that health care stands as Canadians' top national priority and that it represents a very large expenditure item for all levels of government, the lack of a national approach to quality improvement is a major shortcoming.
In the U.S., the Institute for Healthcare Improvement is dedicated to developing and promulgating methods and processes for improving the delivery of care throughout the world.xiii England's National Health Service (NHS) has also created focal points over the past decade to accelerate innovation and improvement throughout their health system.
Canadian advancements in the health field have occurred when the expertise and perspective of a range of stakeholders have come together. The CPSI, for example, was established following the deliberations and report of the National Steering Committee on Patient Safety.xiv
It is estimated that it would cost less than $500,000 for a multi-stakeholder committee to develop a proposal for a national alliance for quality improvement, including the cost of any commissioned research.
Recommendation # 3
The federal government should convene a time-limited national steering committee that would engage key stakeholders in developing a proposal for a pan-Canadian Health Quality Alliance with a mandate to work collaboratively towards integrated approaches for a sustainable health care system through innovative practices in the delivery of high quality health care.
This alliance would be expected to achieve the following in order to modernize health care services:
* Promote a comprehensive approach to quality improvement in health care;
* Promote pan-Canadian sharing of innovative and best practices;
* Develop and disseminate methods of engaging frontline clinicians in quality improvement processes; and
* Establish international partnerships for the exchange of innovative practices.
Such an alliance could be established in a variety of ways:
* Virtually, using the Networks of Centres of Excellencexv approach;
* By expanding the mandate of an existing body; or
* Through the creation of a new body.
i Canadian Medical Association. Health Care Transformation in Canada. Change that Works. Care that Lasts. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Advocacy/HCT/HCT-2010report_en.pdf Accessed 13/07/11.
ii Statistics Canada. Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-520-x/2010001/aftertoc-aprestdm1-eng.htm. Accessed 13/07/11.
iii Retirement Income Improvement Coalition. Letter to the federal Minister of Finance and the Minister of State (Finance). March 17, 2011.
ivHall, E. Royal Commission on Health Services. Volume 1. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1964.
vCanadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Expenditure in Canada, 1985 to 2010. Ottawa, 2010.
viStatistics Canada. CANSIM Table 109-5012 Household spending on prescription drugs as a percentage of after-tax income, Canada and provinces, annual (percent). http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/pick-choisir?lang=eng&searchTypeByValue=1&id=1095012. Accessed 05/29/11.
vii Manitoba Health. Pharmacare deductible estimator. http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/pharmacare/estimator.html. Accessed 07/28/11.
viii Newfoundland Department of Health and Community Services. Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP). http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/prescription/nlpdp_application_form.pdf. Accessed 07/29/11.
ixCommonwealth Fund. International health policy survey in eleven countries. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Publications/Chartbook/2010/PDF_2010_IHP_Survey_Chartpack_FULL_12022010.pdf. Accessed 05/29/11.
x Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians - the federal role. Volume six: recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
xi Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Building on values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, 2002.
xii Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Backgrounder: National Pharmaceutical Strategy decision points. http://www.scics.gc.ca/english/conferences.asp?a=viewdocument&id=112. Accessed 23/07/11.
xiii http://www.ihi.org. Accessed 29/07/10.
xiv National Steering Committee on Patient Safety. Building a safer system: a national integrated strategy for improving patient safety in Canadian health care. http://rcpsc.medical.org/publications/building_a_safer_system_e.pdf. Accessed 23/07/11.
xv http://www.nce-rce.gc.ca/index_eng.asp. Accessed 29/07/10.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee.
Over the past year, the Canadian Medical Association has engaged in a wide-ranging public consultation on health care and heard from thousands of Canadians about their concerns and experiences with the system.
This exercise was undertaken as part of the CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative, a roadmap for modernizing our country's health care system so that it puts patients first and provides Canadians with better value for money.
The CMA found there is a groundswell of support for change among other health care providers, stakeholders and countless Canadians who share our view that the best catalyst for transformation is the next accord on federal transfers to provinces for health care.
That said, while looking ahead to what we would like to see in the next health care accord, we have identified immediate opportunities for federal leadership in making achievable, positive changes to our health care system that would help Canadians be healthier and more secure and help ensure the prudent use of their health care dollars.
During our consultation, we heard repeated concerns that Canada's medicare system is a shadow of its former self. Once a world leader, Canada now lags behind comparable nations in providing high quality health care.
Improving the quality of health care services is key if Canada is ever going to have a high performing health system. The key dimensions of quality, and by extension, the areas that need attention are: Safety, Effectiveness, Patient-Centeredness, Efficiency, Timeliness, Equitability and Appropriateness. Excellence in quality improvement in these areas will be a crucial step towards sustainability.
To date, six provinces have instituted health quality councils. Their mandates and their effectiveness in actually achieving lasting system wide improvements vary by province. What is missing, and urgently needed, is an integrated, Pan-Canadian approach to quality improvement in health care in Canada that can begin to chart a course that will ensure that Canadians ultimately have the best health and health care in the world. Canadians deserve no less and, with the resources at our disposal, there is no reason why this should not be achievable.
The CMA recommends that the Federal Government funds the establishment, and adequately resources the operations, of an arms length Canadian Health Quality Council with the mandate to be a catalyst for change, a spark for innovation and a facilitator to disseminate evidence based quality improvement initiatives so that they become embedded in the fabric of our health systems from coast to coast to coast.
Canadians are increasingly questioning whether they are getting value for the $190 billion a year that go into our country's health care system... with good reason as international studies indicate they are not getting good value for money.
Defining, promoting and measuring quality care are not only essential to obtaining better health outcomes, they are crucial to building the accountability to Canadians that they deserve as consumers and funders of the system.
We also heard during our consultation that Canadians worry about inequities in access to care beyond the hospital and doctor services covered within medicare, particularly when it comes to the high cost of prescription drugs.
Almost 50 years ago, the Hall Commission recommended that all Canadians have access to a basic level of prescription drug coverage, yet what we have now is a jumble of public and private funding for prescription drugs that varies widely across the country.
Last year, one in 10 Canadians either failed to fill a prescription or skipped a dose because they couldn't afford it.
Universal access to prescription drugs is widely acknowledged to be part of the unfinished business of medicare in Canada.
Our second recommendation, therefore, is that governments establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
This should be done in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public.
In the 21st century, no Canadian should be denied access to medically necessary prescription drugs because of an inability to pay for them.
Our third and final recommendation relates to our aging population and the concerns Canadians share about their ability to save for their future needs.
We recommend that the federal government study options that would not limit PRPPs to defined contribution pension plans. Target benefit plans should be permitted and encouraged as they allow risk to be pooled among the plan members, providing a more secure vehicle than defined contribution plans.
As well, the administrators of PRPPs should not be limited to financial institutions. Well-governed organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
The CMA appreciates that governments are moving ahead with the introduction of Pooled Registered Retirement Plans. However, we note that PRPPs represent only one piece of a more comprehensive saving structure.
We also continue to be concerned about the ability of Canadians to save for their long-term health care needs. Many patients, particularly the elderly, are in hospital waiting for more suitable care arrangement. These patients are hindered by a lack of available options, often because they lack the means to pay for long-term care. They and their families suffer as a result, and so, too, does our health care system.
While not in this pre-budget brief, the CMA holds to recommendations we have made in previous years that the federal government study options to help Canadians pre-fund long-term care.
In closing, let me simply say that carrying out these recommendations would make a huge and positive impact, soon and over the long term, in the lives of literally millions of Canadians from every walk of life.
Thank you for your time. I would be happy to answer your questions.
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this committee as part of your review of the 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care. An understanding of what has worked and what hasn't since 2004 is critical to ensuring the next accord brings about necessary change to the system.
Overview of 2004 Accord
On the positive side of the ledger, the 2004 accord provided the health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade - something that had been sorely lacking. It also showed that a focused commitment, in this case on wait times, can lead to improvements.
However, little has been done on several other important commitments in the Accord, such as the pledge that was also made in 2003 to address the significant inequity among Canadians in accessing prescription drugs.
Along with the lack of long-term, community and home-based care services, this accounts for a major gap in patient access along the continuum of care.
We also know that accountability provisions in past accords have been lacking in several ways. For instance, there has been little progress in developing common performance indicators set out in previous accord. i The 2004 accord has no clear terms of reference on accountability for overseeing its provisions.
Vision and principles for 2014
What the 2004 accord lacked was a clear vision. Without a destination, and a commitment to getting there, our health care system cannot be transformed and will never become a truly integrated, high performing health system.
The 2014 Accord is the perfect opportunity to begin this journey, if it is set up in a way that fosters the innovation and improvements that are necessary. By clearly defining the objectives and securing stable, incremental funding, we will know what changes we need to get us there.
Now is the time to articulate the vision- to say loudly and clearly that at the end of the 10-year funding arrangement, by 2025, Canadians will have the best health and health care in the world. With a clear commitment from providers, administrators and governments, this vision can become our destination.
As a first step to begin this long and difficult journey, the CMA has partnered with the Canadian Nurses Association, and together we have solicited support from over 60 health care organizations for a series of "Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada."
These principles define a system that would provide equitable access to health care based on clinical need; care that is high quality and patient-centred; and that focuses on empowering patients to attain and maintain wellness.
They call for a system that provides accountability to those who use it and those who fund it; and that is sustainable - by which I mean adequately resourced in terms of financing, infrastructure and human resources, and measured against other high-performing systems, with cost linked to outcomes.
Based on our experience working within the provisions of the 2004 accord, we would like to suggest three strategies to ensure the next accord leads to a sustainable, high-performing health care system.
They are: a focus on quality; support for system innovation; and the establishment of an accountability framework and I will touch briefly on each one.
Focus on quality
First, the crucial need to focus on improving the quality of health care services. The key dimensions of quality, and by extension, the areas that need attention are: safety, effectiveness, patient-centredness, efficiency, timeliness, equitability and appropriateness.
Excellence in quality improvement in these areas will be a crucial step towards sustainability.
To date, six provinces have instituted health quality councils. Their mandates and their effectiveness in actually achieving lasting system-wide improvements vary. What is missing and urgently needed is an integrated, pan-Canadian approach to quality improvement in health care that can begin to chart a course to ensure Canadians ultimately have the best health and health care in the world.
Canadians deserve no less and, with the resources at our disposal, there is no reason why this should not be achievable.
The CMA recommends that the federal government fund the establishment and resource the operations of an arms-length Canadian Health Quality Council, with the mandate to be a catalyst for change, a spark for innovation and a facilitator to disseminate evidence-based quality improvement initiatives so that they become embedded in the fabric of our health systems from coast to coast to coast.
To help expand quality improvement across the country, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim provides the solid framework. Our health care systems will benefit inordinately from a simultaneous focus on providing better care to individuals and better health to populations, while reducing the per-capita cost. There is ample evidence that quality care is cost effective care. This approach, when adopted and applied as the pan-Canadian framework for any and all structural changes and quality improvement initiatives, will not only serve patients well, but will also enhance the experience of health care providers on the front lines.
The second strategy revolves around system innovation. Innovation and quality improvement initiatives are infinitely more likely to be successful and sustained if they arise out of a commitment by frontline providers and administrators to the achievement of a common goal. We need to shift away from compliance models with negative consequences that have little evidence to support their sustainability.
Innovative improvements in health care in Canada are inadequately supported, poorly recognized, and constrained from being shared and put into use more widely. This needs to change. The 2014 accord, with a focus on improving Canadians' health and health care, can facilitate the transformation we all seek.
Building on the success of the 2004 Wait Times Reduction Fund and the 2000 Health Accord Primary Health Care Transition Fund, the CMA proposes the creation of a Canada Health Innovation Fund that would broadly support the uptake of health system innovation initiatives across the country.
A Working Accountability Framework
And, third, there needs to be a working accountability framework. This would work three ways.
To provide accountability to patients - the system will be patient-centred and, along with its providers, will be accountable for the quality of care and the care experience.
To provide accountability to citizens - the system will provide and, along with its administrators and managers, will be accountable for delivering high quality, integrated services across the full continuum of care.
And to provide accountability to taxpayers - the system will optimize its per-capita costs, and along with those providing public funding and financing, will be accountable for the value derived from the money being spent.
We have done all of this because of our profound belief that meaningful change to our health care system is of the essence, and that such change can and must come about through the next health accord.
Therefore I thank this committee for your efforts on this important area. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Issues identified in 2004 Accord and Current Status
[NOTE: see PDF for correct dispaly of table]
Annual 6% escalator in the CHT to March 31, 2014
Has provided health care system with stable, predictable funding for a decade.
Adoption of wait-time benchmarks by December 2005 for five procedural areas
Largely fulfilled. However, no benchmarks were set for diagnostic imaging. The Wait Time Alliance is calling for benchmarks for all specialty care.
Release of health human resource (HHR) action plans by December 2005
Partially fulfilled. Most jurisdictions issued rudimentary HHR plans by the end of 2005; F/P/T Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources issued a paper on a pan-Canadian planning HHR framework in September 2005.
First-dollar coverage for home care by 2006
Most provinces offer first-dollar coverage for post-acute home care but service varies across the country for mental health and palliative home care needs.
An objective of 50% of Canadians having 24/7 access to multidisciplinary primary care teams by 2011
Unfulfilled: Health Council of Canada reported in 2009 that only 32 per cent of Canadians had access to more than one primary health care provider.
A 5-year $150 million Territorial Health Access Fund
Fulfilled: Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative (THSSI) funding extended until March 31, 2014.
A 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS)
Largely unfulfilled: A progress report on the NPS was released in 2006 but nothing has been implemented.
Accelerated work on a pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy including goals and targets
F/P/T health ministers (except Quebec) put forward five high-level health goals for Canada in 2005, although they were not accompanied by operational definitions that would lend themselves to setting targets.
Continued federal investments in health innovation
Unknown-no specificity in the 2004 Accord.
Reporting to residents on health system performance and elements of the Accord
P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).
Formalization of the dispute advance/resolution mechanism on the CHA
Done but not yet tested.
i P/T governments ceased their public reporting after 2004, and only the federal government has kept its commitment (at least to 2008).Government of Canada. Healthy Canadians: a federal report on comparable health indicators 2008. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/system-regime/2008-fed-comp-indicat/index-eng.pdf. Accessed 06/21/11.
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.
Notes for an address by Dr. Peter Barrett, Past-President, Canadian Medical Association : Public hearings on primary care reform : Presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
On behalf of the 53,000 physician members of the CMA, we appreciate the opportunity to offer our thoughts on the issue of primary care reform and the recommendations made recently in your April 2002 report. I am very pleased to be presenting today with my CMA colleague, Dr. Susan Hutchison, Chair of our GP Forum along with Dr. Elliot Halparin and Dr. Kenneth Sky from the Ontario Medical Association.
Before I begin presenting the CMA’s recommendations, I believe it’s important to make a few points clear in regard to primary care:
* First, is that Canada has one of the best primary care systems in the world. (Just ask Canadians, we have. Our 2001 Report Card showed that 60% of Canadians believe that we have one of the best health care systems in the world and gave high marks for both quality of service and system access).
* Second, is that primary care reform is not the panacea for all that ails Medicare.
* And finally, primary care and specialty care are inextricably linked.
I like to expand a bit on the last point because I think it’s an important consideration. There is a tendency to separate medical care into two areas; primary care and specialty care. However, we need to recognize that medical and health care encompasses a broad spectrum of services ranging from primary prevention to highly specialized quaternary care. Primary care and specialty care are so critically interdependent that we need to adapt an integrated approach to patient care.
Now, in respect to the CMA’s recommendations on implementing changes for the delivery of primary care, we believe that government must respect the following four policy premises:
1. All Canadians should have access to a family physician.
2. To ensure comprehensive and integrated care, family physicians should remain as the central provider and coordinator of timely access to publicly-funded medical services.
3. There is no single model that will meet the primary care needs of all communities in all regions of the country.
4. Scopes of practice should be determined in a manner that serves the interests of patients and the public safely, efficiently, and competently.
Access to Family Physicians
A successful renewal of primary health care delivery cannot be accomplished without addressing the shortage of family physicians and general practitioners. The effects of an aging practitioners population, changes in lifestyle and productivity, along with the declining popularity of this field as the career choice of medical school graduates are all having an impact on the supply of family physician.
Physician as Central Coordinator
While multistakeholder teams offer the potential for providing a broader array of services to meet patients’ health care needs, it is also clear that for most Canadians, having a family doctor as the central provider for all primary medical care services is a core value. As the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) indicated in its submission to the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, research shows that over 90% of Canadians seek advice from a family physician as their first resource in the health care system. The CFPC also noted that a recent Ontario College of Family Physicians Decima public opinion survey found that 94% agree that it is important to have a family physician who provides the majority of care and co-ordinates the care delivered by others. i
A family physician as the central coordinator of medical services ensures efficient and effective use of system resources as it allows for only one entry point into the health care system. This facilitates a continuity of care, as the family physician generally has developed an ongoing relationship with his or her patients and as a result is able to direct the patient through the system such that the patient receives the appropriate care from the appropriate provider.
No Single Model for Reform
In recent years, several government task force and commission reports, including the report of this Committee, have called for primary care reform. Common themes that have emerged include; 24/7 coverage; alternatives to fee-for-service payment of physicians; nurse practitioners and health promotion and disease prevention. Governments across the country have launched pilot projects of various models of primary care delivery. It is critical that these projects are evaluated before they are adopted on a grander scale. Moreover, we must take into account the range of geographical settings across the country, from isolated rural communities to the highly urbanized communities with advanced medical science centres.
Scopes of Practice
There is a prevailing myth that physicians are a barrier to change when in fact the progressive changes in the health care system have been more often than not physician lead. Canadian physicians are willing to work in teams and the CMA has developed a “Scopes of Practice” policy that clearly supports a collaborative and cooperative approach. A policy that has been supported in principle by the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association.
Because of the growing complexity of care, the exponential growth of knowledge, and an increased emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention, primary care delivery will increasingly rely on multi-stakeholder teams. This is a positive development. However, expanding the primary care team to include nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, and others, while desirable, will cost the system more, not less. Therefore, we need to change our way of thinking about primary care reform. We need to think of it as an investment. We need to think of it not in terms of cost savings but as a cost-effective way to meet the emerging unmet needs of Canadians.
To conclude, there is no question that primary care delivery needs to evolve to ensure it continues to meet the needs of Canadians. But we see this as making a good system better, not fundamental reform.
i College of Family Physicians of Canada. Shaping The Future of Health Care: Submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Ottawa: CFPC; Oct 25, 2001.
Thank you very much for inviting the Canadian Medical Association back to this committee as you continue your study on healthy living.
A few weeks ago my colleague Dr. Doig was here to talk about the health consequences of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity and the policies CMA has advocated to promote healthy living.
Today I would like to expand upon nutrition labelling and health claims on foods, and on the labelling of foods regulated as natural health products.
Nutrition facts tables can be an important source of information, but many Canadians have difficulty interpreting them. A 2009 Health Canada review of research on nutrition labelling indicated that:
* those with little nutrition knowledge have difficulty using the tables and are unable to relate the information they contain to their own dietary needs; and that
* the concept of percentage of daily value is often misunderstood.
There has been an increase in the use of health claims on the front of packaging expressed as slogans or logos such as "healthy choice," as well as in disease reduction and nutrient content claims.
Studies have shown that foods carrying health-related claims are seen by consumers as healthier choices. But the myriad of different claims can be confusing and may, in fact, draw attention away from the less healthy characteristics of a food, or oversimplify complex nutritional messages.
We believe a standard consistent "at a glance" approach to front-of-package food labelling could reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices.
The "traffic light" front-of-pack labelling currently in voluntary use in the UK is an example. The front-of-pack labels on composite processed foods use green, amber and red to indicate low, medium or high levels of the nutrients most strongly associated with diet-related health risks: fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Also included is calorie count per serving and percentage daily amount information.
Research in the UK has shown that consumers generally understand these labels. Shoppers are most likely to use them when buying a product for the first time; to compare different products; when shopping for children; when trying to control intake of certain ingredients such as fat or salt, for health reasons; or when trying to lose weight.
Not surprisingly, research in the UK and Canada also shows that those most likely to read nutrition labels are those who are already interested in healthy eating.
For this reason, labelling policy must be embedded in a broader nutrition policy that uses multiple instruments to foster education and interest in healthy eating, and helps ensure that Canadians have healthy food choices by, for example, regulating amounts of salt in processed food.
In addition, physicians have become quite concerned about a recent tendency toward regulating 'fortified foods 'as Natural Health Products.
The Food and Drugs Act effectively prevents products classified as foods from being marketed as having medicinal benefits unless there is compelling scientific evidence that the claims are true and the products are safe. The same strong legislation does not apply to Natural Health Products (NHPs), which are regulated under a different act.
This is a concern because a trend is emerging whereby manufacturers of products normally sold as foods fortify their products with approved natural health products such as vitamins or minerals. Examples of these are energy drinks and vitamin-enhanced juice, power bars, gums and candy.
The manufacturer can then request federal approval to market the product as a 'health product in food format.' If approved, food labelling requirements no longer apply and health claims that would not be allowed under the Food and Drugs Act can be made.
Without proper nutrition labelling, it is difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to make informed food choices. This can be particularly troubling for those with special diets or health concerns. Further, those misled by dubious health claims might be consuming empty calories or high amounts of fat or sodium, with no corresponding benefit. The result is that the health of Canadians may be compromised.
The CMA has called on Health Canada to require compelling evidence of health benefits before changing a product's regulatory status from food to natural health product, and nutrition labelling for all foods regulated as a natural health product.
Faced with an array of products and health claims, and a barrage of advertising extolling their benefits, Canadians can find it challenging to make healthier food choices.
To find our way through to the right choice, we need good nutritional information, and the ability to access and understand this information.
Governments and health care providers share a responsibility to help Canadians make choices that will help them achieve and maintain good health. Canada's doctors are partners in healthy living and are ready to work with governments and others toward a healthy population.
I welcome your questions.
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.