The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional comments and recommendations as part of Finance Canada's 2012 pre-budget consultations.
The health sector provides essential services and high value jobs supporting communities across Canada. Statistics Canada reports that employment in the health sector accounts for 10% of the Canadian labour force.i In considering possible additional economic stimulus measures that build on the success of Canada's Economic Action Plan, the CMA encourages the federal government to consider investments that target efficiency improvements in the health sector. Efficiency improvements in the health sector yield benefits to all orders of government and Canadians.
The following recommendations are advanced for Finance Canada's consideration:
* In order to improve the delivery of better care, better health, and better value, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, developed by the CMA together with the Canadian Nurses Association and since endorsed by over 60 organizations, as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
* Recognizing the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health outcomes and the health care system together with the effectiveness of national public reporting in demonstrating accountability, the CMA recommends that the federal government undertake efforts towards identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health care expenditures to comparable health outcomes.
* As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
* While, as previously indicated, the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs), the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. Specifically, addressing the limitations would include: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional recommendations to the Government of Canada as part of its 2012 Pre-Budget consultation. Building upon the CMA's recommendations to the House of Commons' Finance Committee, this submission focuses on three issues: (1) improving accountability and patient-centred care in the delivery of new federal health care funding; (2) coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines; and (3) addressing limitations in the federal framework for pension reform.
1. Accountability and patient-centred care
"Raising sufficient money for health is imperative, but just having the money will not ensure universal coverage. Nor will removing financial barriers to access through prepayment and pooling. The final requirement is to ensure resources are used efficiently." World Health Organization (2010)
As the federal government finalizes the Strategic and Operating Review and considers other measures to eliminate the deficit, including scaling down the Economic Action Plan, it must be recognized that improved health systems and the resultant improved productivity pay economic dividends for the country; and, further, that "health" by today's standards is not just the assessment and treatment of illness, but also the prevention of illness, and the creation and support of social factors that contribute to health should also be considered.
With the recent announcement by Minister Flaherty with respect to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and Canada Social Transfer (CST), the financial parameters for future health care funding have been established.
Consistent with previous public opinion research, recent polling by Ekos Research Associates shows that 76% of Canadians identify improving health care as the leading priority for the federal government, ahead of reducing the national debt and deficit.ii However, as we have learned with the 2004 Health Accord, funding alone is not sufficient to ensure Canadian taxpayers benefit from improvements in health care, health outcomes, and value for money.
Despite laying out laudable objectives, progress to improve our health care system has been slow following the 2003 and 2004 agreements. There is a general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. The OECD's Health Data, 2011 ranks Canada eighth highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the second highest in hospital spending per discharge, and the seventh lowest in the number of physicians per capita. While Canada outperforms the U.S. on most measures, we fall below the median performance of the OECD on common health quality and system measures. With the new health care funding commitment to 2024, it is now time to plan how to transform the health care system.
Principles-based approach is required
The CMA is advocating built-in accountability mechanisms to ensure Canada's health care system is focused on delivering improved patient outcomes. Developing a system that is accountable and patient-centred depends on continuously striving to achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value. Launched in 2007, the IHI Triple Aim initiative was designed to direct the improvement of the patients' experience of care (including quality, access, and reliability) while lowering the per capita cost of care.
It was with the Triple Aim objectives in mind that the CMA jointly developed Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). It is our strong belief that discussions about the future of health care in Canada must be guided by these principles.
The CMA-CNA principles are summarized as follows:
* Patient-centred: Patients must be at the centre of health care, with seamless access to the continuum of care based on their needs.
* Quality: Canadians deserve quality services that are appropriate for patient needs, respect individual choice and are delivered in a manner that is timely, safe, effective and according to the most currently available scientific knowledge.
* Health promotion and illness prevention: The health system must support Canadians in the prevention of illness and the enhancement of their well-being, with attention paid to broader social determinants of health.
* Equitable: The health care system has a duty to Canadians to provide and advocate for equitable access to quality care and commonly adopted policies to address the social determinants of health.
* Sustainable: Sustainable health care requires universal access to quality health services that are adequately resourced and delivered across the board in a timely and cost-effective manner.
* Accountable: The public, patients, families, providers and funders all have a responsibility for ensuring the system is effective and accountable.
In order to ensure that future federal funding delivers on the Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value, a model for accountability and patient-centred care is required. Such a model would expand upon the CMA-CNA Principles through the development of a set of measurable indicators related to each principle that can be used for setting national standards, monitoring progress and demonstrating accountability to Canadians.
The CMA therefore urges the federal government to facilitate discussions with the provinces and territories to identify how resources will be used to improve patient care and health outcomes across the country. To this end, the CMA has urged the Minister of Health to move quickly to engage the provincial and territorial health ministers on transforming the health care system.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provinces and territories, in consultation with national health sector stakeholders, to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the CMA-CNA Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
Improving public reporting: The cornerstone of accountability
The federal government has a significant stake in national public reporting on the health of Canadians and on the performance of the health care system. As required by the Canada Health Act, the Minister of Health must publicly report administration, operation and adherence to the Act each year. Further, as the largest contributor to the single-payer system, the federal government has a unique role in demonstrating value for money and reporting on strategies to improve the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the health care system. To facilitate public reporting, in addition to Statistics Canada, the federal government is supported by the Health Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, both established as government-funded non-profits, however, with distinct mandates.
Despite pan-Canadian efforts such as provincial health quality councils and federal and non-governmental reporting, there remains significant room for improvement in the area of monitoring and reporting, both on health outcomes and system performance. As noted in the Commonwealth Fund's report on international health care systems, "reporting on health system performance [in Canada] varies widely across the provinces and territories...there is so far little connection between financial rewards and public reporting of performance." Not surprising, this issue was also identified by the Health Council of Canada in its Progress Report 2011. It highlights the challenges in reporting progress and explains the difficulties inherent to the current patchwork, "[w]here provinces and territories had set and publicized targets, it was easier for us to track progress. Where we could not find targets, assessing progress was more difficult."
The CMA has long supported improved pan-Canadian public reporting on health and health care. Most recently, the CMA hosted a symposium with health reporting stakeholders to discuss the current status of national reporting and the need for the development of a pan-Canadian reporting framework. As recognized by the symposium's participants, there is a great deal of excellent data collection work occurring across the country. However, these efforts are largely uncoordinated and do not tell the full story of the health of Canadians or adequately assess the performance of the health care system. Indeed, despite an abundance of metrics and measurement, in many cases, data is not necessarily usable by the public or decision-makers and, unfortunately, is not necessarily comparable between jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends that the federal government recognize the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health and the health care system and national public reporting in demonstrating accountability (i.e. better health, better care, and better value). In achieving these objectives, the CMA recommends that the federal government mandate an appropriate national organization, such as the Health Council of Canada, to undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
2. Coordinate the development of pan-Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines
As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Such a role would build upon the commitment made by the provinces and territories under the auspices of the Council of the Federation to collaborate on the development of three to five CPGs over the coming year.
CPGs are systematically developed, evidence- or consensus-based statements to assist health care providers in making decisions about the most appropriate health care to be provided in specific clinical circumstances. There is compelling evidence in the literature, supported by the experience of other countries, that well-designed and disseminated CPGs can enhance the clinical behaviour of providers and provide a positive impact on patient outcomes.
The principle argument in support of CPGs is their ability to enhance quality of care and patient outcomes. In addition, CPGs have been found to:
* Provide publicly accessible descriptions of appropriate care by which to gauge health care performance;
* Help to reduce inappropriate variations in care across diverse geographical and clinical settings;
* Offer the potential of empowering patients as to appropriate care expectations; and,
* Contribute to public policy goals, such as cost containment, through encouraging more appropriate provider use of resources.
However, in the absence of a pan-Canadian approach, CPGs across Canada are of uneven quality and even excellent guidelines may not be effectively disseminated or implemented. In contrast to Canada, peer-nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have committed at a national level to support the development and dissemination of CPGs.
In November 2011, the CMA, together with leading national medical and health sector stakeholders, convened a Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines Summit, attended by representatives of the federal and most provincial and territorial governments, to explore key components of a pan-Canadian strategy on CPGs. Emerging from this summit was a clear consensus that it was the federal role to provide the infrastructure support necessary to facilitate the development and dissemination of high-quality CPGs, customizable to the needs of all jurisdictions in Canada.
Guideline development and implementation is a complex, lengthy and resource-intensive process. In the absence of federal coordination in Canada, guidelines are produced by disparate, disease-specific groups, often funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This creates an obvious potential for conflict of interest where the guideline development process is far from transparent. Many guidelines are published without disclosure on conflict of interest or methodology applied. Concern over the quality of guidelines presents one the most persistent barriers to adoption by physicians of the recommended practice. The resulting underutilization of CPGs in Canada is widely documented. Clearly, the development and dissemination of pan-Canadian CGPs present a unique and significant opportunity for improvement in Canada's health care system.
The CMA recommends that as part of further discussions with the provinces and territories, the federal government commit to working with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders towards the development of a pan-Canadian clinical practice guideline initiative. In particular, the CMA recommends that the federal government commit support for the infrastructure necessary for the development, maintenance, and active dissemination of relevant, high-quality clinical practice guidelines.
3. Address the limitations proposed under the pension reform framework
As previously indicated in the August 2011 submission to Finance Canada by the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition (RIIC), the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs).
While we are currently assessing the package of proposed Income Tax Act amendments and will provide more detailed comments as part of the legislative process, the CMA is concerned that the framework, as proposed, limits the potential for PRPPs to expand physician access to, and investment in, pensions.
Based on preliminary analysis, it is our understanding that the core benefit of the PRPP framework is in providing small businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. Given that a significant proportion of physicians are self-employed, they would not benefit from employer contributions to a PRPP. Further, as proposed, the contribution limit to PRPPs would be calculated as an element of the current RRSP and pension contribution limit. Finally, further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator. 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.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians.
The CMA recommends that Finance Canada consider amendments to the proposed Income Tax Act amendments to address limitations to PRPPs, specifically: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The comments and recommendations provided herein represent the CMA's priority recommendations for targeted federal funding towards the achievement of efficiency improvements in Canada's health sector.
It is the CMA's position that these measures will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy by contributing to better care, better health and better value in the health care system.
Once again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide these additional comments and recommendations.
i 2006 Census data
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before this committee on behalf of the CMA and its 76,000 members. Canadians believe that transforming our health care system to meet the needs of 21st century Canada must be among the highest priorities for all levels of government, including the federal government.
I would like to begin by commenting on the health transfer framework announced by the Minister of Finance in December. This announcement provided some predictability for the years ahead.
However, with the federal government reducing its involvement in several areas affecting health or health care, added costs will end up in the laps of the provinces and territories.
So while this budget may enhance the federal government's fiscal prospects, it will do so to the detriment of the provinces and territories.
But there's more to this debate than funding. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
We are encouraged that the Minister of Health has indicated she wants to collaborate with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures to ensure value for money and better patient care. We look forward to the
minister's plan for accountability.
This budget is notable for other missed opportunities. For many years, groups across the political spectrum have called for a pharmaceutical strategy to reduce national disparities. In fact, such a strategy was committed to by governments under the 2004 Health Accord.
Minister Kenney referred to this issue indirectly when he said the recent cancellation of supplemental health benefits for refugee claimants is justified because refugees should not have access to drug coverage that Canadians do not have.
Rather than cutting off those desperately vulnerable people, Canada's physicians urge the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop a plan that ensures all Canadians have a basic level of drug coverage.
Indeed, we now appear to be in a race to the bottom in the way we treat vulnerable groups - by, for example, deferring Old Age Security for two years; and changing service delivery to veterans, mental health programs for our military and the Employment Insurance program.
Significant policy changes have been announced since the budget, with little opportunity for debate and little evidence provided. We note, as well, the lack of open consultation with Canadians on matters of great import to their lives. Successful policy requires buy-in, which is best achieved when those interested are able to participate in the policy-making process.
This brings me to a wider concern shared by our members - that policy-makers are not paying adequate attention to the social determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on health will lead to more costs to society down the road.
The federal government is the key to change that benefits all Canadians. While there are costs and jurisdictions to consider, the CMA believes the best way to address this is to make the impact on health a key consideration in every policy decision that's made. The federal government has used this approach in the past, in considering rural Canadians, for example.
We therefore call for a new requirement for a health impact assessment to be carried out prior to any decision made by cabinet. This would require that, based on evidence, all cabinet decisions take into account possible impacts on health and health care, and whether they contribute to our country's overall health objectives. A similar model is in use in New Zealand and some European countries.
For instance, what health impact will cuts in funding to the tobacco strategy have?
Such an assessment would in particular have a dramatic impact with regard to poverty. Poverty hinders both human potential and our country's economic growth - and needlessly so as there are many ways to address it effectively.
The National Council on Welfare - which will disappear as a result of this budget - reported last fall that the amount it would have taken in 2007 for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion, whereas the consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that figure.
Close to 10 per cent of Canadians were living in poverty in 2009, many of them children, as UNICEF underlined yesterday. This is a huge challenge for our country.
In closing, as this budget cycle ends and as you begin to prepare for the next, please bear in mind that as prosperous as our country is, if we do nothing for the most vulnerable in our society - children, the elderly, the mentally ill, Aboriginal peoples - we will have failed.
Question 1: Economic recovery and growth (What federal measures are required for sustained economic recovery and growth?)
The health sector has an important role in sustaining Canada's economic recovery and enhancing economic growth beginning with supporting a healthy and productive workforce and providing over one million high value jobs, representing about 10 per cent of the labour force.
Despite the importance of the sector, there is general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. While the OECD's 2011 Health Data ranks Canada 7th highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the performance of Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries.
Health spending accounts for an increasing proportion of provincial and territorial budgets, and many warn of increasing future demands on the overall system. In his Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report of May 17, 2012, the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that "the provincial-territorial long-term fiscal situation has deteriorated." Taken together, these issues highlight significant potential for the health sector, through efficiency improved gained by health care transformation, to support long-term economic recovery and growth in Canada.
While the provinces and territories have initiated positive steps to collaborate on sharing best practices, there are key responsibilities under federal leadership that would contribute to these efforts by addressing the overall performance of the health care system in Canada. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system and that it implement a requirement for all cabinet decision-making to include a Health Impact Assessment (see Question 5 for more detail).
- Further to the comments by the Health Minister following the new fiscal arrangement announcement, the federal government should prioritize federal-provincial-territorial engagement focused on accountability and undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
Question 2: Job creation (What federal actions should be taken to promote job creation in a context of enhanced internal and international trade?)
A high performing health care system across the country will help support labour mobility and job creation. An effective, comprehensive public health care system provides an important international competitive advantage. The contribution of Canada's health care system to the international competitiveness of our economy has been repeatedly demonstrated in KPMG's Competitive Alternatives report.
However, there are several signs that indicate health care services and coverage are not keeping up with Canadians' needs and vary depending on where one lives in Canada. For instance, long wait times for medical care can be found in smaller provinces, while drug coverage and services for seniors are particularly poor in Atlantic Canada. Wide variation in access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity in our health care system-all Canadians should have a basic level of drug coverage. These variations are growing and will hinder job creation in some regions, serving as barriers to labour mobility for Canadians wishing to seek work elsewhere in the country. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
Recognizing the contribution of the health care system to Canada's international competitive advantage, improvements in Canada's health care system would further support job creation. The federal government should focus its efforts towards supporting the transformation of our health care system to better meet the objectives of better care, better health and better value. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government, in consultation with provincial, territorial and other stakeholders, 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 drugs.
- The federal government, together with the provinces and territories, develop and implement a pan-Canadian strategy for continuing care which would integrate home care and facility- based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems.
Question 3: Demographic change (What federal measures should be implemented to help address the aging population and skills shortages?)
The CMA remains concerned about the status of Canada's retirement income system and the ability of Canada's seniors to adequately fund their long-term and supportive care needs. Steps need to be taken to ensure that Canada is prepared to handle the long-term care needs of its citizens, including the funding of necessary infrastructure and additional support for both health care providers and informal caregivers.
The availability of long-term care facilities has an important role in the efficiency of the overall health care system. For example, in its most recent report, the Wait Time Alliance noted that dementia is a key diagnosis related to the rise in alternate-levels-of-care (ALC) patient stays in hospitals. This is yet another issue facing all provinces and territories for which the federal government is well positioned to coordinate a pan-Canadian strategy. In addition, as part of the next long-term infrastructure program, the federal government should include a targeted health sector infrastructure fund for long-term care facilities as part of a pan-Canadian strategy to redirect care from the hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where better care is provided at a lower cost.
The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government establish programs to encourage Canadians to save for their long- term care needs by pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance, such as an RESP- type savings vehicle.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long- term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
The CMA has supported the federal government's efforts to expand retirement savings options by establishing the Pooled Retirement Pension Plans. However, as highlighted by federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers, this is only one component of a larger pension reform framework to address the retirement income adequacy needs of Canadians. The CMA encourages the federal government to continue working with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to implement all elements of this framework.
Question 4: Productivity (What federal initiatives are needed to increase productivity in light of labour market challenges such as the aging of Canada's population?)
An effective and comprehensive health care system supports the productivity of the Canadian workforce. Failure of our health care system to respond to workers' health needs, on the other hand, leads to loss of productivity and high costs both in terms of lost income for Canadian families as well as foregone tax revenues for governments. Numerous studies have pointed out the enormous cost of waiting (in the billions of dollars per year) affecting both individuals and the economy.
Another related issue that has the potential to increasingly affect productivity is the burden of providing care to family members. Without adequate provision of long-term care resources and support for home care, Canada's labour force may experience a productivity drag through increased leaves and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The 2011 federal budget took a first step at providing tax relief for informal caregivers through the Family Caregiver Tax Credit. However, this credit of a maximum of $300 per year by no means provides sufficient support for informal caregivers.
A 2004 Canadian study estimated that the annual cost of a caregiver's time at market rates for moderately to severely disabled home care clients ranged from $5,221 to $13,374 depending on the community in which they reside. An increase to the Family Caregiver Tax Credit is positive for the development of one aspect of the necessary support informal caregivers require but the CMA believes other enhancements will also be needed in the coming years.
In order to meet the needs of our country's aging population, the CMA recommends that:
- The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
Question 5: Other challenges (Who is facing most challenges, what are they and what federal action is required?)
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. These negative outcomes can have a significant impact on the prosperity of the country as health is necessary for individuals to lead a prosperous and autonomous life. Research suggests that 50 per cent of population health is determined by our social and economic environment. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to medicare alone will not improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
What is needed is a process to address the social determinants of health that can be barriers or enablers to health, a process to ensure healthy public policy for all Canadians. A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of a policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States. HIA is also used in Canada, most extensively for policy appraisals in Quebec.
HIA is necessary for ensuring that all government departments are able to consider the health impacts of their work. Such a tool would have been very beneficial in assessing cuts to program spending to ensure the impact on health would not be counterproductive (i.e., lead to higher overall costs to society once the health impact is taken into account). The adoption of an evidence-based HIA is one way in which the federal government can play a leadership role in health care. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government include a Health Impact Assessment as part of its policy development process to ensure that the health of Canadians is a key factor in every policy decision it makes.
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance discusses the important role of the federal government in ensuring Canada's health care system is cost-effective, accountable and accessible across the country in order to support the country's economic advantage. Investing in health and health care is required to generate wealth. As in other leading industrialized countries, the federal government needs to play a stewardship role in the effective allocation of health-related resources to foster a productive workforce and a strong economy.
The purpose of this brief is to provide decision-makers with information on areas in which the federal government can contribute to improving the health of Canadians and the health care system - an issue Canadians consistently rank as their top concern.
The CMA recommends that:
Recommendation # 1
The federal government endorse the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, developed by the CMA together with the Canadian Nurses Association and since endorsed by over 120 national organizations.
The federal government engage the provinces and territories in a consultative process to identify pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes. The purpose of which is to demonstrate accountability to Canadians.
Recommendation # 3
The federal government recognize the implications of the social determinants of health on the demands on the health care system.
Recommendation # 4
The federal government require that the federal cabinet's decision-making process include a Health Impact Assessment.
Recommendation # 5
The federal government, in consultation with provincial and territorial governments and other stakeholders, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
Recommendation # 6
The federal government, together with the provinces and territories, develop and implement a pan-Canadian strategy for continuing care, which would integrate home care and facility-based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems.
Recommendation # 7
A targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the federal government's long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
Recommendation # 8
The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
Recommendation # 9
The federal government establish programs to encourage Canadians to save for their long-term care needs by pre-funding long-term care through for example, private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance, such as an RESP-type savings vehicle.
Recommendation # 10
The federal government develop and implement a national dementia strategy. Such a strategy will contribute to addressing the alternative level of care crisis impacting the efficiency of the overall health care system.
Despite significant investments in health care and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada are not improving. The incidence of chronic disease, such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continues to rise. These negative outcomes can have a significant impact on the prosperity of the country as health is necessary for individuals to lead a prosperous and autonomous life. While the federal government's investment in the sector has continually increased, it is generally agreed that, in terms of its health care system, Canada is no longer a strong performer compared to similar nations.
As in other leading industrialized countries, the Government of Canada needs to play a stewardship role in the effective allocation of health-related resources, which in turn will foster a productive workforce and a strong economy. The federal government also has a role in addressing the social and economic factors that affect the health of Canadians. These factors are often referred to as the social determinants of health and were a central theme at the CMA's annual General Council meeting this year.
This brief provides tangible recommendations on how the federal government can contribute to the transformation of Canada's health care system and to improving the health of Canadians.
1. The Role of the Federal Government
Issue: The federal government has the levers to foster a healthy, productive workforce.
This section discusses opportunities for the federal government to address the challenges facing Canada's overall health care system.
Even though the fiscal arrangement for the future Canada Health Transfers has been established, the federal government has other significant responsibilities with respect to the health of Canadians and the overall health care system.
This view is shared by a majority of Canadians. Recent polling found that: 75 per cent of Canadians believe health care should be the federal government's top priority; 87 per cent believe that the federal government should pay more attention to health care, and 85 per cent believe the federal government should play a leading role in protecting and strengthening the health care system.
An important role to be fulfilled by the federal government is to ensure Canada's health care system is cost-effective, accountable and accessible across the country. Health expenditures account for an increasing proportion of provincial and territorial budgets, and many warn of increasing future demands on health care. In his Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report of May 17, 2012, the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that "the provincial-territorial long-term fiscal situation has deteriorated." Measures that transfer costs from one level of government to another do not improve Canada's overall fiscal situation.
Despite the importance of the health care sector to Canada's economy and quality of life, it is generally agreed that in health care, Canada is no longer a strong performer relative to similar nations. For instance, OECD Health Data 2012 ranks Canada seventh highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending,1 while Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries in terms of performance. In addition, recent projections indicate that the overall spending on health as a percentage of GDP will continue to increase.2
However, the health sector has an important role in sustaining Canada's economic recovery and enhancing economic growth. In fact, the health sector supports a healthy and productive workforce by providing over one million high-value jobs, representing about 10 per cent of Canada's labour force. The contribution of Canada's health care system to the international competitiveness of our economy has been repeatedly demonstrated in KPMG's Competitive Alternatives report.3
Taken together, these issues highlight significant potential for the health sector, through efficiency improvements gained by health care transformation, to support long-term economic recovery and growth in Canada.
Finally, while the provinces and territories have initiated positive steps to collaborate on the sharing of best practices in health care, federal leadership could contribute to these efforts by addressing the overall performance of the health care system in Canada.
The federal government should collaborate with the provinces and territories to introduce a pan-Canadian framework for reporting to Canadians on performance, outcomes and expenditures, including on whether national standards of quality and timeliness have been met.
The federal government would also fall under this framework, as it is responsible for the delivery of health care services to a large population. In fact, in health care delivery, it is the fifth-largest jurisdiction in Canada.
The CMA recommends that:
* The federal government engage the provinces and territories in a consultative process to identify pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes. The purpose of which is to demonstrate accountability to Canadians.
2. The need for a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)
Issue: All federal government decisions need to be viewed through the lens of their possible impact on health, health care and Canada's overall health objectives.
While a strong health care system is vital, improvements to it alone will not improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks. Research suggests that 50 per cent of population health is determined by our social and economic environment.4 What is needed is a process to address the social determinants that can be barriers or enablers to health and to ensure healthy public policy for all Canadians.
A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of any given policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. The HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States.
The HIA can ensure that all government departments are able to consider the health impacts of their programs and policies by anticipating possible unintended health consequences or impacts on health care spending. The implementation of an evidence-based HIA is one way in which the federal government can play a leadership role in health care and strengthen accountability to Canadians.
The CMA recommends that:
* The federal government recognize the implications of the social determinants of health on the demands on the health care system; and that,
* The federal government require that the federal cabinet's decision-making process include a Health Impact Assessment to ensure that the health of Canadians is a key factor in every policy decision it makes and unintended consequences are avoided.
3. Contribute to Health Care Transformation (HCT)
Issue: A transformed health care system will be more effective and comprehensive and will strengthen Canada's competitive advantage.
In 2010, as part of its Health Care Transformation (HCT) initiative, the CMA broadly consulted Canadians across the country on their views on health care. Canadians said they do not believe they are 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. Following this consultation, in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association, the CMA developed Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada to guide the transformation of Canada's health care system. To date, over 120 national medical, health and organizations have endorsed these principles.
During the HCT consultation, we also heard that Canadians are concerned about inequities in access to care beyond the basic medicare basket, particularly in the area of prescription drugs. In fact, reports in 2002 by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Kirby) and the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada (Romanow) forged a consensus on the need for "catastrophic" pharmaceutical coverage, which may be defined as out-of-pocket prescription drug expenditures that exceed a certain threshold of household income.
Under the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), cost projections of catastrophic pharmaceutical coverage were explored and seemed to favour the use of a variable percentage threshold linked to income. However, there has been no public reporting on progress since 2006.5 Moreover, there is also an issue of expensive drugs that may be used for common diseases. Finally, as highlighted by recent experiences, Canada does not have a monitoring and early notification system for drug shortages nor a systematic mechanism to prevent interruptions in the provision of medically necessary medications.
Thus far, the term "catastrophic" has been used by First Ministers and the NPS to describe their vision of national pharmaceutical coverage. As defined by the World Health Organization, catastrophic expenditure reflects a level of out-of-pocket health expenditures so high that households have to cut down on necessities such as food and clothing and items related to children's education.6 In the CMA's view, this does not go far enough and what Canada must strive for is "comprehensive" coverage that covers the whole population and effectively pools risk across individuals, public and private plans, and jurisdictions.
There are several indicators that show health care services and coverage are not keeping up with Canadians' needs and vary depending on where one lives in Canada. Wide variation in access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity in our
health care system - all Canadians should have a basic level of drug coverage. Further, long wait times for medical care can be found in smaller provinces and drug coverage and services for seniors are particularly poor in Atlantic Canada.
The fact remains that one in 10 Canadians cannot afford the medications they are prescribed.7 For this reason, ensuring access by all Canadians to needed prescription drugs is an essential element in the CMA's proposed framework for Health Care Transformation.
By working to establish comprehensive prescription coverage, the federal government would not only uphold its commitment to ensure the best health for Canadians, but also contribute to the transformation of our country's most cherished social program.
The CMA recommends that:
* The federal government endorse the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, developed by the CMA together with the Canadian Nurses Association and since endorsed by over 120 organizations.
* The federal government, in consultation with provincial, territorial and other stakeholders, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
4. Meeting the health and health care needs of Canadians
Issue: Measures should be taken to prepare for the looming demographic change and address the needs of Canada's aging population
Steps need to be taken to ensure that Canada is prepared to handle the growing long-term care needs of its citizens. These should include funding for much-needed infrastructure and additional support for both health care providers and informal caregivers.
In its most recent report, the Wait Time Alliance noted a link between the rise in diagnosis of dementia and the rise in alternate-levels-of-care (ALC) patient stays in hospitals. These are patients who are in hospital while they await an alternative level of care in a more appropriate setting, often a long-term facility. The shortage of long-term care facilities is a major impediment to achieving efficiency in the health care system and yet another issue for which the federal government is well positioned to collaborate and coordinate on a pan-Canadian strategy.
Under its next long-term infrastructure program, the federal government should include a targeted health sector infrastructure fund for long-term care facilities. This should be part of a pan-Canadian strategy to redirect care from hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where patients can receive more appropriate care at a lower cost.
We can expect that many more facilities will be required to meet the long-term care needs of Canadians. The most recent census data shows that over the last decade there has been a 38 per cent increase in the number of seniors living in special care facilities.8 Based on residency rates of the present population, Canada will need over 800,000 long-term care beds by 2047.
Considering the average size of existing long-term care facilities it is estimated that meeting this future demand will require construction of almost 6,000 additional long-term care facilities over the next 35 years, almost 170 a year.9
Another related issue that has the potential to affect productivity is the burden of providing care to family members. Without adequate long-term care resources and support for home care, Canada's labour force may experience a productivity drag as a result of increased leave and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The 2011 federal budget took a first step at providing tax relief for informal caregivers with the introduction of the Family Caregiver Tax Credit. However, this credit of up to $300 a year by no means provides sufficient support for informal caregivers. A 2004 Canadian study estimated that the annual cost of a caregiver's time at market rates for moderately to severely disabled home care clients ranged from $5,221 to $13,374, depending on the community in which they reside.10 Expanding the Family Caregiver Tax Credit would help, but the CMA believes that additional support for informal caregivers will also be needed in the coming years.
Also, according to a 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) report on dementia,11 Canada is one of the few members of the G7 without a national strategy on dementia. There is a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia, which results in stigmatization and barriers to diagnosis and care, and has an impact on caregivers, families and societies - physically, psychologically and economically. Canada's aging population, and the projected rise in Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, pose an emerging health crisis that require federal leadership.
The CMA recommends that:
* The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, develop and implement an integrated, pan-Canadian strategy for continuing care, which would integrate home care and facility-based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems. Such a strategy would help prepare for the looming demographic change and the address the needs of Canada's aging population.
* A targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the federal government's next long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to support communities across Canada in addressing infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
* The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
* The federal government establish programs to encourage Canadians to save for their long-term care needs by pre-funding long-term care through for example, private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance, such as an RESP-type savings vehicle.
* The federal government develop and implement a national dementia strategy. Such a strategy will contribute to addressing the alternative level of care crisis impacting the efficiency of the overall health care system.
1 OECD Health Data 2012 - http://www.oecd.org/health/healthgrowthinhealthspendinggrindstoahalt.htm
2 CD Howe Commentary Chronic healthcare spending disease: a macro diagnosis and prognosis and
Livio Di Matteo and ROSANNA DI MATTEO, The Fiscal Sustainability of Canadian Publicly Funded Healthcare Systems and the Policy Response to the Fiscal Gap CHSRF series of reports on financing models: Paper 5, January 2012. http://www.chsrf.ca/Libraries/Commissioned_Research_Reports/Dimatteo-Fiscal-E.sflb.ashx
3 KPMG. Competitive Alternatives: KPMG's Guide to International Business Location Costs. 2012 edition
4 The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology Final Report of Senate Subcommittee on Population Health. June 2009.
5 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministerial Task Force on the National Pharmaceutical Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 08-05-08.
6 Xu K, Evans D, Carrin G, Aguillar-Riviera A. Designing health financing systems to reduce catastrophic health expenditure. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2005.
7 Law MR, Cheng L, Dhalla IA et al. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ February 21, 2012 vol. 184 no. 3
8 Statistics Canada. September 19, 2012. Living arrangements of seniors: Families, households and marital status Structural type of dwelling and collectives, 2011 Census of Population.
9 According to the Canadian Healthcare Association (New Directions for Facility-Based Long-Term care), in 2007 there were 2,577 long-term care facilities in Canada and 217,969 beds. We used the average number of beds per facility to calculate the number of facilities required to meet expected future demand.
10 Chappell, N.L., B.H. Dlitt, M.J. Hollander, J.A. Miller and C. McWilliam. 2004. "Comparative Costs of Home Care and Residential Care." The Gerontologist 44(3): 389-400
For the past several years, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been delivering two overall messages to the Standing Committee on Finance. First, we believe that Canadians’ health and their health care system must be recognized as ongoing priorities. Second, we have been making the case that economic policy, including tax policy, must be better aligned with national health policy.
This year’s brief provides specific examples of how the federal government can take action to address both of these issues. We begin with an assessment or a “check up” of the health of our health system. We then provide constructive suggestions on how to successfully implement the health agreement reached at the September 13-15, 2004 meeting of First Ministers. Finally, we draw attention to the need for continued investments in public health and healthy public policy.
Canadians remain increasingly concerned about the future state of their health care system, particularly in terms of accessing essential care. While their health status has improved over the past decades, international comparisons suggest there is considerable room for improvement. The significant announcements made over the past year related to reinvestments in health care and public health are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges. The next steps must build on this progress.
INVESTING IN HEALTH CARE
Build on The First Ministers Meeting Agreement
In terms of health care, we must begin by noting that the First Ministers Meeting Agreement (FMM Agreement) was a significant achievement. It represents a positive policy framework to run with, but it must now receive the necessary fiscal, political and legislative follow-through. Legislation should be enacted that specifies the accountability framework for the Agreement. The Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times. Critical to future success is the need for health care stakeholders to be actively involved with all facets of the Agreement, particularly in developing clinically derived wait time benchmarks.
Make Health Human Resources a Priority
At the same time, the federal government can do more to address accessibility to health care services by making a stronger commitment to increasing Canada’s health human resources capacity. Several strategies are outlined in this brief, beginning with the need to ensure that the Wait Times Reduction Fund in the FMM Agreement is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected.
One specific health human resources strategy that the federal government should pursue is providing greater support for the training of students in health care professions as part of an overall health human resources strategy. High student debt is a key health human resource issue. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 or more. This high debt load is affecting both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice. As a result, the CMA calls upon the federal government to implement a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training. Such action would provide a fairer approach and would alleviate some of the problems associated with our current training system of health professionals.
ALIGNING TAX POLICY WITH HEALTH POLICY
The CMA has highlighted the need to better align tax policy with national health policy goals for some time and we believe this challenge remains a priority. One example of where tax policy and health policy can be better aligned is how the GST is currently applied to the health care sector and to physicians—something the Finance Committee has acknowledged in previous reports.
Hospitals in Canada must still pay a portion of the GST on their purchase of goods and services siphoning away millions of dollars that would otherwise be used for patient care. The federal government recognized in the 2004 budget the need to provide a full GST rebate to municipalities, one of the four sectors covered by the so-called “MUSH” formula (Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals). We call on the government to apply the same logic and provide a full GST rebate to the health care sector.
Another problem exists with how the GST is applied to independent health professionals, such as physicians, providing care to Canada’s publicly funded system. By virtue of being “tax exempt” under The Excise Act, physicians cannot claim any input tax credits to offset the GST costs they pay on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. Unlike other self-employed people, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs. This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. It can be resolved by zero rating the GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health providers thereby making them eligible to receive input tax credits.
INVESTING IN HEALTH
This past year saw many positive developments made to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health. We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
However, the government must continue to reinvest in public health to ensure that the country has a system that earns the trust of Canadians. Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy.
Close the Naylor Gap in Public Health
The National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report) estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding is required to implement and sustain the public health programming that Canada requires. While representing an important reinvestment in this country’s public health system, the funding announced in the 2004 Budget falls well short of this basic requirement. Accordingly, the CMA calls on the federal government to address the $450 million “Naylor Gap” as soon as possible.
Establish National Health Goals
Guiding this country’s efforts to improve the health of Canadians should be the establishment and monitoring of national health goals. Thus, the CMA fully supports the First Ministers’ call to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy that includes the setting of health goals that are independently monitored. These goals should also cover environmental health goals given their direct implication on Canadians’ health status.
Invest in Health Not Tobacco
Another key area for the CMA where current economic policy is not aligned with national health policy is the Canada Pension Plan’s investment in tobacco stocks. Despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, the Canada Pension Plan continues to invest millions ($94 million) in the tobacco industry. We strongly believe that the CPP Investment Board should be prohibited from investing in the tobacco industry and that it divest its current tobacco holdings. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully executed this policy including the MD Funds held for Canada’s physicians at MD Management Ltd. a wholly-owned subsidiary of CMA. Accordingly, we call on the Standing Committee on Finance along with the Standing Committee on Health to jointly review the CPP investment policy as it relates to investments in tobacco.
The FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health infrastructure. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure that these financial investments lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
II. CMA’S ANNUAL CHECKUP
Much has happened over the past year in regards to Canada’s health and health care systems. First, we witnessed the creation of the Health Council of Canada, an institution that can play a significant role in improving the accountability of Canada’s health system. Second, we saw several announcements aimed at rebuilding Canada’s public health system including the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the subsequent appointment of Canada’s first Chief Public Health Officer. And in September, federal, provincial and territorial First Ministers reached a historic agreement on a 10-year plan to strengthen health care.
Canadians no doubt welcome these developments. They have made it known to governments and health care providers alike that access to health care has become their top public policy issue. Not surprisingly, health was the top issue during the recent federal election campaign.
For four years, the CMA has been tracking Canadians’ assessment of our health care system through our National Report Card on the Sustainability of Health Care. We are sad to report that the number of Canadians giving the nation's health care system a grade of C or F this year increased by a dramatic 9% over last year. While Canadians still give the system an overall B grade, the percentage of C and F grades was the highest since Ipsos-Reid began conducting the survey on behalf of the CMA in 2001. Moreover, our survey results found that 97% agreed that any discussion to make the system more sustainable needs to guarantee timely access for essential health services.
As our fact sheet on Canadians’ health and their health care system illustrates (see Appendix A), improving access remains a major challenge for our health care system. Canada has one of the poorest physician-to-population ratios among all OECD countries. It is therefore not surprising that in 2003, 14% of Canadians reported not having a regular family physician (25% in Quebec). A recent Statistics Canada survey on wait times found that the proportion of patients who considered their wait time unacceptable was 17% for non-emergency surgery, 21% for diagnostic tests and 29% for specialist visits. 1
Over the past year, CMA has been very active in bringing attention to the issue of access and wait times. The CMA co-sponsored a colloquium on managing wait times last April that culminated in the recently released report, The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. 2
But what about the state of Canadians’ health itself? Certainly our health status has improved greatly over the past decades. However, while Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world, citizens in several industrialized countries are enjoying better health status. For example, disability-free life expectancy, that is quality of life years lived, for Canadian males is 18th among the 30 OECD countries and 16th for Canadian females. Canada’s rate of infant mortality—deaths during the first year of life—is among the highest in the OECD.
But we need not compare ourselves to other countries to find differences in levels of health status. Significant discrepancies in health status also exist among Canadians, be it between provinces, between regions, between communities or between neighbourhoods. For example, there remain significant inequities in health status between Aboriginal Canadians and non-Aboriginal Canadians—the incidence of hepatitis and tuberculosis among Aboriginal Canadians are five and ten times higher respectively than for other Canadians.
It has now been over a year since the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health or the “Naylor Report” was released. The report has lead to some positive developments in rebuilding Canada’s public health system. It will be needed as some serious public health issues continue to face the country including:
* the spread of infectious diseases (e.g., C. difficile bacterium);
* the rise in the number of Canadians with unhealthy body weights including rising levels of obesity;
* high levels of physical inactivity;
* smoking, particularly among youth;
* relatively low rates of immunization; and
* threats to environmental health including those that threaten our clean air, and safe food and drinking water.
In summary, notwithstanding all that has transpired this year, Canadians’ health and their health care system remain high public priorities. While their health status has improved over the past decades, there is considerable room for improvement, some of which can be addressed through public health measures and better access to care. The significant announcements made over the past year related to health system and public health financing are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges.
III. THE FIRST MINISTERS’ MEETING AGREEMENT
The CMA closely followed the September 13-15, 2004 First Ministers Meeting on the Future of Health Care. In fact, we worked with our health care colleagues leading up to the meeting to identify possible strategies for improving the system. 3 For instance, we recommended the development and adoption of pan-Canadian benchmarks for wait times based on clinical evidence and the creation of a special Canada Health Access Fund to support Canadians’ access to medically necessary care in other regions.
While not all of our proposals were accepted, the September First Ministers’ Meeting Agreement (herein referred to as the FMM Agreement) features many aspects that the CMA has been championing for some time and is certainly a positive achievement. In particular, we are happy to see a desire “to make timely access to quality care a reality for all Canadians.” We applaud the leadership shown by the government in this regard.
We also believe that the Agreement provides an opportunity for a new era of cooperative medicare by engaging physicians and other providers meaningfully. Contrary to belief, health care providers have not been offered many opportunities to participate at federal, provincial and territorial planning tables. We therefore welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively on identifying clinically derived wait time benchmarks. Canada’s physicians can and desire to play a significant role in this regard.
We therefore believe the FMM Agreement is a necessary first step or “a framework to go with” towards strengthening our health care system. But as we said in September following the release of the Agreement, “the real heavy lifting begins now.” Accordingly, we believe that a number of requirements are necessary to ensure this Agreement fulfills its objectives. We see these requirements as putting words to actions for realizing the full potential of the FMM Agreement.
Enact Legislation to Confirm Financial Support and Accountability Provisions
The CMA supports enacting federal legislation to confirm the budgetary allocations in the Agreement ($18 billion over 6 years and $41 billion over 10 years). This includes a 6% escalator to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) that will provide predictable funding for provincial and territorial health care systems. This is a provision that we have been recommending for many years.
While $41 billion is a lot of money, we must remind ourselves that this amounts to little more than a 3% increase over 10 years of provincial government health expenditures based on projections of current government spending. Moreover, we estimate that the Agreement will add only .2% to Canada’s spending levels per GDP during this period. In other words, the FMM Agreement, while necessary and appreciated, will not propel Canada into the top echelon of health care spenders among the leading industrialized countries. As health care has become a dominant public policy issue, we expect to see future high level discussions in coming years on both future funding levels and on the direction of health care reform efforts.
We are also pleased to see a new Equalization agreement that will complement the FMM Agreement. The Equalization program plays a key role in ensuring that all provinces have adequate and comparable levels of health care and other social services. The issue of Equalization payments to the provinces was identified in discussions leading up to the September First Ministers Meeting over concern that increased federal transfers to health care could be offset by decreases in Equalization payments. The subsequent agreement on Equalization will therefore serve to support the FMM Agreement given that increases in health care transfers to provinces will not be offset by decreases in equalization payments while providing predictable multi-year funding.
A strong accountability framework also needs to be included in the legislation. The FMM Agreement specifies several process accountabilities such as a commitment by governments to report on access indicators and establish wait time benchmarks by December 31, 2005. The CMA believes that the Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times.
For the Agreement to mean something commitments have to backed up—financial and/or political consequences must follow if commitments are not met.
It will be important to have an independent, third party organization assess progress in an open and transparent manner. The Health Council of Canada, identified in the FMM Agreement, could be the body to undertake an annual independent assessment, providing it receives the necessary resources to do so. The Canadian Institute for health Information also has an important role to play in ensuring comparable indicators are used to measure progress.
It is essential to involve practicing physicians throughout the implementation of the FMM Agreement, particularly in the development of clinically derived wait time benchmarks. The determination of clinically derived wait time benchmarks means just that—they must be clinically derived and must not be based on political or financial considerations. To this end, the CMA will play a leadership role in developing consensus with physicians and other expert organizations on acceptable wait-time standards and protocols based on the best available clinical evidence.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
Improve Access by Addressing Health Human Resources
The CMA is pleased to see the First Ministers acknowledge for the first time the current and worsening shortage of health human resources (HHR) in this country. However, the FMM Agreement does not adequately provide a strategy for addressing this crisis beyond the development of health human resources action plans and support for an Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative.
The CMA believes that the lack of immediate action on HHR is one area where the Agreement falls short. As noted in our fact sheet, Canada is currently experiencing a shortage in health human resources. Canada’s ratio of 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population remains one of the lowest among OECD countries and below the OECD average of 2.9. Initial results from the 2004 National Physician Survey—the largest census survey of physicians ever conducted in Canada—find that up to 3,800 physicians will retire in the next two years, more than double the existing rate. Furthermore, 26% of physicians intend to reduce the number of hours they work. 4 One must remember that timely access to health care services is first and foremost about the people who provide quality care and the tools and infrastructure they need to meet the growing demand for medical services in Canada.
In order for the FMM Agreement to be successful in improving access to care, governments must make health human resources a major priority beginning by ensuring that the Wait Times Reduction Fund is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected. 5 Given the current shortages in health human resources, action on HHR must begin now—not in 2010.
In addition, the CMA calls upon the federal government to play a key role in improving the availability of health human resources by developing a pan-Canadian HHR strategy that includes the involvement of health care providers. Specifically, we need a three pronged pan-Canadian HHR strategy that would address: (1) HHR planning; (2) increasing the supply of health professionals; and, (3) retention issues.
Despite the large sum of funding that governments invest in health care, they do so without having the benefit of a national long-term health human resources strategy. Canada has 14 provincial/territorial and federal health care systems in operation. Yet, our immigration policies are largely conducted on a national basis and there is a high degree of labour mobility between provinces.
Presently, there is no overall national coordinating committee to assist provinces and territories in the planning of health human resources, particularly one that includes all pertinent stakeholders including physicians and other health care professionals. We believe a National Coordinating Committee for Health Human Resources involving representation from health care professions should be established for such purposes—something both the Romanow and Senator Kirby reports recommended.
Research is required to support long-term planning in HHR. The CMA has previously proposed the creation of an arm’s length Health Institute for Human Resources (HIHuR) that would promote collaboration and the sharing of HHR research among the well-known university-based centres of excellence as well as research communities within professional associations and governments.
Canada’s HHR policy goal should be to ensure Canada is self-sufficient in the supply of physicians and other health care professionals. Several strategies are required to fulfill this goal. They include:
* Dedicating a specific fund to increase enrollment in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education (especially re-entry positions). Medical school enrollment should be increased to a minimum of 2,500 positions by 2007.
* Expanding the post-MD system to accommodate the increase in graduates for training including the several hundred international medical graduates (IMGs) in Canada who have been deemed eligible for post-MD training here. The goal should be to increase the number of first-year residency training positions to a level of 120% of the graduates produced annually by Canadian medical schools. See Appendix B for how this can be implemented. The estimated cost of adding 500 positions is $75 million over five years. In fact, this government’s election platform included a commitment to provide funding to top-up training for 1,000 foreign trained medical professionals.
* Expediting the integration of international medical graduates by funding a fast-track on-line assessment program administered by the Medical Council of Canada. It would determine the suitability and eligibility of IMGs for completion of post-MD training (estimated cost $20 million over 5 years).
* Implementing a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to postgraduate trainees in medicine. High student debt impacts both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice—making it a key health human resource issue (see box below). The Canadian Medical Association commends the federal government for its commitment to reduce the financial burden on students in health care professions, as announced in the FMM Agreement.
Did you know?
Becoming a full-fledged, practicing physician is an arduous and expensive endeavor. It requires a minimum of 9 years (6) of post-secondary education and training that is often financed through sizeable government and private loan debt, such as lines of credit. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 (7) or more.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
Retention remains a major concern for the health care workforce including physicians. We speak not only in terms of losing physicians to other countries but to other professional pursuits as well (i.e., opportunities away from the front line delivery of care). There is little point in recruiting new physicians at the front end if we lose sight of how to keep them once they are highly skilled and are in their most productive years.
Retention issues are crosscutting. Indeed, a major frustration for physicians today are the difficulties faced trying to access other types of care for their patients such as diagnostic testing, specialty care or community services. Thus, improving access to a comprehensive range of health care providers and services and reducing wait times—as previously addressed—can help.
We also believe that investments in information technologies (IT) can help improve the coordination of health care and allow physicians to spend more time with their patients to provide quality care. There is currently limited connectivity among community-based physicians, community based services, specialists, hospitals and diagnostic facilities. IT investments can improve the integration of care, improve patient safety and improve the management of wait times. They can link regional and provincial wait time management systems while supporting more comprehensive scheduling systems. Prescriptions can be sent electronically to the local pharmacist while public health warnings can be sent electronically to physicians’ offices.
We recognize that investments in IT are already occurring and systems will be put in place over the next decade. However, we believe that by accelerating IT investments today, system efficiencies and savings can be achieved sooner along with improvements to health care delivery and coordination.
The application of tax policy to the health care sector is another retention issue that greatly frustrates physicians. This issue is discussed in the next section.
Align Tax Policy With Health Policy
The CMA continues to advocate for a review of the relationship between federal tax policy and health care policy in Canada. Taxation is a powerful instrument of public policy. Good tax policy should reinforce and support good health care policy. Yet, it has been 40 years since the federal government last undertook an overarching review of Canada’s tax system (the 1962-1966 Royal Commission on Taxation -the Carter Commission).
Standard public finance theory suggests that two objectives of effective tax policy are distributive equity and correcting inefficiencies in the private sector. 8 For some time, the CMA has expressed concern over inequities in tax policy and inconsistencies between national health policy goals and tax policy.
We are aware that the committee is looking for ideas on tax changes that can lead to a more productive economy. At the same time, we recognize that the government is committed to improving Canadians’ access to health care. Ensuring this country’s tax policy is supporting our health care system is a good way to achieve both objectives.
Specifically, the CMA calls on the federal government to remove the application of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to the health care sector. Currently, not-for-profit hospital services receive an 83% rebate on the GST they pay on goods and services, while not-for-profit health organizations receive a rebate of 50%. Health care professionals working in free-standing clinics do not qualify for any GST relief (discussed below). The estimated portion of funding paid by hospitals alone back to the federal government in the form of GST revenue is estimated to be $90 million per year. That is the equivalent of the purchase cost of almost 40 MRI machines! The CMA believes that all publicly funded health care services should be spared from having to use scarce health care resources to remit GST and should receive the full GST rebate.
Would this be setting a precedent? The answer is “no”. Prescription drugs, a significant proportion of total health care costs, have been zero-rated since 1996. Furthermore, the 2004 federal budget confirmed that municipalities would be able to recover 100% of the GST and the federal component of the harmonized sales tax (HST) immediately. As part of the “MUSH” sector (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals), we believe the time has come to extend the full rebate to the health care sector. The federal government must stop taxing publicly funded health care.
The uneven application of the GST rebate to different health services is also impeding efforts to renew and reorient the delivery of health services. Currently, community-based services such as clinics and nursing homes receive a GST rebate of only 50% while hospitals receive a rebate of 83%. Does it make sense that a nursing home or a home care service should pay more for GST than a hospital, particularly when trying to move to a more accessible community-based system? The variability of GST rebates makes no sense for organizations such as regional health authorities that oversee a range of health services but which pay differing rates. The government acknowledged in its 2003 Budget that there was a need to review how the GST is applied to care settings outside of hospitals. We await this review. Such inconsistencies distort the efficiency of the health care sector yet are relatively simple to address. 9
Physician services, on the other hand, are deemed “tax exempt” under The Excise Act. This means that physicians cannot claim any input tax credits despite the fact they must pay GST on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. And unlike other self-employed individuals or small businesses, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs as approximately 98% of physician compensation is from government health insurance plans. To date, provincial governments have been unwilling to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the GST (insisting that it is a federal matter).
Physicians are not asking for special treatment. They are looking for fairness within the tax system. If physicians, as self-employed individuals, are considered small businesses for tax purposes, then it only seems reasonable that they should have the same tax rules extended to them that apply to other small businesses (i.e., eligibility to receive input tax credits). This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. In fact, this committee has twice before acknowledged the need to reassess the application of the GST on physician services. 10
The unfair manner in which the GST is applied to the health care sector has been an on-going source of major frustration to the physician community and remains unresolved. We believe that addressing this matter would be helpful in the country’s efforts to retain its physicians. Other self-employed health care providers that provide publicly funded services face a similar problem.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
IV PUBLIC HEALTH: HEALTHY PUBLIC
As previously noted, much has happened over the past year with respect to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health.
We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. The 2004 Budget’s commitment to approximately $665 million for investments for public health over the next 3 years was also a welcomed announcement.
The CMA will provide its full support to work with Dr. Butler-Jones and the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ministers Bennett and Dosanjh to develop a coordinated and integrated plan to manage and improve public health in Canada. These developments certainly represent a good step towards rebuilding the country’s public health system.
Address the “Naylor Gap”
In spite of these initiatives, it remains essential to remind this government and Canadians that further attention to public health is necessary. As a member of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century (CCPH21), the CMA calls on the federal government to enhance its financial commitment to the renewal of Canada’s public health system
The public health system is a vital component of a sustainable health system by reducing pressures on the health care system and providing a net benefit to society. 11
Two thirds of total deaths in Canada are due to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes (Type II melitus)—many of which are preventable.
Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy. For instance, it has been estimated that the SARS outbreak cost the Canadian economy over $1.5 billion in 2003 alone with its impact still being felt. 12 As stated in the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report), “we are constantly a short flight away from serious epidemics.” 13
Accordingly, we were pleased to hear the government’s Speech from the Throne state that the government will proceed with the development of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network.
But we have to overcome several years of inattention to public health issues and the public health infrastructure—something that cannot be rectified in a year. Spending levels on public health in Canada are meager. International comparisons are difficult to find and to compare, but it appears that this is one instance where Canada could learn from its neighbour to the south with its higher level of spending on public health (see Box comparing public health spending between Canada and the United States). 14 While the role of public health was referred to in the FMM Agreement, no additional funding for public health was included.
Comparing Levels of Public Health Spending: Canada vs. the United States
Using data from CIHI and the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the CMA has developed the following comparative estimates of spending on public health in Canada versus the United States in 2002.
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Canada United States
1. Per capita spending on public health
services ($CDN, PPP adjusted) $138 $207
2. Share of spending on public health as
a % of public health care spending 5.5% 7.2%
3. Share of spending on public health as
a % of total health care spending 3.9% 3.3%
The United States spends approximately 50% more on public health than Canada when comparing per capita payments. The United States also spends more on public health when considering public health spending as a percentage of all publicly funded services (due in part to a proportionately smaller publicly funded sector). Conversely, Canada spends more on public health if looking at the percentage of spending on public health as a percentage of total health care spending. This is due in part to a proportionately larger privately funded sector in the United States. Since public health is predominately a public good paid by governments, we believe it is most appropriate to compare the results from the first two indicators.
The Naylor Report estimated that public health in Canada accounted for 2.6% to 3.5% of total publicly funded health expenditures in Canada and 1.8% to 2.5% of total health expenditures. While these estimates are lower than those provided above, they still support our observation that public health spending in Canada is lower than in the United States.
The Naylor report provided a blue print for action and reinvestment in the public health system for the 21st century. It estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding would be required to implement and sustain the public health programs that Canada requires. In its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the CMA also identified an essential range of comprehensive public health programming and initiatives totaling an estimated $1.5 billion over 5 years. 15
The federal government has thus far committed approximately $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, and over 3 years), well short of Dr. Naylor’s $1 billion per year. This “Naylor Gap” of approximately $450 million per year is identified below in Table A.
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Table A: Estimating “The Naylor Gap”
Naylor Funding Recommendations
Public Health Agency of Canada Related Funding
- $300 million per year core budget of PPHB and other related federal services to be transferred to new agency
- core functions to be expanded by $200 million per year within 3-5 years
- $404 million transferred from Health Canada to Agency
- $165 million over 2 years to assist in setting up new agency, increase emergency response capacity, enhance surveillance, establish regional centres of excellence, expand laboratory capacity, strengthen international coordination and collaboration
$117.5 million per year
($200 million by Naylor minus $82.5 million per year committed by the federal government averaged out). Moreover, nothing earmarked beyond 2005-06.
3 programs of transfers at a cost of $500 million per year:
- $300 million for Public Health Partnerships Program to build capacity at local level
- $100 million for communicable disease surveillance
- $100 million to bolster national immunization strategy
- $100 million (one-time) to Canada Health Infoway to pay for real-time public health surveillance system
- $400 million over three years for:
- $300 million for national immunization strategy
- $100 million for provinces to address immediate gaps in capacity
Approximately $333 million per year
($500 million per year request by Naylor less Budget 2004 commitments of $500 million over 3 years or $167 million per year averaged out.)
Total: $1 billion per year
$404 million annually plus $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, or over 3 years)
Total “Naylor Gap”:
$450.5 million per year
We acknowledge that the Public Health Agency of Canada is just being created. We also recognize that Budget 2004 noted that: “The Government of Canada expects to make further investments once the new Canada Public Health Agency is operational, the Chief Public Health Officer has developed a comprehensive public health plan, and the Government has had the opportunity to evaluate the need for additional resources.” 16 Nevertheless, it is critical that reinvestment in Canada’s public health system continue as soon as possible to protect and promote the health of Canadians.
These additional investments are needed to fully implement Dr. Naylor’s recommendations. This includes operating costs for a real time communication system for front line public health providers during health emergencies. It would ensure a two-way flow of information between front-line health care providers and public health professionals at the local public health unit, the provincial public health department and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The CMA has recently submitted a proposal to Canada Health Infoway to develop a system (the Health Emergency Communication and Co-ordination Initiative) that would link Canada’s physicians with governmental authorities. The additional investments should also be used to help address the recruitment and retention of public health practitioners. 17
In contrast with other areas of health expenditures, we know very little about how public health dollars are allocated and with what results. Presently, public health expenditures are lumped together with some health system administration costs. We believe there is a need for a better tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures.
Set and Meet National Health Goals
The CMA was pleased to see support by First Ministers in the FMM Agreement to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy and health goals that are independently monitored. We believe health goals are a key component in addressing the serious public health challenges that lie ahead. Goals stimulate action and improve system accountability. Unlike Canada, many other countries—including the United States, the UK and Australia—have set health goals for their populations at the national level.
At the CMA’s August 2004 General Council meeting, physicians agreed on health goals for physical activity, healthy body weights and obesity (see box below). These goals are already having an effect. Recently, the BC Minister of Health, Colin Hansen, accepted the challenge from the President of the British Columbia Medical Association, Dr. Jack Burak, to increase fitness levels by 10 per cent by 2010.
We also need to be more preoccupied with setting, meeting and monitoring environmental health goals. Let us look at drinking water for example. As hard as it may be for Canadians to believe, a safe supply of water is a key health concern for Canadians today just as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The polluting of our water supply—including the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the use of antibiotics in human and animal health—and a lack of adequate water treatment infrastructure systems have contributed to the problem. Above all, we as Canadians need to recognize that a large natural supply of water and other natural resources do not eliminate the need for strong environmental governance. Public health officials play an important role in this respect.
But it is pointless to set goals without any intention of meeting them. Resources will be necessary to meet the selected health goals such as the training and hiring of public health workers, as well as funding to support public advertising and marketing campaigns.
Physical Activity and Healthy Body Weight Goals for Canada
(Endorsed at CMA General Council, August 2004, Toronto)
The Canadian Medical Association urges all levels of government to commit to a comprehensive, integrated and collaborative national strategy for increasing the physical activity levels of all Canadians, with a target of a 10% increase in each province and territory by the year 2010.
The Canadian Medical Association calls on all stakeholders to develop, as an urgent priority, an action plan to address the obesity epidemic in Canada, with a goal of increasing by 15% within ten years the proportion of Canadians who are at a healthy weight.
Invest in Health Not in Tobacco
Improving health status is more than promoting healthy lifestyle behaviour. A healthy society also requires public policy that supports health (e.g. adequate income and education, proper housing, adequate nutrition, a clean and safe environment.)
Tobacco use is a good example of a health risk that has been significantly reduced with the help of public policy measures, such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, and restrictions on smoking in public places. But there remains inconsistency in Canada's public policies—in this case between the investment policies of the CPP Investment Board and Canada's health policy goals.
Canadians are very proud of their public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It is a well-supported social program that has been viewed as a best practice model by several countries. Yet, despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, (18) the Canada Pension Plan holds $94 million worth of tobacco investments.
Canada’s physicians see the toll that tobacco consumption creates. We see the physical and mental suffering that tobacco-caused diseases bring to patients and their families. Accordingly, the CMA has consistently recommended a wide range of measures to control tobacco use such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, restrictions on smoking in public places, enforcement of bans on sales to minors, reduction of the level of toxic ingredients in tobacco and the provision of smoking cessation programs. We are pleased with the efforts to date but we are by no means finished in our battle. As our fact sheet shows, there are still segments of the population, particularly among our youth, that have high rates of smoking.
The federal government in recent years has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a tobacco reduction strategy that, when combined with efforts being taken by the provinces and municipalities, is making a difference for Canadians. However, the CPP Investment Board is investing and voting as shareholders in a pattern that is inconsistent with both public health policy, and the tobacco reduction measures being implemented across Canada. It is inconsistent and illogical for one arm of government to expend many millions of dollars of public money in
an effort to reduce tobacco use, while another arm invests many millions of dollars of money in tobacco companies and supports these companies in their drive to be profitable.
Resolution of the Canadian Medical Association General Council, August 2004:
…the government amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act so that CPP investments in the tobacco industry are prohibited and the CPP Investment Board divests itself of existing tobacco holdings.
The CMA is prepared to back up what it is prescribing—MD Management Ltd’s “MD Funds” which are managed for Canada’s physicians has followed this policy for almost ten years. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully followed this policy as well including several US State retirement and pension funds and the American Medical Association Pension Fund.
While the CMA clearly believes that the CPP Investment Board should not invest in the tobacco industry and that existing tobacco holdings should be divested, we recognize that this committee might want to look at the matter in greater context to assess its full impact. We suggest that this be done in conjunction with the Standing Committee on Health.
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
The Finance Committee’s last report on the pre-budget hearings noted that the CMA’s submission identified relatively small, one-time investments that can support the health care system. 19 This year’s submission once again puts forward strategic investments that we believe support Canada’s health policy goals and which serve to effectively implement the FMM Agreement. Our recommendations are also directed at improving the alignment of Canada’s economic policy with its health policy.
It is natural to think of an agreement as an end point. But in reality, the FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health system. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure the financial investments announced over the past year lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
1 Claudia Sanmartin et al. Access to Health Care Services in Canada, 2003. Statistics Canada, 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. Discussion Paper. July 2004. Ottawa.
3 CMA, Better Access for Better Health, September 2004; Canadian Healthcare Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association. “Common Vision for the Canadian Health System,” September, 2004.
4 National Physician Survey, “Initial Data Release of the 2004 Physician Survey”, October 2004.
5 A note listed under the funding schedule indicates that moneys flowing to the Wait Times Reduction Fund for health human resources ($250 million for four years) will come only during the final four years of the Agreement.
6 Average duration. Only 2/16 medical schools have a 3 (versus 4) year program.
7 This estimate is based on federal government actual and estimated costs as well as current actual national average tuition fees in undergraduate programs in medicine. Data sources: (1) Statistics Canada, The Daily, April 26, 2004, National Graduates Survey: Student Debt, p. 3. (2) Government of Canada, Canlearn. Saving for your child's education, The projected cost of your child's education. University Tuition. Typical 1996 university cost living away from home: $13,000 - $3,500 tuition = $9,500 x 24% (8 years x 3% inflation cited in reference above) = $11 780. see: http://www.canlearn.ca/financing/saving/guaranteefuture/clcos.cfm?langcanlearn=en (3) Association of Canadian Medical Colleges for tuition
8 For a further discussion of the role of taxation in public policy, refer to Musgrave, Richard A. and Peggy B. Musgrave’s Public Finance in Theory and Practices. 1973. New York: McGraw-Hill.
9 Canadian Medical Association, Tax and Health—Taking Another Look. Discussion Paper, May 2002.
10See Keeping the Balance, 1997 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance; Facing the Future: Challenges and Choices for a New Era, 1998 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
11 See for example, Laurie J. Goldsmith, Brian Hutchinson and Jeremiah Hurley, Economic Evaluation Across the Four Faces of Prevention: A Canadian Perspective. (Hamilton: Centre for Health Econoimcs and Policy Analysis, McMaster University), May 2004.
12 The Conference Board of Canada, “The Economic Impact of SARS”, Ottawa, May 2003.
13 Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, Learning From SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada, October 2003.
14 Based on data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (http://www.cms.hhs.gov/statistics/nhe/).
15 Canadian Medical Association, Answering the Wake Up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan. Submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, June 2003.
16Government of Canada, Department of Finance Canada, The Budget Plan 2004, p. 101. 2004.
17 See Answering the Wake-up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan for other initiatives that should be funded to rebuild Canada’s public health system.
18 Adapted from estimates provided by Murray J. Kaiserman, “The Cost of Smoking in Canada, 1991”, Chronic Diseases in Canada, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1997. Available at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/cdic-mcc/18-1/c_e.html.
19 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, Canada: People, Places and Priorities, November 2002.
The method a country chooses to fund and deliver health care demonstrates the values of its citizens and the type of nation that they wish to live in. Canadians, through their elected representatives, have placed a high value on a single-payer, tax-financed health care system with a delivery system that is essentially private and not-for-profit. The principles providing the underpinnings of the system are embodied in the Canada Health Act (CHA) and include the following: universality, comprehensiveness, access, portability and public administration.
Since the passing of the CHA, Canadians have grown increasingly passionate about these principles and have demonstrated time and again that these principles are in close alignment with their values.
Canadians have chosen tax-based financing for their health care system as it relates to hospital and physician services. The provincial and federal governments, through federal government transfers such as equalization payments and the Canada Health and Social Transfer and through provincial taxation, fund the various organizations and health care providers that deliver health care. Therefore the financing of the health care system has been socialized and publicly administered as opposed to privatized through compulsory private insurance. This indicates that Canadians view health care as not just an ordinary good, such as an automobile or a house that they pay for based on their own financial resources, but as a good whose cost should be shared by the community on the basis of the ability to pay of individuals. For those two components that are most likely to create true financial hardship for families and individuals, hospital services and physician services, the overwhelming majority of the funding is from public sources as opposed to private sources.
When it comes to the health services that are subject to the provisions of the CHA, namely hospital services and physicians' services, Canada has chosen a predominantly private delivery approach. Physicians are largely self-employed and operate within a private sector solo or group practice while community and teaching hospitals are largely private not-for-profit organizations. Most Canadian hospitals are governed by voluntary boards of trustees and are owned by voluntary organizations, municipal or provincial authorities or religious orders.
2.0 CANADIAN VALUES
The evolution of Canada's health care system has been profoundly influenced by Canadian values and as a result so will its future. The Prime Minister's National Forum on Health produced a series of documents on Canada's health care system including analyses that delved into Canadian values regarding health care and Canada's health care system in particular.
The following quotes are from Graves, Frank L. Beauchamp, Patrick, Herle, David, "Research on Canadian Values in Relation to Health and the Health Care System" Canada Health Action: Building on the Legacy, Papers Commissioned by the National Forum on Health, "Volume 5 - Making Decisions, Evidence and Information". These quotes exemplify the importance of health and the health care system in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
"There is a broad consensus that the Canadian health care system is a collective accomplishment, a source of pride, and a symbol of core Canadian values. The values of equality, access, and compassion are salient to perceptions of the system and often held in contradistinction to perceptions of the American system. Moreover, the system is seen as relatively effective and sound. It may be the only area of current public endeavour which is seen as a clear success story." p. 352
"The public perceptions of problems in the health care system reflect many of the themes evident in broader concerns about government. One of these themes is a growing wariness of "expert" prescriptions for the health care system." p. 353
"This finding reconfirms a consistent conclusion of other research in this area - the gap between expert rationality and public values. It would be prudent to acknowledge the public's entrenched resistance to a purely economic mode on health care." p. 354
"A number of key conclusions are evident. First, people were generally loath to trade-off elements of the current system against the promise of better or fairer future performance." p. 355
"The public will be resistant to a rational discourse on these cost issues because they are more likely to see these issues in terms of higher-order values. The evidence suggests that further dialogue will tilt the debate more to values than economics. The public will insist on inclusion and influence in this crucial debate and they will reject elite and expert authority." p. 356
"In response to a question on how health care was different from other commodities and services sold in the marketplace, participants agreed that its main difference lies in the fact that it was directly related to "life and death"." p. 370
"Most simply did not want efficiency to be the driving force in health policy." p. 378
"The focus group discussions augmented the belief that health care is more about values than economics." p. 389
"Although other competing priorities emerged over the period of the discussion, it is equality of access that serves as the primary source of this pride. The "Canadian" values are wrapped up in equality of access - everybody gets relatively equal care when they are sick and nobody has to lose their house to pay their hospital or doctor bill. It is this feature of the system which is seen to most distinguish it from the American model (which is the point of comparison)." p. 393
"Many people readily acknowledge that their belief in egalitarianism is restricted to health care and that they are not troubled by wide discrepancies based on ability to pay or status in other areas of society. They have no trouble isolating health care in this way because they see health care as something of a completely different character than housing or automobiles or vacations." p. 393
"There is an overwhelming consensus among Canadians about the importance of equality of access as the defining characteristic of our system. That consensus is premised upon the assumption that quality is a given, as they have perceived it to be in the past." p. 395
"It is also true that, since Canadians recognize that a truly private system like the U.S. version might provide even greater levels or quality of freedom of choice to at least some citizens, they are choosing to sacrifice some of that from the system in order to provide equality of access to a universal system." p. 396
Clearly, Canadians value their health care system and the principles that it is based on.
3.0 IMPLICATIONS FOR TRADE LIBERALIZATION
The core values that Canadians have expressed in relation to the health care system raise certain issues as to the impact of trade liberalization on those core values. Following is an analysis based on an examination of the various modes of trade.
3.1 Modes of Trade in Services
The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations leading to the World Trade Organization's creation in 1995 classified services into 160 sectors. Health services are classified as a sector. In addition, trade in insurance services may affect health services where a market for health insurance exists.
The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) distinguishes among four modes of trade in services. Each is briefly described below, together with examples, (involving the mythic countries 'A' and 'B') from the health sector.
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- provision of diagnosis or treatment planning services in country A by suppliers in country B, via telecommunications ('telemedicine')
- movement of patients from country A to country B for treatment
- establishment of hospitals in country A whose owners are from country B, i.e. foreign direct investment
Presence of natural persons1
- service provision in country A by health professionals who have emigrated from country B
To date, Canada has made no commitments in the health services sector. Commitments in general have been shallow in the health sector in comparison to the most liberalized sectors, telecommunications and financial services, reflecting in part the substantial uncertainty about how such commitments will affect health care systems. Many of the countries that have undertaken health sector commitments have opted for enshrining the status quo, or even the status quo with commitments that include language proficiency requirements for health care professionals.
Some WTO Members, however, have made more extensive commitments, driven in part by the hope that this will facilitate development of export opportunities and importation of foreign capital and know-how. Where developing countries have made such commitments, the general lack of resources appears to be a far more potent barrier to trade than the presence or absence of such commitments.
3.2 GATS and the Health System: Role of Insurance and Health System Structure
To understand trade implications for the health sector, it may be helpful to distinguish between three functions that undergird all health systems: regulation/stewardship, financing, and service provision. Since the inception of Medicare, Canadians have received their health care through a system of private providers regulated under statutes. This links them closely to a financing system comprised largely of public funds in the form of general taxation revenues disbursed to health care providers by provincial and territorial governments and drawn from provincial and federal revenues through the progressive income tax system.
The regulatory/stewardship established by the Canada Health Act and provincial regulation is pivotal to the system's structure. For example, building private hospitals need not be explicitly banned because funding levers make this a difficult business proposition as services provided there would not be automatically covered by provincially managed insurance schemes. A further useful distinction arises between input goods and services (drugs, devices, health care personnel, cleaning, laundry etc.) and the output of health care services. It is difficult to argue that the cleaning of hospitals is fundamentally part of the output of health services, rather it is similar to cleaning of other facilities and is increasingly performed by commercial entities in contractual relationships with health care facilities. These commercial entities include firms with foreign ownership or shareholders. Similarly many of the drugs and devices used in Canadian health care facilities are traded goods, moving in international trade from foreign-based suppliers and being accompanied by Canadian goods exported to other health care systems.
Another input into the health care system is medical education. Physicians have to be trained so that Canadians have access to appropriate physician resources. There is some concern about the effects of GATS on the medical education enterprise and the quality of medical education currently delivered in Canada. As well, there is international recognition of Canada's expertise in medical education and evaluation and that this is a part of the health care system that Canada should be exporting.
4.0 RESPONDING TO GATS: POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS
In responding to GATS, it is helpful to consider each of the four modes of trade in health services, current levels of trade, and how GATS liberalization, (i.e. commitments by the government of Canada) could impact Canada's health care system.
Mode 1 - Cross-border supply
Cross border supply of health services, where the provider (health care professional) and consumer (patient) are in different jurisdictions has recently moved from the realm of science fiction to reality with advances in telemedicine. However, certain services, particularly those involving direct patient contact (nursing, rehabilitation professionals) are unlikely to be provided, regardless of advances in telemedicine. Cross-border supply appears most relevant to services involving diagnosis and treatment planning.
For example, a physician in Canada may digitize radiology films and send them for interpretation to a radiologist in the Caribbean or South Asia. Similarly, several experiments within Canada have attempted to use telediagnosis to spare families long trips from remote communities to consult with highly specialized paediatricians. If this were to occur across national borders with exchange of payment for services, it would constitute a form of international services trade.
Current limits on telemedicine's growth are essentially no longer technological but rather the regulatory/stewardship issues of professional certification and payment systems for services rendered. A commitment under mode 1 would do nothing to address either of these questions, particularly the first as governments retain full authority to establish licensing and certification regimes for professionals. Within Canada, payment has been hampered by provincial insurance plan insistence that the doctor-patient encounter must occur in such a way that both are in the same physical space.
At present, efforts have been directed to establishing cross-border recognition of professional accounting certification, fueled in large part by the concentration of accounting services work within a handful of multinational firms on behalf of their increasingly globalized clients. By contrast, similar efforts directed to social sector professions are unlikely given the atomistic nature of the professionals and the institutions and organizations where they work. The absence of a concerted desire for such cross-border recognition, coupled with the powerful role of governments in regulating not only certification but also numbers of health care professionals, suggests cross-border recognition will remain unlikely for the foreseeable future.
That having been said, a commitment by Canada and other countries to mode 1 liberalization could increase pressure on licensing authorities to develop programs of cross-border recognition. If this were to happen the export of telemedicine services outside of Canada would represent physician resources that would not be available to Canadians. Given the physician workforce issues that Canada is presently facing such a commitment could exacerbate an already difficult position. In addition, there are other implications that would have to be determined through stakeholder consultation, for example: provider legal liability and malpractice insurance, patient privacy and confidentiality of medical records to name a few.
Mode 2 - Consumption abroad
Individual Canadians have long sought care in other jurisdictions, most notably the United States. This is typically paid for from private health insurance or out of pocket funds. Changes to provincial insurance reimbursement for out-of-country care have dramatically limited publicly funded consumption abroad by Canadians. Two exceptions to this are treatment for specific rare conditions and, in several provinces, contracting for radiation therapy services with American institutions. Liberalization under mode 2 would do little for Canada in affecting the outward flow of Canadian patients to the US given the ease with which Canadians can cross the Canada-US border to purchase medical care. Similarly, opportunities for Canadian professionals and facilities to attract additional foreign patients are unlikely to grow substantially should a mode 2 commitment be made.
The obvious growth potential for Canadian physicians and facilities lies in the USA but has been substantially limited by two synergistic factors. First is the non-portability of insurance coverage, both publicly financed Medicare/Medicaid benefits and most market-purchased insurance. Exclusion from health maintenance organizations' (HMOs) networks of providers are a further impediment for Canadian providers seeking to attract American consumers. Should the United States be willing to commit to the generalized portability of Medicare benefits, Canada would be a logical destination for American consumers seeking care, but that would be contingent on a commitment from the United States or other action regarding portability, rather than a specific mode 2 commitment by Canada. Commitments in this direction may, however, only be made if similar commitments are made by potential trading partners for health services, notably Canada and Mexico.
A commitment by Canada and other countries, especially the United States, to mode 2 liberalization could change the business plans or strategies to attract foreign patients by some physicians especially certain niche subspecialists. Such a change could result in access difficulties for Canadian patients as providers substitute higher-paying foreign patients for Canadian ones for which payment is fixed by provincial insurance plans.
Mode 3 - Commercial presence
Commercial presence, usually through foreign direct investment (FDI), is often necessary for providing services such as banking or supply chain management. FDI in Canada's health service sector is relatively insignificant and that would appear unlikely to change with a mode 3 commitment. As with several of the other modes of trade, the regulatory and stewardship environment creates structural impediments to FDI, specifically concerning which services will be paid for in which facilities, that a mode 3 commitment is unlikely to remove.
A related area for the health system is that of consulting services, where multinational, foreign-origin firms already play a substantial role in providing various forms of management consulting services. While some hospital boards are reported to have been approached regarding the outsourcing of their management to foreign management services firms, the extent of implementation to date has been minimal. Should hospital management be outsourced in this way or hospital facilities networked through supra-facility organizations, American based firms are logical candidates for such work and can be expected to bring with them substantial experience in shaping and constraining physician decision-making, particularly around access to expensive procedures.
Mode 3 commitments are arguably neither necessary nor sufficient for such a change in hospital governance and management when compared to the power of provincial government regulation and financing mechanisms. If Canada made a mode 3 commitment, provincial governments would still have substantial latitude to regulate financing and provision of services, so long as these regulations applied to all potential suppliers, regardless of country of origin, thus ensuring national treatment.
However, the full ramifications of such a commitment remain largely unknown and there appears little to be gained by Canada in making such commitments.
Mode 4 - Presence of natural persons
Presence of natural persons, specifically physicians and other health professionals, is one of the most pressing issues in health systems around the world. For countries like South Africa, emigration of physicians hamstrings efforts to deliver health services. For parts of Canada, immigration of those physicians has been essential to providing Canadians with health care, particularly in rural and remote areas.
Nevertheless, mode 4 commitments are unlikely to be particularly useful for health human resource planning. For destination countries like Canada, a mode 4 commitment to liberalize immigration of natural persons, specifically health sector professionals, does not bind that country to forego national systems of certification and licensure. Moreover, existing systems of visas and work authorizations offer far more effective control over inflows than would a mode 4 commitment. Similarly, Canadian physicians who wish to emigrate, typically to the US, do so in the absence of a Mode 4 commitment by either country. Of concern to Canadians is the increased recognition of physician shortages as demonstrated by the fact that several provinces have increased medical school enrolment. Therefore any measures that would make it easier for physicians and other health care professionals to leave Canada and to practice elsewhere, especially the United States, could exacerbate an already tight supply of human health resources in several provinces.
After a decade of efforts to reduce the number of physicians in Canada, assessments of Canadian physician supply are increasingly identifying shortages or, at the very least, chronic undersupply, in rural areas. Substantial numbers of foreign-trained physicians already reside in Canada but are unable to practice due to some combination of limited language skills, insufficient training, or 'queuing' for the various transition requirements imposed on international medical graduates (IMGs) by provincial licensing authorities.
Commitments by Canada in this area however could result in pressure on licensing authorities to modify their requirements with potential implications on quality of care. Again, there is little to be gained for Canada to pursue commitments in this area until the ramifications are fully explored.
Two areas that are to be explored are: 1) cross-sectoral horse trading, and 2) equity perceptions.
'Cross-sectional horse trading' refers to countries offering commitments in one sector in return for commitments in other, unrelated sectors. As an example, Canada may wish to increase its access to foreign markets for financial or telecommunications services and face the choice of putting the health services sector 'into play' as part of negotiating on matters unrelated to health services. This would be potentially disastrous if Canada were to undertake specific health services commitments in the rush to secure benefits in other sectors without attention to the federal-provincial cooperation and coordination to ensure that such commitments did not undermine the foundations of Canada's health system.
Such cooperation and coordination appears to be becoming increasingly difficult and the pressure of a GATS commitment perceived to be negotiated by persons outside the health sector and health ministry would seem a surefire way to increase that difficulty.
The second issue, equity perceptions, arises from the confluence of increasing concern among Canadians about access to their health care system and the likely additional concern that would arise if Canadian physicians were perceived to be favouring foreign patients over Canadian patients. The clearest example of access concerns to date is likely that of ophthalmology services where the opportunities for these specialists to provide non-insured laser treatment to American citizens may have reduced the services available to provincially insured Canadians. Non-insured care, whether for Canadians or foreign patients is a growing part of physician revenues, but pushing for its expansion through a mode 2 commitment under GATS appears unlikely to generate benefits sufficient to offset the potential negatives when compared with other methods of expanding revenue from non-insured services.
The Government of Canada's bargaining position regarding health services in relation to the ongoing liberalization of trade in health services through the GATS will evolve from an assessment of the opportunities and costs associated with various levels of commitment. A major factor in the equation are the values of Canadians and their affinity for the publicly funded health care system.
"The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recognizes that trade liberalization can have positive economic impacts on the Canadian economy, however the type of healthcare system that Canadians and health care providers want is of primary concern whereas the goals of trade liberalization in health services is of a secondary nature. Recognizing that the GATS process is an on-going and long-term approach to trade liberalization, the CMA recommends that the Federal government undertake extensive consultative sessions with the Canadian public and healthcare providers. Such a consultation process would help answer questions as to the implications of trade liberalization and would provide feedback as to what level of trade liberalization in health care services is consistent with Canadian values."
1 Mode 4: "Presence of 1Natural Persons" - this covers the conditions under which a service supplier can travel in person to a country in order to supply a service. Source: http://gats-info.eu.int/gats-info/gatscomm.pl?MENU=hhh