The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the review of the Clean Air Act, Bill C- 30. The CMA, first founded in 1867, currently represents more than 64,000 physicians across the country. Our mission includes advocating for the highest standard of health and health care for all Canadians and we are committed to activities that will result in healthy public policy.
The Environment: A Key Determinant of Health
The physical environment is a key determinant of a population's health and the medical profession is concerned about environmental conditions that contribute to declining health in individuals and the population as a whole. Physicians have been part of an early warning system of scientists and other health professionals calling attention to the effects on human health of poor air quality because we see the impact in our practice and in our communities.
There is strong evidence that air pollution is the most harmful environmental problem in Canada in terms of human health effects. We know from the smog health studies undertaken by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), Health Canada and others, about the public health crisis created by polluted air in many parts of Canada. And it is a crisis.
A study by the federal government estimated that 5,900 premature deaths occur annually in eight large Canadian cities. This is a conservative estimate as the study focused on the short-term impact of smog pollutants using time-series studies. This study was never extrapolated to the whole Canadian population, but we know that only approximately one third of the Canadian population, mainly residents of large, urban areas, were included in the analysis.1
The OMA Illness Costs of Air Pollution study estimated that there were 5,800 premature deaths due to air pollution in Ontario alone in 2005, and examined both short-term and long-term health impacts. The OMA projected that the annual figure will grow to 10,000 premature deaths by 2026 unless effective steps are taken to reduce smog.2
In addition to premature deaths, the OMA estimated that there were 16,000 hospital admissions and 60,000 emergency room visits in Ontario in 2005 because of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses associated with air pollution exposure. During that same year, the OMA also estimated that there were 29 million minor illness days, defined as days where individuals either suffered from asthma symptoms or had to restrict their activities. Most of the people affected by these so-called minor illness days are children.
In British Columbia, the Provincial Officer for Health published a conservative estimate in 2004 that air pollution in B.C. is causing between 140 and 400 premature deaths, 700 to 2,100 hospital stays, and between 900 and 2,750 emergency room visits each year.3
The direct and indirect costs of air pollution on the health of Canadians are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. According to the Ontario Medical Association, in 2005, air pollution costs in Ontario were estimated at:
- $374 million in lost productivity and work time;
- $507 million in direct health care costs;
- $537 million in pain and suffering due to non-fatal illness; and
- $6.4 billion in loss due to premature death.4
In Canada the environment is currently considered to be the most important issue facing society. In a recent poll by the Strategic Counsel for the Globe & Mail/CTV5 a majority of respondents ranked the impact of toxic chemicals, air and water pollution and global warming as life threatening. The environment, while a major concern today for the general public, has been of concern to physicians for some time.
CMA, Health and the Environment
In 1991 the CMA, released a policy paper Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development6 that clearly linked health and the environment. Building on the 1987 Brundtland Report (World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future) that tied sustainable development to the environment and the economy, the CMA inserted health into this pair of interactions and stated that "continued environmental degradation will increase hazard to human health." The paper concluded with a number of recommendations for governments, the health sector, and physicians in support of environmentally sustainable development.
The CMA has continued to give attention to environmental issues urging the government, prior to Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfies Canada's international commitments while maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. In 2002, the CMA also recommended that the federal Environment and Health Ministers commit their departments to improved health-based reporting by regularly updating the health effects information for pollutants of concern.
Clean Air Act: A Physicians Perspective
Doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that there are benefits of treatment even if a patient cannot be cured. Sometimes we just reduce their symptoms, or slow their rate of decline. But when treating the natural environment, so critical to human health, we suggest that you cannot accept a palliative solution. We must aim for cure. We must commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement in health. It is through this lens that the CMA urges that you view the Clean Air Act to ensure that it is health-relevant.
The CMA would like to commend this government for acknowledging the impact of the physical environment on human health and we are encouraged that the Act recognizes the intimate connection between greenhouse gas reductions and improved air quality.
Air pollution does not respect provincial borders therefore it is very important to establish national objectives and Canada wide standards that are strong and consistent across the country. To be health relevant national air quality objectives must result in air quality improvements. To this end, regardless of whether they are called objectives or standards,
national air quality targets must protect the health of all Canadians and must be binding. Voluntary air quality guidelines guarantee no health benefit.
The federal government must ensure that there is a regulatory framework in place to ensure that the standards are mandatory across the country.
The annual reporting to Parliament on the attainment of the national air quality objectives and the effectiveness of measures to attain the objectives, as outlined in the Act, is very important. Transparency in reporting is essential to the integrity of any program, but is integral to the determination of health benefit.
The International Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment report released on February 2, 2007, concluded that global warming is unequivocal and that human activity is the main driver, asserting with near certainty - more than 90 percent confidence - that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.
Its Third Assessment report: Climate Change 2001: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability noted that global climate change will have a wide range of impacts on human health.
"Overall, negative health impacts are expected to outweigh positive health impacts. Some health impacts would result from changes in the frequencies and intensities of extremes of heat and cold and of floods and droughts. Other health impacts would result from the impacts of climate change on ecological and social systems and would include changes in infectious disease occurrence, local food production and nutritional adequacy, and concentrations of local air pollutants and aeroallergens, as well as various health consequences of population displacement and economic disruption."7
Given the indisputable impact of greenhouse gas increases on climate change and its connection to human health, it is critical to ensure that Canada is moving quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Clean Air Act and the subsequent notice of intent sets out short, medium and long term targets and timelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
The target setting approach proposed in the Act, based on emission intensity in the short and medium term is not health relevant. To be health relevant, targets should be presented in the context of overall emissions, i.e., emissions reductions minus emissions increases.
An emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emissions increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure that an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect. Just as slowing the progression of a disease can never be considered a cure, attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions cannot result in true success by any measure.
It is not until 2050 that the government has committed to achieving an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 45 - 65% of 2003 levels. Based on the emission intensity targets in the Clean Air Act, emissions and air pollution levels will, in fact, continue to rise as will the health consequences. In order to protect the health of Canadians the government needs to set policies, with targets and timelines that maximize absolute reductions in greenhouse gases, which are consistent with the scale and urgency of the challenge. To ensure that prescribed policies result in the intended environment and health outcomes, short and medium-term targets for absolute emission reductions would benchmark progress and allow for mid-course corrections, if they were needed.
With respect to indoor air quality, physicians have long been proponents of initiatives to reduce exposure to contaminants such as second-hand tobacco smoke. The CMA is concerned about the impact on human health of exposure to high levels of radon and the associated increased risk of lung cancer. The intention to develop measures to address indoor air quality through a national radon strategy is a positive step. It is important that our patients are made aware of such threats in their homes, and also that they are presented with a way to reduce their exposure.
Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability. We are vulnerable because we are human beings; each human being has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic, and some the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much that government can do about this part of the equation.
Our exposure, on the other hand is related to the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This is where the federal government is critical, and where the measures of success will be the most important.
Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air as well as in our water and soil.
Clean air is absolutely fundamental to a healthy population - without it all else is irrelevant. Actions to curb air pollution must be taken in all sectors and levels of society in a concerted, non-partisan effort with the health of the population and the planet as our yardstick of success.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments on Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act. We look forward to working with you to improve the Clean Air Act and ensure that the measure of its success will benefit the health of Canadians.
Colin J. McMillan, MD, CM, FRCPC, FACP
1 S. Judek, B. Jessiman, D. Stieb, and R. Vet. 2005. Estimated Number of Excess Deaths in Canada Due
to Air Pollution". Health Canada and Environment Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/
2 Ontario Medical Association. 2005. The Illness Costs of Air Pollution: 2005-2026 Health and Economic
Damage Estimates. Toronto: OMA.
3 B.C. Provincial Health Officer. 2004. Every Breath You Take: Air Quality in British Columbia, A Public Health Perspective. 2003 Annual Report. Victoria: Ministry of Health Services.
4 Ontario Medical Association , 2005
5 GLOBE/CTV POLL Climate concerns now top security and health One in four label environmental issues as most important, The Globe and Mail, Fri 26 Jan 2007, Page: A1, Section: National News , Byline: Brian Laghi
6 Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development, Canadian Medical Association , 1991
7 WMO Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001, IPPC Third Assessment Report: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, accessed Feb 7, 2007 http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/348.htm
Recommendation: That the federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
The Canadian Medical Association unites physicians on national health and medical matters. Formed in Quebec City in 1867, the CMA’s rich history of advocacy led to some of Canada’s most important health policy changes. As we look to the future, the CMA will focus on advocating for a healthy population and a vibrant profession.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission, focused on the major challenges confronting seniors care in Canada. As Canada’s demographic shift advances, the challenge of ensuring quality seniors care will only become more daunting unless governments make critical investments in our health care system today. This is a national issue that will affect all provinces and territories (PTs). However, not all PTs will bear the costs equally. The current federal health transfer system does not take demographics into account. The CMA proposes the federal government fund a share of the health care costs associated with our aging population by means of a new “demographic top-up” to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT).
Recommendation: That the federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
Seniors Care: Challenges and Opportunities
Canada, like most OECD economies, is grappling with the realities of a rapidly aging population. The population of seniors over the age of 65 in Canada has increased by 20% since 2011 and it has been projected that the proportion of Canada’s total population over 65 will exceed one-third by 2056 with some provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador reaching that point as soon as the mid-2030s.1 Census figures also show that the fastest growing demographic in Canada between 2011 and 2016 was individuals over 90, growing four times the rate of the overall population during this period.2
These demographic changes have a number of major implications for the future of Canadian society. Chief among them is the new pressure they add to our health care system. As the population ages, it is expected that health care costs will grow at a significantly faster rate than in previous years. As demonstrated in Chart 1 below, population aging will be a top contributor to rising health care costs over the decade ahead. By 2026–27, these increases will amount to $19 billion in additional annual health care costs associated with population aging, as shown in Chart 2.
Many seniors experience varying degrees of frailty, which the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) defines as “a state of increased vulnerability, with reduced physical reserve and loss of function across multiple body systems” that “reduces ability to cope with normal or minor stresses, which can cause rapid and dramatic changes in health.”3 About 75% to 80% of seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.4 It is primarily the care associated with management of these conditions as well as increased residential care needs that drive the higher costs associated with seniors care. The average annual per capita provincial/territorial health spending for individuals age 15 to 64 is $2,700 compared with $12,000 for seniors age 65 and over.5
Our medicare system, which was established over half a century ago, is not designed or resourced to deal with this new challenge. The median age of Canadians at the time of the Medical Care Act’s enactment in 1966 was 25.5 years. It is now 40.6 years and is expected to rise to 42.4 years in the next decade.5 While past governments have placed significant focus on hospital care (acute and sub-acute), transitional care, community supports such as home care and long-term care (LTC) have been largely underfunded. Demographic changes have already begun to place pressure on our health care system, and the situation will only become worse unless funding levels are dramatically raised.
Chart 1: Major contributors to rising health care costs (forecast average annual percentage increase, 2017–26)5
Chart 2: Provincial/terrioritial health care costs attributable to population aging ($ billions, all PTs relative to 2016–17 demographics)5
Individuals in Ontario wait a median of 150 days for placement in a LTC home.6 In many communities across the country acute shortages in residential care infrastructure mean that seniors can spend as long as three years on a wait list for LTC.7 Seniors from northern communities are often forced to accept placements hundreds of kilometres from their families.8 The human and social costs of this are self-evident but insufficient spending on LTC also has important consequences for the efficiency of the system as a whole.
When the health of seniors stabilizes after they are admitted to hospital for acute care, health care professionals are often confronted with the challenge of finding better living options for their patients. These patients are typically assigned Alternate Level of Care (ALC) beds as they wait in hospital for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility.
In April 2016, ALC patients occupied 14% of inpatient beds in Ontario while in New Brunswick, 33% of the beds surveyed in two hospitals were occupied by ALC patients.9 The average length of hospital stay of all ALC patients in Canada is an unacceptable 380 days. Not only does ALC care lead to generally worse health outcomes and patient satisfaction than both LTC and home care, but it is also significantly more expensive. The estimated daily cost of a hospital bed used by a patient is $842, compared with $126 for a LTC bed and $42 per day for care at
home.10 Moreover, high rates of ALC patients can contribute to hospital overcrowding, lengthy emergency wait times and cancelled elective surgeries.11 Committing more funding to LTC infrastructure would lead to system-wide improvements in wait times and quality of care by helping to alleviate the ALC problem.
A recent poll found that only 49% of Canadians are confident that the health care system will be able to meet senior care needs and that 88% of Canadians support new federal funding measures.12 Fortunately, there have been some signs at both the provincial and federal levels that seniors care has become an issue of increasing importance. New Brunswick recently introduced a caregiver’s benefit while the Ontario government has recently committed to building 15,000 LTC beds over the next decade. The federal government highlighted home care as a key investment area in the most recent Health Accord bilateral agreements and has made important changes to both the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs.
The Demographic Top-Up: Modernizing the CHT
Despite these recent and important initiatives by governments in Canada, additional policy and fiscal measures will be needed to address the challenges of an aging population. Many provincial governments have shown a clear commitment to the issue, but the reality is that their visions for better seniors care will not come to fruition unless they are backed up by appropriate investments. This will not be possible unless the federal government ensures transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Projections in a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada, commissioned by the CMA, indicate that health transfers are expected to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.3
Over the next decade, unless changes are made, provinces/territories will need to assume an increasingly larger share of health care costs. If federal health transfers do not account for population aging, the federal share of health care spending will fall below 20% by 2026.5 Aging will affect some provinces more than others, as demonstrated in Figure 1 below. The overall cost of population aging to all of the provinces and territories is projected to be $93 billion over the next decade.5 The absence of demographic considerations in transfer calculations therefore indirectly contributes to regional health inequality as provinces will not receive the support they need to ensure that seniors can count on quality care across Canada.
Figure 1: Increases in health care costs associated with population aging, 2017 to 2026 ($ billions)5
The CMA recommends that the federal government address the health costs of population aging by introducing a “demographic top-up” to the Canada Health Transfer. One model for this would require the federal government to cover a share of the costs projected to be added by population aging in each province/territory (see above) equal to the federal share of total health costs covered now (22%). The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the overall cost of such a change would be $21.1 billion over the next decade (see Table 1).
This funding would greatly enhance the ability of the provinces and territories to make much-needed investments in seniors care and the health care system as a whole. It could be used to support the provinces’ and territories’ efforts to address shortages in LTC, to expand palliative care and home care supports and to support further innovation in the realm of seniors care.
Table 1: Cost of demographic top-Up by province in $ millions5
The evidence that our health care systems are not prepared or adequately funded to ensure appropriate and timely access to seniors care, across the continuum of care, is overwhelming. Wait times for LTC and home care are unacceptably high and complaints about lack of availability in Northern and rural communities are becoming increasingly common. Health care providers in the LTC sector regularly raise concern about overstretched resources and a lack of integration with the rest of the health care system.
By introducing a new demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer, the federal government would demonstrate real leadership by ensuring that all provinces/territories are able to adapt to an aging population without eroding quality of care. Furthermore, improvements in how we care for our seniors will lead to improvements for patients and caregivers of all ages through greater system efficiencies (e.g., shorter wait times for emergency care and elective surgeries) and more coordinated care.
The CMA has been, and will continue to be, a tireless advocate for improving seniors care in Canada. The CMA would welcome opportunities to provide further information on the recommendation outlined in this brief.
1Statistics Canada. Age and sex, and type of dwelling data: key results from the 2016 Census. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2017. Available: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170503/dq170503a-eng.htm
2Ministry of Finance Ontario. 2016 Census highlights, fact sheet 3. Toronto: Office of Economic Policy, Labour Economics Branch; 2017. Available: www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/economy/demographics/census/cenhi16-3.html.
3Canadian Frailty Network. What is frailty? Kingston: The Network; 2018. Available: www.cfn-nce.ca/frailty-in-canada/
4Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Health care in Canada, 2011: a focus on seniors and aging. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf
5The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Conference%20Board%20of%20Canada%20-%20Meeting%20the%20Care%20Needs%20of%20Canada%27s%20Aging%20Population.PDF
6Health Quality Ontario. Wait times for long-term care homes. Available: www.hqontario.ca/System-Performance/Long-Term-Care-Home-Performance/Wait-Times
7Crawford B. Ontario’s long-term care problem: seniors staying at home longer isn’t a cure for waiting lists. Ottawa Citizen 2017 Dec 22. Available: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/ontarios-long-term-care-problem-seniors-staying-at-home-longer-isnt-a-cure-for-waiting-lists
8Sponagle J. Nunavut struggles to care for elders closer to home. CBC News 2017 Jun 5. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nunavut-seniors-plan-1.4145757
9McCloskey R, Jarrett P, Stewart C, et al. Alternate level of care patients in hospitals: What does dementia have to do with this? Can Geriatr J. 2014;17(3):88–94.
10Home Care Ontario. Facts and figures – publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; n.d. Available: www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare
11Simpson C. Code gridlock: why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final.pdf
12Ipsos Public Affairs. Just half of Canadians confident the healthcare system can meet the needs of seniors. Toronto: Ipsos; 2018. Available: www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/Canadian-Medical-Association-Seniors-July-17-2018