The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. In fulfillment of this mission, the CMA’s role is focused on national, pan-Canadian health advocacy and policy priorities.
As detailed in this brief, the CMA is gravely concerned that by capturing group medical structures in the application of Section 44 of Bill C-29, the federal government will inadvertently negatively affect medical research, medical training and education as well as access to care.
To ensure that the unintended consequences of this federal tax policy change do not occur, the CMA is strongly recommending that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction in Section 44 of Bill C-29.
Relevance of the Canadian Controlled Private Corporation Framework to Medical Practice
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country’s knowledge economy. Due to the design of Canada’s health care system, a large majority of physicians – more than 90% – are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners.
As self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits, although they are responsible for these benefits for their employees. Access to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework and the Small Business Deduction (SBD) are integral to managing a medical practice in Canada. It is imperative to recognize that physicians cannot pass on any increased costs, such as changes to CCPC framework and access to the SBD, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
In light of the unique business perspectives of medical practice, the CMA strongly welcomed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to maintain the existing small business framework and the subsequent federal recognition in the 2016 budget of the value that health care professionals deliver to communities across Canada as small business operators. Contrary to this recognition, the 2016 budget also introduced a proposal to alter eligibility to the small business deduction that will impact physicians incorporated in group medical structures.
What’s at risk: Contribution of group medical structures to health care delivery
The CMA estimates that approximately 10,000 to 15,000 physicians will be affected by this federal taxation proposal. If implemented, this federal taxation measure will negatively affect group medical structures in communities across Canada. By capturing group medical structures, this proposal also introduces an inequity amongst incorporated physicians, and incentivizes solo practice, which counters provincial and territorial health delivery priorities.
Group medical structures are prevalent within academic health science centres and amongst certain specialties, notably oncology, anaesthesiology, radiology, and cardiology. Specialist care has become increasingly sub-specialized. For many specialties, it is now standard practice for this care to be provided by teams composed of numerous specialists, sub-specialists and allied health care providers. Team-based care is essential for educating and training medical students and residents in teaching hospitals, and for conducting medical research.
Put simply, group medical structures have not been formed for taxation or commercial purposes. Rather, group medical structures were formed to deliver provincial and territorial health priorities, primarily in the academic health setting, such as teaching, medical research as well as optimizing the delivery of patient care. Over many years, and even decades, provincial and territorial governments have been supporting and encouraging the delivery of care through team-based models.
To be clear, group medical structures were formed to meet health sector priorities; they were not formed for business purposes. It is equally important to recognize that group medical structures differ in purpose and function from similar corporate or partnership structures seen in other professions. Unlike most other professionals, physicians do not form these structures for the purpose of enhancing their ability to earn profit.
It is critical that the federal government acknowledge that altering eligibility to the small business deduction will have more significant taxation implication than simply the 4.5% difference in the small business versus general rate at the federal level. It would be disingenuous to argue that removing full access to the small business deduction for incorporated physicians in group medical structures will be a minor taxation increase. As demonstrated below in Table 1, the effect of this federal taxation change will vary by province.
Table 1: Taxation impacts by province, if the federal taxation proposal is implemented
In Nova Scotia, for example, approximately 60% of specialist physicians practice in group medical structures. If the federal government applies this taxation proposal to group medical structures, these physicians will face an immediate 17.5% increase in taxation. In doing so, the federal government will establish a strong incentive for these physicians to move away from team-based practice to solo practice. If this comes to pass, the federal government may be responsible for triggering a reorganization of medical practice in Nova Scotia.
Finance Canada Grossly Underestimating the Net Impact
The CMA is aware that Finance Canada has developed theoretical scenarios that demonstrate a minimal impact to incorporated physicians within group medical structures. Working closely with our subsidiary, MD Financial Management, the CMA submitted real financial scenarios from real financial information provided to the CMA from incorporated physicians in group medical structures. These real examples demonstrate that there will be a significant impact to incorporated physicians in group medical structures, if this federal tax proposal will apply to them.
The theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada conclude the net financial impact to an incorporated physician in a group medical structure would be in the magnitude of hundreds of dollars. In stark contrast to the theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada, the CMA submitted financial scenarios of two incorporated physicians in group medical structures. The financial calculations undertaken by the CMA is based on the real financial information of these two physicians. The examples revealed yearly net reduction of funds of $32,510 and $18,065 for each of these physicians respectively.
Projecting forward, for the first physician, this would represent a negative impact of $402,330 based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return1. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $39.4 million.2
1 Source: MD Financial Management
2 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
3 Source: MD Financial Management
4 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
For the second physician, projecting forward, this would represent a negative impact of $223,565, based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return3. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $13.4 million.4
Unprecedented Level of Concern Expressed by Physicians
Following the publication of the 2016 federal budget, the CMA received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership expressing deep concern with the proposal to alter access to the small business deduction for group medical structures. The level of correspondence from our membership is quite simply unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
As part of the CMA’s due diligence as the national professional organization representing physicians, we informed our membership of Finance Canada’s consultation process on the draft legislative measures. In response, the CMA was copied on submissions by over 1,300 physicians to Finance Canada’s pre-legislative consultation.
In follow up, the CMA surveyed these physicians to better understand the impacts of the budget proposal. Here’s what we heard:
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group structure would dissolve;
. Most respondents (54%) said they would stop practicing in their group structure and that other partners would leave (76%);
. A large majority (78%) indicated that the tax proposal would lead to reduced investments in medical research by their group;
. Almost 70% indicated that the tax proposal would limit their ability to provide medical training spots; and,
. Another 70% indicated that the tax proposal will mean reduced specialty care by their group.
The full summary of the survey is provided as an appendix to this brief.
To further illustrate the risks of this proposal to health care, below are excerpts from some of the communiques received by the CMA from its membership:
. “Our Partnership was formed in the 1970s…The mission of the Partnership is to achieve excellence in patient care, education and research activities….there would be a serious adverse effect on retention and recruitment if members do not have access to the full small business deduction…The changes will likely result in pressure to dissolve the partnership and revert to the era of departments services by independent contractors with competing individual financial interests.” Submitted to the CMA April 15, 2016 from a member of the Anesthesia Associates of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus
. “The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is an academic health care institution dedicated to patient care, research and medical education…To support what we call our “academic mission,” cardiologists at the institute have formed an academic partnership…If these [taxation] changes go forward they will crippled the ability of groups such as ours to continue to function and will have a dramatic negative impact on medical education, innovative health care research, and the provision of high-quality patient care to our sickest patients.” Submitted to the CMA April 19, 2016 from a member of the Associates in Cardiology
. “We are a general partnership consisting of 93 partners all of whom are academic anesthesiologists with appointments to the Faculty of the University of Toronto and with clinical appointments at the University Health Network, Sinai Health System or Women’s College Hospital…In contrast to traditional business partnerships, we glean no business advantage whatsoever from being in a partnership…the proposed legislation in Budget 2016 seems unfair in that it will add another financial hardship to our partners – in our view, this is a regressive tax on research, teaching and innovation.” Submitted to the CMA April 14, 2016 from members of the UHN-MSH Anesthesia Associates
The CMA recommends that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction, as proposed in Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2.
Below is a proposed legislative amendment to ensure group medical structures are exempted from Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2:
Section 125 of the Act is amended by adding the following after proposed subsection 125(9):
125(10) Interpretation of designated member – [group medical partnership] – For purposes of this section, in determining whether a Canadian-controlled private corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician is a designated member of a particular partnership in a taxation year, the term "particular partnership" shall not include any partnership that is a group medical partnership.
125(11) Interpretation of specified corporate income – [group medical corporation] – For purposes of this section, in determining the specified corporate income for a taxation year of a corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician, the term "private corporation" shall not include a group medical corporation.
Subsection 125(7) of the Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:
"group medical partnership" means a partnership that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice;
"group medical corporation" means a corporation that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice.
"medical practice" means any practice and authorized acts of a physician as defined in provincial or territorial legislation or regulations and any activities in relation to, or incidental to, such practice and authorized acts;
"physician" means a health care practitioner duly licensed with a provincial or territorial medical regulatory authority and actively engaged in practice;
Incorporation Survey, October 2016
*Totals may exceed 100% as respondents were allowed to select more than one response
% Distribution by Province of Practice
Academic health sciences centre
Private office / clinic
Emergency department (in community hospital or AHSC)
Community clinic/Community health centre
Non-AHSC teaching hospital
Free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic
Free-standing walk-in clinic
Nursing home/ Long term care facility / Seniors' residence
Administrative office / Corporate office
% Distribution by Work Setting
Most frequently mentioned hospitals where respondents work in group medical structures
Group medical structure will dissolve
Stop practice in your group medical structure
Partnering members leave the group medical
Reduced investments in medical research
Reduced medical training spots
Reduced provision of specialized care
Physicians perceptions about the likelihood of the following outcomes
Likely or very likely
Unlikely or very unlikely
The federal government is advancing a tax proposal that will alter access to the small business deduction. If implemented, this proposal will affect incorporated physicians practicing in partnership group medical structures. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is actively advocating for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the application of this tax proposal.
Importance of Exempting Group Medical Structures from the Tax Proposal
Important or very important
Unimportant or very unimportant
To support the effectiveness of its advocacy efforts, the CMA conducted an online survey seeking input from members who had voiced their concerns about this issue directly with the Department of Finance and who had copied the CMA on their submissions.
Sample: physician type, province, and work setting
The survey was sent to 1089 CMA members, of which 174 responded (15.9% response rate). All sample respondents were incorporated and practiced in a group medical structure; 26% were family physicians (N=45) and 74% were specialists (N=129). Most respondents indicated practicing primarily in Ontario (65%) and Alberta (13%).
With respect to practice settings, the majority reported working in an academic health sciences centre (65%), followed by a private office/clinic (28%), university (22%), community hospital (15%), emergency department (9%), community clinic/community
health centre (8%), non-AHSC teaching hospital (8%), research unit (6%), and free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic (6%).
In total, respondents worked in 79 hospitals spread around 36 cities.
Likelihood of outcomes resulting from the federal tax proposal
When asked about the possible consequences of the proposed changes, the largest share of respondents (78%) felt a reduction in investments in medical research was likely or very likely. Almost as many (76%) also felt that partnering members would likely leave the group medical structure.
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group medical structure would be likely or very likely to dissolve if the federal tax proposal to change access to the small business deduction was implemented. Less than one-third (30%) felt unsure while only a few (9%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than half of respondents (54%) indicated that they would be likely or very likely to stop practicing in their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. More than one-third (36%) were unsure while only a few (10%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) indicated that other partnering members would be likely or very likely to leave their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. About 20% remained unsure while only 5% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 8 in 10 respondents (78%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce investments in medical research for their group medical structure. 16% remained unsure while 6% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Approximately two-thirds of respondents (67%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce the ability of the group medical structure to provide medical training spots. About a quarter (23%) remained unsure and 1 in 10 reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 7 in 10 respondents (68%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce provision of specialized care by their group medical structure. Almost a quarter (24%) remained unsure while 8% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
Importance of exempting group medical structures from the tax proposal
More than 9 in 10 respondents (94%) felt that it is important or very important for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the tax proposal to avoid negatively affecting health care delivery in their province. The remaining respondents were unsure (2%) or considered it unimportant or very unimportant (4%).
Other Impacts – Write-in Question
Before submitting the survey, respondents were given the chance to provide additional comments about other potential impacts that the proposed changes might produce. Most responses touched upon a few and inter-related themes, including:
1. Impact on education and research will be detrimental and will eventually affect patient care:
o “Without the group medical structure, we cannot adequately support teaching education and research activities. Physicians in academic health sciences centres will be forced to use their time to see patients, in order to bill fee-for-service to make a living. Very little time will be left over to
spend doing the research that is critical to advancing medical science, to supporting our university, and our nation’s prominent place in the world of medicine”
o “Support is given to the academic health sciences centres by the provincial government in order to facilitate research and education. The federal government's changes will penalize physicians who already dedicate much of their time to providing the stepping stones to advance medicine forward. These physicians generally make less income than physicians working in private practice. They are willing to take this monetary hit because they love what they do. However we all need to support our families and put food on the table. With the government's changes, this may not be possible in the current system, and these group medical structures will need to be dissolved and the physicians working will have much less time to dedicate to research and education.”
o “Less education, research activity to focus on fee-for-service procedures to compensate for higher taxes.”
o Our ability to provide teaching for medical education and research, which are currently not remunerated, would be curtailed. There would be no incentive but rather a significant disincentive to provide these activities because we would be financially penalized compared to physicians in the same specialty that are not in group medical structures.”
o “As the main teaching practice structure, we will lose full time faculty who provide the backbone to the program. They currently earn much below the average for Family Physicians in the province and our ability to support education and research will be compromised.”
2. Discourages practice in academic centres:
o “Working in an academic center as a general pediatrician means that we already make substantially less money than our community colleagues. There is very little incentive to remain in academic practice if we not only earn less, but are then not entitled to the same tax savings. I would leave academic practice and I suspect many of my colleagues would as well. I think we could see the end of the current group medical structure, as it would no longer support a financially viable model for academic practice.”
o “Creates a further divide between working in an academic centre and in the community. It will continue to be more advantageous to work in a smaller community - more money, less cost of living, less administrative and academic hassles, less research funding. Why bother working at an academic centre with such disadvantages.”
o “This policy seems to target academic physicians in groups disproportionately. These physicians currently support research and education by reallocating our own funds generated from clinical care. It is puzzling as to why the Federal Government is waging this war on the academic physician workforce.”
3. Physician retention and recruitment will be challenging:
o “I will retire sooner than otherwise.”
o “At the present time it is very difficult to recruit family doctors who are interested in teaching, research and administration of academic family medicine. This tax change will make it increasingly more difficult to recruit such individuals.”
o “I'm concerned that the proposed changes erase any benefits from a corporation structure and leave me with a loss. Work is so stressful and demanding that if I find myself in a disadvantaged situation financially as well, this would be another factor encouraging me either to retire or move outside of Canada. If I'm going to be faced with losses and more stress, why not instead focus on my quality of life instead?”
o “It would severely restrict our ability to recruit research and specialty physicians. We would not be able to compete with community centres and would see a dramatic decline in our ability to provide for teaching and research activities now funded through the group structure.”
o “I am a dual citizen and would seriously entertain moving to the USA.”
o “It will basically force me to go to a free standing walk in clinic.”
o “It would be less likely to recruit the best quality of medical staff to academic practice as there will be a significant financial disincentive, especially compared to what that same individual could earn on their own
in a community practice. This is on top of the fact that academic practitioners tend to earn less to start with.”
4. Discourages team-based collaborative care:
o “The bill sets up an unfair system where it is more attractive to be a solo MD rather than to collaborate and be part of a team.”
o “This creates an every person for themselves philosophy.”
o “The provision of our group services is required to ensure best patient care. It is wrong to penalize this model of comprehensive care.”
5. Practice will close and services will be limited in certain areas:
o “Any reduction in research, administration, academic activity, and members would affect patient care at our facility and therefore be a threat to patient safety. e.g., if multiple physicians leave, then we won't have enough physicians to cover the emergency department appropriately, wait times will increase, and serious patient safety concerns will arise.”
o “Reduces productivity of the doctors concerned and hence quality of service provided. Access will also be affected!”
o This would be unattractive for some, and they may leave (or others may not join.) If partners leave, the overhead will go up and we would likely close. Because our overhead is already borderline unacceptable. Shared between fewer docs would make it economically impossible. And this could easily happen if docs leave.
o “Reduced physician coverage if members opt out of group medical structure, which would have an impact on greater access and the quality of care.”
o “Our ability to have a large interdisciplinary team to assist in serving our patients could not continue to exist. Our ability to continue to provide 24/7 on-call and after hours clinics would decrease due to a change in the structure leading to less practitioners.”
On behalf of 83,000 physician members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health study on the Development of a National Pharmacare Program. Recognizing that the term “pharmacare” is used in different contexts, for the purposes of this brief, pharmacare is defined as a program whereby Canadians have comparable access to medically necessary prescription medications, irrespective of their ability to pay, wherever they live in Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients.
On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease/injury prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2014, of the estimated $28.8 billion spent in Canada on prescription medications (representing 13.4% of total health spending), governmentsi accounted for 42.0%, and private insurers and out-of-pocket (OOP) payment accounted for 35.8% and 22.2% respectively.1
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and over 60 national medical organizations.
i Includes federal. Social security fund and provincial/territorial spending
1 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Prescribed drug spending in Canada, 2013: a focus on public drug programs. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Prescribed%20Drug%20Spending%20in%20Canada_2014_EN.pdf. Accessed 05/15/16.
2 Royal Commission on Health Services. Report Volume One. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Database 1975 to 2015. Table D 3.1.1-D3.13.1 https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/08/16.
4 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 203-0022 Survey of household spending (SHS), household spending, Canada, regions and provinces, by household income quintile. Accessed 05/18/16.
5 Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada. 2014-15 Report Card on Cancer in Canada. http://www.canceradvocacy.ca/reportcard/2014/Report%20Card%20on%20Cancer%20in%20Canada%202014-2015.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
6 Canadian Cancer Society. Cancer drug access for Canadians. http://www.colorectal-cancer.ca/IMG/pdf/cancer_drug_access_report_en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
7Schoen C, Osborn R, Squires D, Doty M. Access, affordability, and insurance complexity are often worse in the United States compared to ten other countries. Health Affairs 2013;32(12):2205-15.
8 Himmelstein D, Woolhandler S, Sarra J, Guyatt G. Health issues and health care expenses in Canadian bankruptices and insolvencies. International Journal of Health Services 2014;44(1):7-23.
9 Law M, Cheng L, Dhalla I, Heard D, Morgan S. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ 2012. 184)3):297-302.
10 Tamblyn R, Eguale T, Huang A, Winslade N, Doran P. The incidence and determinants of primary nonadherence with prescribed medication in primary care. Ann Inter Med 2014;160:441-50.
Pharmacare is clearly part of the unfinished business of Medicare. Numerous authors have pointed out that Canada is the only developed country that does not include prescription medications as part of its universal health program. Table 1 below shows how Canada compares with the 22 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the proportion of public spending for major categories of health expenditure in 2012.
Table 1. Public spending as % of total spending: Major health spending categories, Canada and 22 OECD country average, 2012
% Public Spending
Prescription Drugs Hospitals Doctors’ Offices
Canada 42 91 99
OECD Average 70 88 72
Source: OECD.Stat, Doctors’ offices figure for Sweden is 2009
In the case of prescription medications, Canada was more than one-third (40%) below the OECD average.
The Patchwork Quilt of Public-Private Coverage
In 1964 the Hall Commission recommended 50/50 cost-sharing between the federal and provincial governments toward the establishment of a prescription drug program, with a $1.00 charge for each prescription. At the time, prescription medications represented 6.5% of spending on personal health services.2 This recommendation was not implemented. It might be further added that the Hall report contained 25 forward-looking recommendations on pharmaceuticals that remain current to this day, including bulk purchasing, generic substitution and a national formulary.2
As a result of the lack of inclusion of prescription medications in Medicare, there is wide variation today in public per capita spending on prescription drugs across the provinces. It may be seen in Table 2 that, for 2014, CIHI has estimated that public per capita expenditure ranged from $219 in British Columbia and $255 in Prince Edward
Island (PE) to $369 in Saskatchewan and $437 in Quebec.3 CIHI does not provide estimates of private per capita prescription drug spending (private insurance plus OOP) below the national level.
Table 2: Spending on prescription drugs: Selected indicators by province and territory, 2014
Public per capita spendinga
Average household out-of-pocketc $
a CIHI, National Health Expenditure Database 1975-2015, includes all public funding sources
b Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
c Statistics Canada, Survey of Household Spending, 2014
d Provincial/territorial average
Table 2 also shows the significant role of private insurance in every region of Canada. Data provided by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, shown in Column 3 of Table 2, show that private health insurance companies paid out $10.2 billion for prescription drug claims in 2014, representing 83% of the $12.3 billion paid for by governments. In three provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — the amount paid by private insurance exceeds that paid by governments. Table 2 also shows that there is wide variation in average household OOP spending on prescription drugs, according to Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending (SHS). In 2014 this ranged from a low of $324 in Ontario to a high of $516 in PE and Manitoba.4
Even more striking variation is evident when looking at household out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs by income quintile (detailed data not shown). According to the 2014 SHS the poorest one-fifth (lowest income quintile) of PE households spent more than twice as much ($645) OOP on prescription drugs than the poorest one-fifth in Ontario ($300).4 Aside from overall differences in public spending there are also differences in which medications are covered, particularly in the case of cancer drugs. The Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada reported in 2014 that four provinces have fully funded access to cancer medications taken at home. In Ontario and Atlantic Canada however, cancer drugs that must be taken in a hospital setting and are on the provincial formulary are fully funded by the provincial government; if the drug is taken outside of hospital (oral or injectable), the patient and family may have to pay significant costs out-of-pocket.5 More generally the Canadian Cancer Society has reported that persons moving from one province to another may find that a medication covered in their former province may not be covered in the new one. 6
Other sources confirm that prescription medication spending is an issue for many Canadians. On the Commonwealth Fund’s 2013 International Health Policy Survey, 8% of the Canadian respondents said that they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.7 Himmelstein et al. reported on a survey of Canadians who experienced bankruptcy between 2008 and 2010. They found that 74.5% of the respondents who had had a medical bill within the last two years reported that prescription drugs was their biggest medical expense.8
At least two Canadian studies have documented the impact that out-of-pocket costs, lack of insurance and low income have on non-adherenceii to prescription regimens. Law et al. examined cost-related non-adherence in the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey and found that those without drug insurance were more than four times as likely to report non-adherence than those with insurance. The predicted rate of non-adherence among those with high household incomes and drug insurance was almost 10 times as high as that among those with low incomes and no insurance (35.6% vs. 3.6%).9 Based on a large-scale study of the incidence of primary non-adherence (defined as not filing a new prescription within nine months) in a group of some 70,000 Quebec patients, Tamblyn et al. reported that there was a 63% reduction in the odds of non-adherence among those with free medication over those with the maximum level of co-payment. They also reported that the odds of non-adherence increased with the cost of the medication prescribed.10
ii Non-adherence can be defined as doing something to make a medication last longer or failing to fill or renew a prescription.
Previous Pharmacare Proposals
In a recent monograph Katherine Boothe has contrasted the development of national prescription medication programs in Australia and the United Kingdom with the failure to do so in Canada.11
11 Boothe K. Ideas and the pace of change: national pharmaceutical insurance in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.
12 National Forum on Health. Directions for a pharmaceutical policy in Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/renewal-renouv/1997-nfoh-fnss-v2/index-eng.php. Accessed 05/18/16.
13 National Forum on Health. Canada health action: building on the legacy. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 1997.
14 Bank of Canada. Inflation calculator. http://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/?page_moved=1. Accessed 05/18/16.
15 Statistics Canada. Table 051-0001 Estimates of population, by age group and sex for July 1, Canada, provinces and territories. Accessed 05/15/16.
16 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure database 1975 to 2015. Table C.3.1. Public health expenditure by use of funds, Canada, 1975 to 2015. https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/25/16.
17 Berry C. Voluntary medical insurance and prepayment. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965.
18 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1969. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer for Canada, 1969.
19 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1972. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1972.
20 Privy Council Office. Speech from the Throne to open the first session thirty-sixth Parliament of Canada. http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=information&sub=publications&doc=aarchives/sft-ddt/1997-eng.htm. Accessed 05/18/16.
21 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians – the federal role. Volume six: recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
22 Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Building on values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, 2002.
23 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers’ accord on health care renewal. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800039004_e1GTC-352011-6102.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
24 Council of the Federation. Premiers’ action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federalism. Communiqué July 30, 2004. http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/newsroom-2004/healtheng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
25 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800042005_e1JXB-342011-6611.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
26 National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy progress report. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
27 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Backgrounder: national pharmaceutical strategy decision points. http://www.scics.gc.ca/english/conferences.asp?a=viewdocument&id=112. Accessed 05/18/16.
28 Canada’s Premiers. The pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance: April 2016 Update. http://www.pmprovincesterritoires.ca/en/initiatives/358-pan-canadian-pharmaceutical-alliance. Accessed 05/18/16.
29 Canadian Medical Association. General Council Resolution GC15-C16, August 26, 2015.
30 Gagnon M. The economic case for universal pharmacare. 2010. https://s3.amazonaws.com/policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2010/09/Universal_Pharmacare.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
31 Gagnon M. A roadmap to a rational pharmacare policy in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, 2014.
32 Morgan S, Law M, Daw J, Abraham L, Martin D. Estimated cost of universal public coverage of prescription drugs in Canada. CMAJ. 2015 Apr 21;187(7):491-7. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.141564.
33 Morgan S, Martin D, Gagnon M, Mintzes B, Daw, J, Lexchin, J. Pharmacare 2020. The future of drug coverage in Canada. http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
34 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC15-C19, August 26, 2015.
35 Conference Board of Canada. Federal policy action to support the health care needs of Canada’s aging population. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/conference-board-rep-sept-2015-embargo-en.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
36 Government of the United Kingdom. Written statement to Parliament NHS charges from April 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nhs-charges-from-april-2016. Accessed 05/18/16.
37 Appleby J. Prescription charges: are they worth it? BMJ 2014;348:g3944 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g3944.
Among the several Canadian attempts that she describes, the most activity occurred in the decade following the National Forum on Health (NFH), which was struck in 1994 and reported in 1997. A NFH working group paper on pharmaceutical policy recommended first dollar coverage for prescription medications, but acknowledged that it could not occur overnight: “over time we propose to shift private funding on prescribed pharmaceuticals (estimated at $3.6 billion in 1994) to public funding”.12 The NFH included this recommendation in its final report, noting that “the absorption of currently operating plans by a public system may involve transfer of funding sources as well as administrative apparatus”.13
It is instructive to place the 1994 prescription drug expenditure cited by the NFH in today’s context. According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, the $6.5 billion in 1994 would have cost $9.5 billion in 2014.14 CIHI estimates that actual spending in 2014 was $28.7 billion1 – 203% above the level of 1994 spending, compared to population growth of 23% over the same time period.15 Annual prescription drug spending increases averaged 7.3% over the period, although they have averaged just over 1% since 2009. 16
A significant shift from private to public funding is not without precedent. A study prepared for the Hall Commission estimated that 9.6 million Canadians, representing 53% of the total population, had some form of not-for-profit or commercial insurance coverage for medical and/or surgical services in 1961.17 With the passage of the Medical Care Act in 1966 these plans were all displaced as the provinces joined Medicare. The funding shift did not occur overnight, although it did move quickly. In the first year, 1968/69, Ottawa paid out $33 million to the provinces pursuant to the Medical Care Act, which grew quickly to $181 million in 1969/70, and reaching $576.5 million in 1971/72.18,19
Since the 1997 NFH report the closest that the federal government has come to acting on pharmacare was a commitment in the 1997 Speech from the Throne to “develop a national plan, timetable and a fiscal framework for providing Canadians with better access to medically necessary drugs”, but nothing further was ever made public.20
Pharmacare was subsequently examined in two national studies, both of which recommended federal involvement in reimbursing “catastrophic” prescription drug expenditures above a threshold of household income. The Senate study on the State of the Health Care System in Canada, chaired by Michael Kirby, was authorized in March 2001 and the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, headed by Roy Romanow, was approved in April 2001. Both issued their final reports in 2002.
The Kirby plan was designed so as to avoid the necessity of eliminating existing private plans or the provincial/territorial public plans, not unlike the approach taken by Quebec in 1997. In the Kirby plan, in the case of public plans, personal prescription medication expenses for any family would be capped at 3% of total family income. The federal government would then pay 90% of prescription drug expenses in excess of $5,000. In the case of private plans, sponsors would have to agree to limit out-of-pocket costs to $1,500 per year, or 3% of family incomes, whichever was less. The federal government would then agree to pay 90% of drug costs in excess of $5,000 per year. Both public and private plans would be responsible for the difference between out-of-pocket costs and $5,000, and private plans would be encouraged to pool their risk. Kirby estimated that this plan would cost approximately $500 million per year.21
The Romanow Commission recommended a $1 billion Catastrophic Drug Transfer through which the federal government would reimburse 50% of the costs of provincial and territorial drug insurance plans above a threshold of $1,500 per person per year.22
The advantage of these proposals is that they are fully scalable. The federal government could adjust either the out-of-pocket household income threshold, the ceiling above which it would assume costs, or the percentage of costs that it would pay above the ceiling.
Following the Kirby and Romanow reports there was a back and forth exchange between the federal and provincial-territorial (PT) governments on a plan for catastrophic coverage. In their February 2003 Accord, First Ministers agreed to ensure that Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by March 2006.23 At their annual summer meeting in 2004 the Premiers later called on the federal government to “assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug program for all Canadians”, with compensation to Quebec for its drug program.24 In the September 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers directed health ministers to develop a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), including costing options for catastrophic coverage.25
A federal-provincial-territorial Ministerial Task Force on the NPS was struck and a progress report was issued in June 2006. The estimates of catastrophic spending were markedly higher than those of the Kirby and Romanow reports. Using a variable percentage of income threshold it estimated that, based on public plan costs, only catastrophic spending represented 42% of total prescription drug spending. If private plan costs were also considered, catastrophic spending would represent 55% of total prescription drug spending. This report proposed four options for catastrophic coverage with estimates for new public funding ranging from $1.4 to $4.7 billion.26 Although no account of the methods was provided it is evident that a significant proportion of existing plan costs were included in the estimates of catastrophic expenditure. At their September 2008 meeting, the PT health ministers called for a national standard for drug coverage not to exceed 5% of net income and for the federal government to share 50/50 in the estimated $5.03 billion cost.27
The uncertainty about the projected cost of a pharmacare plan resulting from widely varying estimates has doubtless contributed to a reluctance of governments to engage on advancing this issue.
At the PT level, there has been a concerted effort on price negotiations during the past few years through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) that was established in 2010. As of March 31, 2015, the pCPA reported that price reductions in generic and brand-name prescription medications result in annual savings of an estimated $490 million.28 The federal drug plans are now participating in the pCPA and the CMA has recommended that the pCPA should also invite the participation of private health insurance companies.29
The prospect of savings through lower prices has been foundational to two recent studies that have made the case that a single public payer pharmacare program with little or no co-payment is affordable.
The first was by Marc-André Gagnon in 2010. The proposal was developed on the basis of a review of cross-provincial and international practices in pharmaceutical policy. The review formed the basis of a set of 11 assumptions that were used to develop four scenarios that resulted in estimates of prescription drug cost savings over the 2008 baseline expenditure of $25.1 billion that ranged to $2.7 billion to $10.7 billion.30 In a 2014 update Gagnon estimated that a first dollar coverage program would save 10% to 41% of prescription drug costs, representing savings of as much as $11.4 billion annually on a 2012-13 base of $27.7 billion.31
Steve Morgan and colleagues (2015) have estimated that a universal public plan with small co-payments could reduce prescription drug spending by $7.3 billion.32 Subsequently, in Pharmacare 2020 Morgan et al. set out five recommendations calling for the implementation of a single payer system with a publicly accountable management agency by 2020.33
Taking a First Step Forward
At its 2015 annual meeting, the CMA adopted a policy resolution that supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive national pharmacare program.34 Reflecting on the experience of the past 40 years since the enactment of the Established Programs Financing Act in 1977 that eliminated 50:50 cost-sharing, it seems highly unlikely that the federal government would take on a new open-ended program in the health and social arena, cost-shared or not. However, notwithstanding the progress of the pCPA, we are unlikely to address the significant access gaps in prescription medication coverage without the involvement of the federal government. These are fiscally challenging times for both levels of government, with budget deficits expected for several years to come. As noted previously, the Kirby and Romanow proposals for a federal funding role in pharmacare are scalable.
In 2015 the CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to model the cost of covering prescription medication expenditure beyond a household spending threshold of $1,500 or 3% of gross household income, based on Statistics Canada’s 2013 Survey of Household Spending. The projected costs over the 2016 to 2020 are shown in Table 3 below.
The cost to the federal government of covering the entire amount above the ($1,500 – 3%) threshold would be $1.6 billion in 2016.35
Recommendation 1: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health request the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a detailed examination of the financial burden of prescription medication coverage across Canada and to develop costing options for a federal contribution to a national pharmacare program.
Recommendation 2: As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medications, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government establish a cost-shared program of coverage for prescription medications.
First dollar coverage?
The issue of co-payment arises in most discussions of pharmacare. Hall recommended a $1.00 prescription charge in 1964. In England, which does include prescription medications in the National Health Service (NHS), the current prescription charge is £8.40, although the government has previously noted that 90% of prescription items are provided free of charge.36 Appleby has noted however that the NHS’s in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have eliminated prescription charges.37One observational study of dispensing rates in Wales found that the overall impact of removing prescription charges was minimal.38 Table 4 shows the total volume of prescriptions dispensed in Scotland over the period 2009-2015, which straddles the removal of prescription charges on April 1, 2011. It indicates that percentage increases in the annual dispensing volume diminished after 2012 and the increase observed in 2015 was just 1.4%. It should be added, however, that patient charges accounted for less than 4% of Scotland’s dispensing expenditures in 2010.39 It will be interesting to see the results of further studies in these jurisdictions.
38 Cohen D, Alam M, Dunstan F, Myles S, Hughes D, Routledge P. Abolition of prescription copayments in Wales: an observational study on dispensing rates. Value in Health 2010;13(5):675-80.
39 ISD Scotland. Prescribing and medicines. Data tables. http://www.isdscotland.scot.nhs.uk/Health-Topics/Prescribing-and-Medicines/Publications/data-tables.asp?Co=Y. Accessed 05/15/16.
40 Canadian Medical Association. A prescription for optimal prescribing. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
41 Canadian Medical Association. Vision for e-prescribing; a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Associaiton and the Canadian Pharmacists Association. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-02.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
42 Department of Finance Canada. Growing the middle class. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2016/docs/plan/budget2016-en.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
Table 4 Prescription Dispensing in Scotland, 2009 – 2015
Year Number of Prescriptions % increase from previous year
2009 88.4 3.8
2010 91.0 3.0
2011 93.8 3.1
2012 96.6 3.0
2013 98.4 1.9
2014 100.6 2.2
2015 102.0 1.4
Source: annual tabulations - Remuneration and reimbursement details for all prescribing made in Scotland.39
Other Elements of a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy
It was noted previously that the Hall Report contained 25 recommendations on pharmaceuticals, and the 2004 Health Accord called for a 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. Two of the NPS points that the CMA would emphasize are the need to influence prescribing behaviour and the need to advance electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).
The CMA refers to the first of these points as “optimal prescribing” and defines it as the prescription of a medication that is: the most clinically appropriate for the patient’s condition; safe and effective; part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and the most cost-effective available to best meet the patient’s needs. Toward this end the CMA has identified principles and recommendations to promote optimal prescribing, including the need for current information on cost and cost-effectiveness.40
The CMA believes that e-prescribing has the potential to improve patient safety, to support clinical decision-making and medication management, and to increase awareness of cost and cost-effectiveness considerations. In 2012 the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association adopted a joint vision statement calling for e-prescribing to be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians by 2015.41 Clearly that date has come and gone and we are not there yet. The current state primarily consists of demonstration projects and “workarounds”. The CMA was pleased to see an amount of $50 million allocated to Canada Health Infoway in the 2016 federal budget to support the advancement of e-prescribing and telehomecare.42
Finally the CMA remains very concerned about ongoing shortages of prescription drugs. We would caution that whatever measures governments might take to implement a pharmacare program these must not exacerbate drug shortages.
Recommendation 3: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial health Ministers direct their officials to convene a working group on a comprehensive National Pharmaceuticals Strategy that will consult widely with stakeholders representing patients, prescribers, and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries to report with recommendations by spring 2017.
In conclusion, few would argue that prescription medications are less vital to the health and health care of Canadians than hospital and medical services. We would not have had the Medicare program that Canadians cherish today without the leadership and financial contribution of the federal government, and similarly without it now we will not have any form of a national pharmacare program.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors, representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in the country. With this brief, the CMA provides a portrait of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. A significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs).
Reflecting the significance of the CCPC framework to medical practice in Canada, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. However, the CMA has been concerned with some statements regarding the incorporation of professionals. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
Presented within this brief are the results of a survey undertaken by the CMA to explore physician incorporation. The survey was distributed to a sample of 25,000 physicians on Dec. 21, 2015 and closed on Jan. 8, 2016 with a response rate of 9%.
Among the key findings of the CMA's survey on incorporation was that more than 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they were incorporated and reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. Survey respondents confirmed that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary; where overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.
The results of the CMA's survey confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada's public health care system.
When asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework, a large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
This brief also highlights the policy imperative for extending incorporation to medical professionals. As captured in Ontario's 2000 budget document, it is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".1
Finally, the CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors. The CMA is the voluntary professional organization representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in Canada and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and more than 60 national medical organizations. The CMA's mission is helping physicians care for patients.
The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. As is discussed herein, a significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). As such, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%, as outlined in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.2
1) Most Physicians are Small Business Owners
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents to the CMA's survey indicated that they were incorporated; 81% indicated that they were incorporated individually while 4% indicated they were incorporated in a group. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 60% of physicians are incorporated.3
Physician-owned and run medical practices ensure that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible. In doing so, Canadian physicians are directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities.
Respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. In operating their medical practices, Canada's physicians rent, lease or own office space and further contribute to local economies through municipal taxes on these properties.
Like other self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, physicians are responsible for the provision of payroll taxes and benefits for their employees.
2) Increased Cost-Burden for Canada's Doctors
Canada's physicians face unique, additional financial and personal burdens in owning and operating medical practices in comparison with other small businesses. First, amongst Canada's small business owners4, Canada's physicians are highly skilled and trained professionals. On average, physicians enter the workforce at a later age with significant debt from education. The average age that family physicians enter practice is over 30 years and over 33 years for specialists.5
The 2013 National Physician Survey explored the issue of debt levels. It found that the proportion of medical students expecting debt of $100,000 or more doubled from 15% in 2004 to 30% in 2012.6 Further, a third of medical residents expect debt to be over $100,000 and 19% expect debt to exceed $160,000 before entering practice.7
For Canada's doctors, the high level of education-related debt and the later age they are able to initiate professional earnings represents a significant challenge for personal financial planning, notably retirement planning.
Second, it is not well known that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary. In addition to the expenses of running a medical practice, such as salaries and rent, physicians have a range of professional fees that are required by regulation to be submitted. According to the respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation, these overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.8
Finally, unlike most small business owners, as providers within a public health care systems, Canada's physicians cannot pass on any cost increases associated with operating their medical practice. The majority of physician remuneration in Canada is through "fee-for-service" systems9 whereby fees for insured physician services10 are set by the province following negotiations with the provincial medical association. Any increases in the cost of operating a medical practice, including changes in taxation, would be borne by the physician directly, as would the potential additional resource burden incurred in responding to a change to the CCPC regulatory framework. It is not surprising then that one study found that "high-income, self-employed physicians are much more sensitive to the marginal tax rate than would be suggested by previous labor-supply studies".11
The results of the CMA's survey on incorporation with respect to personal financial planning highlight the concerns associated with the unique burdens facing physicians in operating a medical practice. A strong majority (92%) of respondents rated the ability to save for retirement as very important for personal financial planning. A majority (61%) of respondents indicated the ability to pay off debt and half (50%) indicated the ability to manage practice overhead costs as very important for personal financial planning.
3) Role of Incorporation for Ensuring Tax Equity for Medical Professional
As reviewed above, in light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and small business owners. Like other small business owners, physicians do not have access to pension and health benefits, despite investing in local communities and providing employment. Unlike other small business owners, physicians commence professional income later in life and carry high debt levels associated with education and training. In light of these significant considerations, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for Canada's physicians.
In Canada, the 12 jurisdictions have extended the ability to incorporate to medical professionals. As stated in Ontario's 2000 budget document, the underlying policy purpose of extending incorporation to medical professionals is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".12
For self-employed professionals, incorporation offers many well recognized benefits. As highlighted by most taxation guidance, the application to the small business deduction and the ability to retain income in the corporation are significant benefits of incorporation for small businesses.13 For self-employed medical professionals without access to an employer pension or benefits, the ability to retain income in the corporation contributes to retirement and pension planning capabilities. Finally, the CCPC framework allows for income splitting with family members in almost all jurisdictions.
The CMA's survey on incorporation explored the benefits of the CCPC framework. The top rated benefit of incorporation was the ability for professional income to be taxed at the small business taxation rate, with 85% rating it as very important. In comparison, 60% of respondents indicated that income splitting with a family member was very important.
4) Changes to the CCPC Framework and Potential Unintended Consequences
As noted above, the federal government has committed to reducing the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. In recognition of the significant financial pressures managed by physicians owning and operating medical practices, the CMA strongly supports this commitment.
However, along with this commitment, the federal government has made concerning statements regarding professionals and the CCPC framework. While the federal government has not indicated a specific measure or timeline, the statements on their own have yielded significant uncertainty and concern. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
The CMA cannot emphasize enough the need for caution in considering changes to the CCPC framework. The CCPC framework and the ability of incorporated physicians to maintain access to the small business rate is fundamental to the business model for these medical practices. Changes to the framework could have real and far-reaching impacts. Beyond the immediate impact to a physician, employees of a medical practice, and the region the medical practice serves, depending on the scope of changes to the CCPC framework, impacts could be at the health-sector level, particularly in terms of shifting the delivery of care away from institutionalized care toward community-based care.
The physicians surveyed by the CMA were asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework. A large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
The responses to the CMA's survey on incorporation align with the limited research available on this issue. In a study that explored the interprovincial migration of physicians confirmed that "the differences in real income have a positive and significant effect on a physician's decision to migrate from one province to another".14 Another study that explored the impacts of taxation on physicians, noted that "it has been demonstrated in the literature that physicians in higher-tax states work less on average".15 These studies emphasize the potential for unintended consequences should changes to the CCPC framework impact physician medical practice.
As outlined in this brief, the majority of Canada's doctors are self-employed, highly skilled professionals providing a critical health care contribution in communities across the country. For these physicians, the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners. For the vast majority of incorporated physicians, the benefits of the CCPC framework are critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework.
In light of the intrinsic role of the CCPC framework to medical practice, and therefore the provision of medical care in Canada, the CMA encourages significant caution in considering any potential changes to this framework. The CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
2 Mandate Letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-small-business-and-tourism-mandate-letter
3 CMA. 2014. Environmental Scan.
4 Industry Canada. Key Small Business Statistics 2013 https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02814.html
5 Canadian Post M.D. Registry.
6 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
7 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
8 Alberta Medical Association. Setting the record straight on physician compensation. https://www.albertadoctors.org/Media%20PLs%202013/Feb1_2013_PL_Backgrounder.pdf and Ontario Medical Association. Payments to physicians and practice overhead expenses: separating facts from fiction in Ontario. https://www.oma.org/resources/documents/paymentsphysicians_pp18-19.pdf. and R.K. House & Associates Ltd. Executive Summary for the British Columbia Medical Association: 2005 Overhead Cost Study.
9 CIHI. Physicians in Canada, 2014: Summary Report. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Summary-PhysiciansInCanadaReport2014_EN-web.pdf
10 Health Canada. Canada Health Act Annual Report 2014-15. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/cha-lcs/2015-cha-lcs-ar-ra/index-eng.php
11 Mark H. Showalter and Norman K. Thurston. Taxes and labor supply of high-income physicians. Journal of Public Economics 66 (1997) 73-97.
12 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
13 Manulife. The Professional's Option - Professional Incorporation. https://repsourcepublic.manulife.com/wps/wcm/connect/02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575/ins_tepg_taxtopicproopt.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575
14 Michael Benarroch and Hugh Grant. The interprovincial migration of Canadian physicians: does income matter? Applied Economics, 2004, 36, 2335-2345.
15 Norman K. Thurston and Anne M. Libby. Taxes and Physicians Use of Ancillary Health Labor. The Journal of Human Resources, XXXV 2.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.