The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to make submissions on Bill S-4. CMA has followed the history of PIPEDA and participated in the studies of various Standing Committees, most notably and recently in 2007 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. CMA is pleased that amendments to PIPEDA are once again being considered.
The Canadian Medical Association represents over 80,000 physicians in Canada. Privacy is an important value to physicians and the patients to whom they serve. This is reflected in our Code of Ethics and policies, in particular, Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information and Statement of Principles: The Sale and Use of Data on Individual Physicians' Prescribing. Physicians are also required to abide by privacy and confidentiality standards of practice. Thus, the CMA has a strong interest and valuable insights into the topic of personal information and privacy with respect to health information.
We thank the Standing Committee for the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to PIPEDA. Our key comments are outlined below:
CMA supports the existing legislative framework on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information produced by an individual in the course of their employment, business or profession ("work product") and suggests further amendments focus on strengthening it further.
CMA supports the current standing of work products, that work products are considered to be personal information. That is, we support the framework defining personal information as information about an identifiable individual and that there is no carved out definition or exemption for "work product".
CMA supports the position of the Office of Privacy Commissioner's following its 2007 investigation on work products, that they should not be exempted for two main reasons:
* The exemption is not needed, and it would be inconsistent with the balanced approach in the current definition of personal information. The current definition of personal information and the approach to deciding issues based on that definition have worked well. They have promoted a level of privacy protection that balances the right of privacy in personal information with the needs of organizations for the reasonable and appropriate collection, use and disclosure of personal information. ...Because the concept of "work product" is ambiguous, excluding it from the definition of personal information could have unpredictable consequences that would diminish privacy unnecessarily.
It is the CMA's position that work products should be considered personal information and given the section 7 amendments, work products should only be collected, used or disclosed without consent only if it is consistent with the purposes for which the information was produced.
In the case of physicians, a prime example of a physician's work product is prescribing information. Prescribing information is a synthesis of assessing patients - by probing into their health, familial, social and sometimes financial background - infused with medical knowledge, skill and competencies resulting in a diagnosis and treatment plan, which often includes prescribing a medication or test. Not only is the physician's prescribing information a product of physicians' work but would not exist but for a trusting physician-patient relationship wherein the patient's private and personal information are shared under circumstances of vulnerability and trust. The outcome is that this is personal information. Prescribing information is about an individual: it includes the name of the patient, the name of the prescribing physician, and the drug name, dosage, amount and frequency; giving major clues as to what the patient's health issue(s) are.
For further clarity, however, CMA recommends that physician information, and physician work products, should be specifically recognized within the legislation as personal information. To this end, we would propose that the following addition be made to the definition section under personal health information:
Section 2.(1) "personal health information", with respect to an individual, whether living or deceased, means .....(d) information that is collected or is the outcome of collecting information in the course of providing health services to the individual;
CMA supports the amendments to subsections 7(1)-(3) of the Act that any subsequent collection, use and disclosure of work products without consent must be related to the original purpose (of collection, use and disclosure). This relationship reflects the government's understanding and faithfulness to privacy principles. This is particularly critical when dealing with health information, and is even more critical in today's world given the ease of linking information through advancements in technology. In the absence of a causal relationship, personal information should not be used for system performance, commercial enterprise, data brokering, research, assessment or other purposes.
CMA recommends that the legislation should go further and allow persons who believe that protection cannot be afforded under the legislation that they have the authority to refuse to communicate the information. This is the conceptual approach taken in Quebec's Act Respecting the Protection of Personal Information in the Private Sector wherein persons have an opportunity to refuse that professional information (as defined therein) be used for commercial purposes. Physicians are constantly writing prescriptions and such information should only be used for other purposes in the interests of patients and the health care system, and not to serve commercial interests or marketing strategies. If physicians do not feel that such protection is afforded patients, then they should be permitted to refuse that such information be collected, used or disclosed. Patient privacy should be primary.
And finally, addressing work products in legislation clears up past differences of interpretation by Privacy Commissioners thus, providing certainty and clarity to the public.
That Section 2. (1) "personal health information", be amended to read as follows: "personal health information", with respect to an individual, whether living or deceased, means .....(d) information that is collected or is the outcome of collecting information in the course of providing health services to the individual;
CMA is pleased to see a section on breaches of security safeguards and recommends greater specificity.
As noted above, physicians have responsibilities as data stewards and custodians of health information. As such, CMA supports breach notification measures that would enhance and protect patient privacy. In principle, we support the proposed amendments of breach disclosures to the Privacy Commissioner, to individuals and to organizations.
However, CMA is concerned that meeting the requirements may be confusing. For example, in the health care context, it is easy to surmise that all health information is "sensitive". A far more difficult matter is determining whether the risk reaches the threshold of "significant harm" and the "probability" that the information "will be misused". The result being that incidental disclosures will be reported causing unnecessary concern and confusion in the patient population. Further specificity is recommended and we suggest something akin to Ontario's Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (PHIPA).
The PHIPA is an act specifically dealing with personal health information. One of its purposes is "to establish rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information about individuals that protect the confidentiality of that information and the privacy of individuals with respect to that information, while facilitating the effective provision of health care" (section 1a ). The PHIPA notification provision states that the individual shall be notified "...at the first reasonable opportunity if the information is stolen, lost or accessed by unauthorized persons", [section 12(2)]. CMA is unaware of any concerns with this approach.
The language of PIPIEDA is one of reasonable belief of real risk of significant harm to an individual. The issue is the test for required notification of patients for incidental inadvertent breaches and decreasing "notification fatigue". To illustrate the issue, if physicians were told today that patient data could be retrieved from the drums of discarded photocopiers and printers, it would be inappropriate for legislation to suggest that the entire patient population during the life of the photocopier or printer be notified. To this end, we recommend that there be acknowledgement that in some circumstances notification may not be required. The probability of misuse under PIPEDA is more ambiguous than the PHIPA test. Under PHIPA, the approach is more objective in that the data must be stolen, lost or accessed by unauthorized persons. To our knowledge, the Ontario model has been in place for almost a decade with no significant issues and thus we submit is one that works.
In other jurisdictions (eg., Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick) with health privacy legislation, there is acknowledgement of trying to balance notification and those breaches unlikely to result in harm by directly indicating when notification is not required.
CMA recommends that the statute move towards a more objective test and acknowledge that there are situations when notice is not required.
CMA supports disclosure without consent under limited circumstances, but finds the current list of disclosures overly inclusive.
Health information is considered highly sensitive information and is initially collected for the purpose of individual patient health care. It should only be disclosed with consent and in only some exceptions without consent. The PIPEDA amendments for disclosure without consent have been broadened.
Privacy, confidentiality and trust are the foundations of the patient-physician relationship. Without these fundamental values in play, open and honest communications cannot occur and patients would not receive the care they require. Both the patient and the physician have significant investment in the relationship. CMA respects the requirements to disclose information without consent under certain premises, such as required by court order or statute. However, any kind of activity requiring physicians to disclose patient's information without consent for the purposes of advancing a government or institution's goal could jeopardize the relationship.
Both the patient's consent and the physician's consent should be required if there is potential to disturb this relationship. The physician is fiduciary of the relationship and is appropriately situated to assess and determine whether disclosure will disturb the relationship.
While CMA acknowledges that certain situations may require that disclosure occur without consent (eg. purposes of investigating fraud, national security, abuse or as legally required), disclosure for less malicious activities (e.g., breaches of an agreement, insurance claims) ought to require a court order or warrant. For example, under the proposed section 7(3)(d.1) if a physician were in default of a contract with a technology company supplying electronic medical record software or app to his/her clinic, the company could disclose health information without consent for the "purposes of investigating a breach of an agreement". While we appreciate that there is a caveat that disclosure without advising the patient can only occur if there is a reasonable expectation that the disclosure would compromise the investigation, we submit that leaving the determination of what is "reasonable" to an interested party to the breach is unfair to all. Another example, if a physician is a witness to a dispute between an employer and union representing an employee for denial of long term disability by an insurance company, and has filed a witness statement which includes a medical report he/she wrote to the employer's insurance company, under the proposed section 7(3)(e.1) disclosure of health information without consent is permitted in order to assess, process or settle an insurance claim.
CMA is concerned that the disclosure amendments are overly broad and do not differentiate sufficiently between highly time sensitive or grossly malicious situations, and those where it is merely expedient or an administrative encumbrance to seek consent.
In addition, the disclosure requirements are framed in permissive (ie., may) and not mandatory language (ie., shall). This is very problematic when the "organization" is a physicians' clinic unless the physician's own consent is made as a pre-condition. CMA believes this suggestion is a progressive one in keeping with the broadened disclosure amendments. Physicians are in a relationship of trust and take seriously the protection of patient privacy and confidentiality, for which they are trained and are ethically and legally required to protect.
To place physicians in a position which might entail breaching this trust may impact the confidence of the physician and the patient in the patient-physician relationship which is required to properly formulate appropriate treatment plans; thus, negatively impacting the health of Canadians.
That disclosures of health information without consent require a warrant or subpoena or court order. Furthermore, disclosures of health information require the physician's consent that in his/her opinion the disclosure does not harm the patient-physician relationship. And, finally any broadened disclosure situations be restricted to criminal activity or that impacting national security.
Once again, CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comment as part of the committee's study of Bill S-4. CMA is prepared to work with Parliament, governments, health professionals and the public in ensuring legislative frameworks for the collection, usage and disclosure of personal information for legitimate and reasonable purposes.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health regarding Bill C-422, National Lyme disease strategy.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national organization representing over 80,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Lyme disease is a growing problem in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) there were 315 cases of Lyme disease reported in Canada in 2012 -two and one-half times more cases than the 128 reported in 2009, the year that it became a reportable disease. In the Ottawa area, cases have increased almost 8 fold from 6 in 2009 to 47 in 2013. The PHAC surveillance indicates that established populations of blacklegged ticks are spreading their geographic scope, and are increasing in number, in much of southern Canada. In 2013 the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new estimates of Lyme disease that was 10 times higher than the previous yearly reported number of 30,000 reported cases.1 This highlights the difficulty in establishing the true burden of illness from Lyme disease.
Why this matters to Canada's physicians
The Canadian Medical Association supports the implementation of a national strategy that can address the breath of public health and medical issues surrounding the spread of Lyme disease in Canada. As with any new infectious disease threat, Canada needs to ensure that we are prepared to address the impact of Lyme disease on Canadians.
CMA's policy on climate change and human health notes that changes in the range of some infectious disease vectors such as blacklegged ticks, are a possible consequence of climate change in Canada. Research has suggested that the tick vector of Lyme disease has been expanding into southeastern Canada which can lead to increased disease risk for those living in areas with tick populations.2
In this policy, CMA recommends that the federal government report diseases that emerge in relation to global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases like Lyme disease, and develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change.
The World Medical Association Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change urges colleges and universities to develop locally appropriate continuing medical and public health education on the clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment of new diseases that are introduced into communities as a result of climate change. Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult, as signs and symptoms can be non-specific and found in other conditions. 3 If Lyme disease is not recognized during the early stages, patients may suffer seriously debilitating disease, which may be more difficult to treat.4 Given the increasing incidence of Lyme disease in Canada, continuing education for health care and public health professionals and a national standard of care would improve identification, treatment and management of Lyme disease. Greater awareness of where blacklegged ticks are endemic in Canada, as well as information on the disease and prevention measures, can help Canadians protect themselves from infection.
The CMA supports a national Lyme disease strategy which includes the federal, provincial and territorial governments and the medical and patient communities. This strategy must address concerns around research, surveillance, diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease and public health prevention measures will advance our current knowledge base, and improve the care and treatment of those suffering from Lyme disease.
Once again, CMA is pleased to provide this brief to the Standing Committee on Health as part of its study on this important issue. Canada's physicians recognize the importance of monitoring all emerging infectious diseases in Canada. In addition, Canada's physicians recognize the importance of developing strategies to treat, manage, and prevent Lyme disease in Canada.
1 CDC provides estimate of Americans diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, media release August 19, 2013 Accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0819-lyme-disease.html on Feb 21, 2014.
2 Ogden, N., L. Lindsay, and P. Leighton. 2013. Predicting the rate of invasion of the agent of Lyme disease Borrelia burgdorferi. Journal of Applied Ecology. April, 2013. 50(2):510-518.
3 Mayo Clinic, accessed at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20019701 on Feb 21, 2014.
4 Wormser GP, Dattwyler RJ, Shapiro ED, et al. The clinical assessment, treatment, and prevention of Lyme disease, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis: clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2006;43: 1089-134.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act1, from October 14, 2014, on the restriction of the use of additives.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use.
Flavoured tobacco products include candy or fruit flavoured products including cigarillos, water pipe tobacco, smokeless tobacco and blunt wraps. They come in flavours that are appealing to youth such as chocolate, mint, cherry, peach, or strawberry. Flavouring makes the tobacco products more palatable to youth and young adult smokers because they have a lower tolerance for irritation and an underdeveloped taste for tobacco smoke.2 Menthol is a long standing and common flavour used in cigarettes and is used to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke. It is the most popular flavour among youth. Almost three out of 10 Canadian youth who smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days (29 per cent) reported smoking menthol cigarettes.3
Tobacco Use and Youth
While tobacco use has declined in Canada we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce smoking rates. Today 16 per cent of Canadians continue to smoke on a regular basis and physicians are particularly concerned about the smoking prevalence among young adults and youth with 20 per cent of those aged 20-24, and 11 per cent of youth aged 15-19 currently smoking on a regular basis. 4
Flavoured tobacco products, with their appeal to young Canadians are a major threat to the health and well-being of our youth. A recent report, Flavoured Tobacco Use: Evidence from Canadian Youth based on the 2012/13 Youth Smoking Survey, shows that young people are using flavoured tobacco products at high levels. Results show that 50 per cent of high school students in Canada who used tobacco products in the previous 30 days used flavoured tobacco products.5
Previous Amendments Regarding Flavouring Agents
The CMA supported efforts of the federal government in 2009 to limit the addition of flavouring agents to tobacco products through the 2010 Act to Amend the Tobacco Act. But the Act did not cover all tobacco products and it excluded menthol as a flavouring agent. Manufacturers have been able to modify the weight and packaging of their products to technically comply with the Act while they continue to market flavoured products.
It is the CMA's position that the federal government has an important role in smoking cessation and prevention among youth. The CMA supports the proposed extension of the prohibitions on the use of certain flavouring additives in relation to the manufacture and sale of little cigars to cigars weighing more than 1.4 g but less than 6 g.
The CMA remains very concerned that these amendments do not ban menthol flavouring in tobacco products. To that end, the CMA recommends that Health Canada extend its prohibition on flavouring additives to include a ban on the addition of menthol in all tobacco products.
1 Health Canada. Notice of proposed order to amend the schedule to the Tobacco Act. October 14, 2014. Accessed at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/consult/_2014/tobacco-act-loi-tabac/index-eng.php
2 Carpenter CM, Wayne GF, Pauly JL, Koh HK, Connolly GN. New cigarette brands with flavors that appeal to youth: Tobacco marketing strategies: Tobacco industry documents reveal a deliberate strategy to add flavors known to appeal to younger people. Health Affairs 2005;24(6):1601-1610.
3 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
4 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey 2012 , accessed at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/tobac-tabac/research-recherche/stat/ctums-esutc_2012-eng.php.
5 Manske SR, Rynard VL, Minaker LM. 2014 (September). Flavoured Tobacco Use among Canadian Youth: Evidence from Canada's 2012/2013 Youth Smoking Survey. Waterloo: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, 1-18. cstads.ca/reports.
Minaker L, Manske S, Rynard VL, Reid JL & Hammond D. Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, 2014 Edition - Special Supplement: Flavoured Tobacco Use. Waterloo, ON: Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo.
Canadian Medical Association 2
November 10, 2014
On behalf of its more than 82,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease 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.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada's physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 51 national medical organizations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for its study on e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which replicate the act and taste of smoking, but do not contain tobacco, are growing rapidly in popularity. The tube of an e-cigarette contains heat-producing batteries and a chamber holding liquid, mainly propylene glycol. When heated, the liquid is turned into vapour which is drawn into the lungs. Ingredients vary by brand but many contain nicotine. Flavourings are also added with the intention of boosting their appeal to young people. Issues have been identified with labelling of e-cigarettes, where upon inspection, there have been contaminants, and nicotine has been detected in products labeled without nicotine.1 Users are generally able to modify the contents of e-cigarettes, with the addition of other substances, including marijuana.
Originally most e-cigarette manufacturers were small entrepreneurial companies; now, however, all major transnational tobacco companies are also producing e-cigarettes and competing for a share in the market.
There are little data on Canadian use. In the U.S., one in five adult smokers has tried them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2.
Current Regulatory Status
Health Canada issued a warning in 20093 about the potential dangers and the fact that e-cigarettes had not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and efficacy. The sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine is currently illegal in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act regulations4 though they can still be purchased in the US or over the Internet. However, those that do not make any health claim and do not contain nicotine may legally be sold in Canada under the same regulation. Health Canada is considering additional regulatory measures but none have yet been introduced. Some municipal jurisdictions are also considering regulation changes.
Internationally, regulation of e-cigarettes is just beginning, and approaches vary. A few countries - such as Brazil, Norway and Singapore - have banned them outright. France plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products, and the US Food and Drug Administration is considering a similar approach. On the other hand, Britain will regulate e-cigarettes as non-prescription drugs starting in 2016.5
Current evidence is insufficient to estimate the health effects of e-cigarettes. There are both defenders and opponents, though their arguments are based largely on opinion since e-cigarettes are only beginning to undergo rigorous clinical testing.6
Proponents, including some health officials and groups, say they are safer than tobacco cigarettes since they do not contain the tar and other toxic ingredients that are the cause of tobacco related disease.7 Some believe they serve a useful purpose as a harm reduction tool or cessation aid, although marketing them as such is not permitted since that claim has never been approved by Health Canada.
Opponents are concerned that the nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes is addictive and that the e-cigarettes may contain other toxic ingredients such as nitrosamines, a carcinogen. Also, they worry that acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine efforts to de-normalize smoking, and that they may be a gateway to use of tobacco by people who might otherwise have remained smoke-free.8 The use of flavouring agents and attractive packaging could entice children and youth, and survey data in some countries has shown that teens are increasingly experimenting with e-cigarettes.
There has also been a dramatic increase in cases of nicotine overdose by ingestion or through dermal contact, particularly in children.9 The number of these incidents seems to be rising in countries that monitor poisonings.
The World Health Organization recently released a report on the health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) use which incorporates the 2013 deliberations and scientific recommendations by the WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation. It concludes that "ENDS use poses serious threats to adolescents and fetuses. In addition, it increases exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and a number of toxicants." The report says that it is possibly less toxic for the smoker than conventional cigarettes but it is unknown by how much.10 This report suggests that governments should have the following regulatory objectives:
* impede the promotion and uptake of e-cigarettes with nicotine by non-smokers, pregnant women and youth;
* minimize potential health risks to e-cigarette users and non-users;
* prohibit unproven health claims from being made about e-cigarettes; and
* protect existing tobacco-control efforts from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.11
Given the absence of solid evidence of harms or benefits, CMA recommends that:
1. E-cigarettes containing nicotine should not be authorized for sale in Canada.
2. The sale of all e-cigarettes should be prohibited to Canadians younger than the minimum age for tobacco consumption in their province or territory.
3. Smoke-free policies should be expanded to include a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is prohibited.
4. Research on the potential harms and benefits of electronic cigarette use should be supported.
1 Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ). (Mai 2013). La cigarette électronique: état de situation. Available : http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/1691_CigarElectro_EtatSituation.pdf
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five U.S. adult cigarette smokers have tried an electronic cigarette. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Press Release. February 28, 2013 Available: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0228_electronic_cigarettes.html (accessed October 31, 2014)
3 Health Canada. Health Canada Advises Canadians Not to Use Electronic Cigarettes (archived). Available: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2009/13373a-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
4 Health Canada. Notice - To All Persons Interested in Importing, Advertising or Selling Electronic Smoking Products in Canada. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodpharma/applic-demande/pol/notice_avis_e-cig-eng.php (accessed October 31, 2014)
5 Kelland, K. & Hirschler, B. Insight - No smoke, plenty of fire fuels e-cigarettes. Reuters. June 13, 2013. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/13/uk-ecigarettes-insight-idUKBRE95C0F720130613 (accessed October 31, 2014)
6 Non-Smokers Rights Association. Product Regulation: The Buzz on E-Cigarettes. Available: http://www.nsra-adnf.ca/cms/page1385.cfm (accessed October 31, 2014)
7 Weeks, C. Could e-cigarettes save smokers' lives? Some health advocates think so. The Globe and Mail April 29, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/could-e-cigarettes-save-smokers-lives-some-health-advocates-think-so/article11583353/?cmpid=rss1
8 Toronto Public Health. E-cigarettes in Toronto. Staff report to the Toronto Board of Health. August 1, 2014. Available: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-72510.pdf (accessed October 31, 2014).
9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Notes from the Field: Calls to Poison Centers for Exposures to Electronic Cigarettes - United States, September 2010-February 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(13): 292-293. April 4, 2014. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6313a4.htm?s_cid=mm6313a4_w (accessed October 31, 2014).
10 World Health Organization. Electronic nicotine delivery systems. Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Sixth session Moscow, Russian Federation, 13-18 October 2014. Provisional agenda item 4.4.2. Available: http://apps.who.int/gb/fctc/PDF/cop6/FCTC_COP6_10-en.pdf?ua=1
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities to discuss issues related to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). This tax measure, which is recognition by the federal government that persons with a severe disability may be affected by having reduced incomes, increased expenses or both, compared to those who are not disabled i, helps to account for the intangible costs associated with a severe and prolonged impairment. It also takes into account disability-related expenses that are not listed in the medical expense deduction or which are excluded by the 3% threshold in the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
Physicians are a key point of contact for applicants of the DTC and, given the way the program is structured, a vital participant in its administration. It is for these reasons that we come before you today to address specific concerns related to the program’s performance. In addition, we would like to discuss the broader issue of developing a coherent set of tax policies in support of health and social policy.
The Integration of Tax Policy with Health Policy and Social Policy
The federal government, through a variety of policy levers such as taxation, spending, regulation and information, has played a key role in the development of our health care and social systems. To date however, discussion about the federal role in these areas has centered largely on federal transfers to the provinces and territories and the Canada Health Act.
However, in looking at how to renew Canada’s health and social programs, we should not limit ourselves to these traditional instruments. Today we have a health system that is facing a number of pressures that will challenge its sustainability. These pressures range from an aging and more demanding population in terms of the specialty care services and technology they will seek; the cry for expanding the scope of medicare coverage to include homecare and pharmacare; and a shortage of health personnel. These are only some of the more immediate reasons alternative avenues of funding health care, and thus ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens, must be explored.
In our pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance ii, the CMA recommended that the federal government establish a blue ribbon National Task Force to study the development of innovative tax-based mechanisms to synchronize tax policy with health policy. Such a review has not been undertaken in over 25 years since the Royal Commission on Taxation in 1966 (Carter Commission).
The CMA is echoing its call for a National Task Force to develop new and innovative ways to synchronize tax policy with health policy and social policy. A study of this nature would look at all aspects of the taxation system, including the personal income tax system, in which the DTC is a component.
The remainder of our brief addresses issues specific to the DTC.
Physician Involvement in the DTC Program
The CMA has in the past provided input with respect to the DTC program. Our working relationship on the DTC program with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) has been issue-specific, time-limited and constructive.
Our first substantive contact in regard to the DTC program was in 1993 when the CMA provided Revenue Canada with a brief review of the program and the T2201form. It is interesting to note what our observations were in 1993 with regard to this program because many of them still hold true today.
Here are just some of the issues raised by the CMA in 1993 during our initial review of the program:
* The tax credit program may not address the needs of the disabled, it is too hit and miss. The DTC program should be evaluated in a comprehensive way to measure its overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
* The program should be called the “Severe Disability Tax Credit Program” – or something equivalent to indicate that not everyone with a disability is eligible.
* The program puts physicians in a potential conflict with patients—the responsibility of the physician to advocate for the patient vs. gate-keeper need for Revenue Canada. The physician role should be to attest to legitimate claims on the patients’ behalf.
* Revenue Canada should clarify the multiplicity of programs. There are numerous different federal programs and all appear to have varying processes and forms. These overlapping efforts are difficult for patients and professionals.
* A major education effort for potential claimants, tax advisers and physicians should be introduced.
* A suitable evaluation of claimant and medical components of the process should be undertaken.
The CMA does not have a standardized consultative relationship with the CCRA in regard to this program. An example of this spotty relationship is the recent letter sent by the CCRA Minister asking current DTC recipients to re-qualify for the credit. The CMA was not advised or consulted about this letter. If we had been advised we would have highlighted the financial and time implications of sending 75 to 100 thousand individuals to their family physician for re-certification. We also would have worked with the CCRA on alternative options for updating DTC records. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. This clearly speaks to the need to establish open and ongoing dialogue between our two organizations.
Policy Measure: The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patients’ advocacy groups.
We would now like to draw the Sub-committee’s attention to three areas that, at present, negatively impact on the medical profession participation in the program, namely program integrity, program standardization (e.g., consistency in terminology and out-of-pocket costs faced by persons with disabilities) and tax advisor referrals to health care providers.
A primary concern and irritation for physicians working with this program is that it puts an undue strain on the patient-physician relationship. This strain may also have another possible side effect, a failure in the integrity of the DTC program process.
Under the current structure of the DTC program, physicians evaluate the patient, provide this evaluation back to the patient and then ask the patient for remuneration. This process is problematic for two reasons. First, since the patient will receive the form back immediately following the evaluation, physicians might receive the blame for denying their patient the tax credit—not the DTC program adjudicators. Second, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he or she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit.
For the integrity of the DTC program, physicians need to be free to reach independent assessment of the patient’s condition. However, due to the pressure placed by this program on the patient-physician relationship, the physician’s moral and legal obligation to provide an objective assessment may conflict with the physician’s ethical duty to “Consider first the well-being of the patient.
There is a solution to this problem it’s a model already in use by government, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Program. Under the CPP Disability Program, the evaluation from the physician is not given to the patient but, it is sent to the government and the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. Under this system, the integrity of patient-physician relationship is maintained and the integrity of the program is not compromised.
Policy Measure: The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
Fairness and Equity
The federal government has several programs for people with disabilities. Some deal with income security (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits), some with employment issues (e.g., Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), and some through tax measures (e.g., Disability Tax Credit). These government transfers and tax benefits help to provide the means for persons with disabilities to become active members in Canadian society.
However, these programs are not consistent in terms of their terminology, eligibility criteria, reimbursement protocols, benefits, etc. CMA recommends that standards of fairness and equity be applied across federal disability benefit programs, particularly in two areas: the definition of the concept of “disability”, and standards for remuneration to the physician. These are discussed in greater detail below.
1) Defining “disability”
One of the problems with assessing disability is that the concept itself is difficult to define. In most standard definitions the word “disability” is defined in very general and subjective terms. One widely used definition comes from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) which defines disability as “any restriction or inability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”
The DTC and other disability program application forms do not use a standard definition of “disability”. In addition to the inconsistency in terminology, the criteria for qualification for these programs differ because they are targeted to meet the different needs of those persons with disabilities. To qualify for DTC, a disability must be “prolonged” (over a period of at least 12 months) and “severe” i.e. “markedly (restrict) any of the basic activities of daily living” which are defined. Though CPP criteria use the same words “severe” and “prolonged” they are defined differently (i.e., “severe” means “prevents applicant from working regularly at any job” and “prolonged” means “long term or may result in death”). Other programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Canada, have entirely different criteria.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others (e.g., tax preparers/advisors) involved in the application process. This can lead to physicians spending more time than is necessary completing the form because of the need to verify terms. As a result if the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible this could result in errors on the part of physicians when completing the forms. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits.
Policy Measures: The CMA would like to see some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must become uniform.
In addition, the CMA would like to see the development of a comprehensive information package for health care providers that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
The remuneration for assessment and form completion is another area where standardization among the various government programs would eliminate the difficulties that some individuals with disabilities currently face. For example, applicants who present the DTC Certificate Form T2201 to their physicians must bear any costs associated with its completion out of their own pockets. On the other hand, if an individual is applying to the CPP Disability Program, the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself.
Assessing a patient’s disabilities is a complex and time-consuming endeavour on the part of any health professional. Our members tell us that the DTC Certificate Form T2201 can take as much time and effort to complete as the information requested for CPP Disability Program forms depending, of course, on the patient and the nature of the disability. In spite of this fact, some programs acknowledge the time and expertise needed to conduct a proper assessment while other programs do not.
Although physicians have the option of approaching the applicant for remuneration for the completion of the DTC form, they are reluctant to do so because these individuals are usually of limited means and in very complex cases, the cost for a physician’s time for completing the DTC Form T2201 can reach as much as $150. In addition, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he/she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit. Synchronizing funding between all programs would be of substantial benefit to all persons with disabilities, those professionals completing the forms and the programs’ administrators.
Policy Measure: We strongly urge the federal government to place disability tax credit programs on the same footing when it comes to reimbursement of the examining health care provider.
Tax Advisor Referrals
With the complexity of the income tax system today, many individuals seek out the assistance of professional tax advisors to ensure the forms are properly completed and they have received all the benefits they are entitled to. Tax advisors will very often refer individuals to health professionals so that they can be assessed for potential eligibility for the DTC. The intention of the tax advisors may be laudable, but often, inappropriate referrals are made to health professionals. This not only wastes the valuable time of health care professionals, already in short supply, but may create unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient seeking the tax credit.
The first principle of the CMA’s Code of Ethics is “consider first the well-being of the patient.” One of the key roles of the physician is to act as a patient’s advocate and support within the health care system. The DTC application form makes the physician a mediator between the patient and a third party with whom the patient is applying for financial support.
This “policing” role can place a strain on the physician-patient relationship – particularly if the patient is denied a disability tax credit as a result a third-party adjudicator’s interpretation of the physician’s recommendations contained within the medical report. Physicians and other health professionals are not only left with having to tell the patient that they are not eligible but in addition advising the patient that there may be a personal financial cost for the physician providing this assessment.
Policy Measure: Better preparation of tax advisors would be a benefit to both patients and their health care providers. The CMA would like CCRA to develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax preparers and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability. This would provide some guidance as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to see a health professional for a professional assessment.
As raised in a previous meeting with CCRA, the CMA is once again making available a physician representative to accompany DTC representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies, prior to each tax season, to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and initial assessment, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
The DTC is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. However, there needs to be some standardization among the various programs to ensure that they are effective and meet their stated purpose. Namely, the CMA would like to make the following suggestions:
1. The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
2. The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not circumvent differences in eligibility criteria.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed, for health care providers, that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
5. That the federal government applies these social programs on the same footing when it comes to their funding and administration.
6. That CCRA develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax advisors and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability.
7. That CCRA employ health care providers to accompany CCRA representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and personal assessment of disability, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
These recommendations would certainly be helpful to all involved - the patient, health care providers and the programs’ administrators, in the short term. However what would be truly beneficial in the longer term would be an overall review of the taxation system from a health care perspective. This could provide tangible benefits not only for persons with disabilities but for all Canadians as well as demonstrating the federal government’s leadership towards ensuring the health and well being of our population.
i Health Canada, The Role for the Tax System in Advancing the Health Agenda, Applied Research and Analysis Directorate, Analysis and Connectivity Branch, September 21, 2001
ii Canadian Medical Association, Securing Our Future… Balancing Urgent Health Care Needs of Today With The Important Challenges of Tomorrow”, Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations, November 1, 2001.
"The 2014-15 budget signals the end to a tough but necessary period of fiscal consolidation. Current expectations are for a surplus of $6.4-billion in 2015-16, plus a contingency reserve of $3-billion; there is finally some room to manoeuvre in the years ahead."
Glen Hodgson, Senior VP and Chief Economist
Conference Board of Canada - February 2014
Having emerged from the global economic downturn, now is the time for the federal government to make strategic investments that will ensure Canada's long-term economic sustainability. The ageing of Canada's population is the most pressing policy imperative of our time. As highlighted in Finance Canada's 2012 report, Economic and Fiscal Implications of Canada's Ageing Population, action to prepare for an ageing population will support the sustainability of Canada's public finances and social programs.
The CMA's recommendations for the 2014-15 federal budget focus on strategic investments in three key areas:
1. Supporting Canadian families and seniors
A) Pan-Canadian Seniors Strategy
The CMA is concerned that Canada is ill-prepared for the demographic shift already underway. By 2036, it is expected that a quarter of Canada's population will be over age 65; almost double the proportion of today. Already, patients aged 65 and older account for nearly half of Canada's health care spending. Seniors also face challenges accessing health services across the continuum of care. These challenges are getting worse, despite growing efforts to provide sustainable, high-quality health care for seniors, and despite most provinces having seniors care strategies in place.
Canadians share our concern. According to an Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by the CMA, a majority of respondents (83%) said they were concerned about their health care in their retirement years. This poll found that nine out of ten Canadians (93%) believe Canada needs a national strategy for seniors health care that integrates home care, hospitals, hospices, and long-term care facilities into the continuum.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
B) Incenting savings for future continuing care needs
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long-term care spending in Canada averaged 1.2% of GDP over the 2006-10 period and could more than double to 2.5% by 2060. The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association estimates there will be an unfunded long-term care liability of $590 billion over and above existing government programs as the boomer generation passes through their old age1.
Of the approaches available to address this unfunded liability, encouraging and incentivizing individuals to save for their future continuing care needs is the least demanding of public finances as compared with increased personal or business income taxes or mandatory contributions.
There has been increasing interest among Canadians with focused savings vehicles established by the federal government. There continues to be increased uptake with Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) to support post-secondary education. The growth in RESP assets was significant in 2011 and 2012, representing an average annual rate of 12.6%.2
There has also been increased uptake in the use of tax sheltered individual savings vehicles, such as the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). According to a Finance Canada report, as of 2011 there were 8.2 million individuals with a TFSA, representing 31% of tax filers, and they contributed $30.7 billion in that year. The report noted that the greatest proportionate growth in TFSA uptake was observed among those with incomes of less than $20,000, with their participation rate almost doubling from 11% in 2009 to 20% in 20113.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends that the federal government use its economic levers to encourage Canadians to save over their lifetime for future continuing and long-term care needs not covered under the Canada Health Act.
C) Promoting Healthy Ageing
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy ageing as "the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life."
Such initiatives could focus on:
* Physical activity - 57% of seniors in 2008 reported being physically inactive4;
* Injury prevention - 40% of admissions to nursing homes, 62% of injury-related hospitalizations, and almost 90% of hip fractures are due to falls by seniors5;
* Nutrition - 28% of men and 31% of women over 65 were obese (BMI = 30); this is higher than the population average. Underweight is also a problem among seniors, 17% of whom report a BMI of 20 or less6.
The federal government has already undertaken steps to address healthy ageing among Canada's seniors, such as 'Seniors: Active. Engaged. Informed'. In funding over 13,000 projects across Canada, the New Horizons for Seniors Program has demonstrated success in enabling new programs to achieve specific goals; this program can be harnessed to deliver projects focused on promoting healthy ageing.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends that the New Horizons for Seniors program be expanded by $5 million per year to include funding for programs promoting healthy ageing activities for Canadian seniors.
2. Ensuring the availability and access to continuing care
"When we poll CARP members, they call for leadership in helping Canadians save for retirement, get home care when they need it and get access to affordable drug."
Susan Eng, VP, Advocacy for CARP - February 2014
A) Addressing the Continuing Care Infrastructure Crisis
A major issue facing health care systems across the country is the high number of alternate level of care patients (ALC) in acute care hospitals. ALC patients-many of whom are seniors-are those who have completed the acute care phase of their treatment but remain in an acute care bed or who are admitted into a hospital bed due to the lack of more appropriate assisted living settings.
The CMA supports efforts to allow Canadian seniors to remain in the community as long as possible. However, there are increasing pressures on the continuing care sector given the rise in the number of seniors with complex health and social needs. These pressures not only relate to the construction of new facilities, including assisted living units and other innovative residential models for seniors, but apply as well to the need to upgrade and retrofit existing facilities7.
Despite increasing the availability of home care, Canada will face a significant infrastructure shortage in the continuing care sector. The CMA estimates this infrastructure shortage costs the health care system about $2.3 billion a year; this cost is estimated to skyrocket as our population ages.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends the federal government deliver $2.3 billion in funding to leverage provincial/territorial strategic investment in the construction, renovation and retrofitting of assisted living units, other innovative residential models, and long-term care facilities.
B) Supporting Caregivers
The 2011 Budget introduced a new non-refundable Family Caregiver Tax Credit to provide tax relief to those who provide informal care for a dependent relative within their home. However, the credit is limited to 15% of a maximum $2,040 in expenses for 2013 or a maximum sum of $306. While this credit can be added to other tax credits, the total amount is small in relation to the burden experienced by caregivers and it remains non-refundable.
The CMA is concerned that the scarcity of financial support and programs supporting caregivers represents significant risks in relation to economic costs, lower productivity, impacts on the labour market, inefficiencies within the health care system and, most importantly, patient care.
Informal caregivers are the backbone of any health care and social care system. The work of the 1.5 to 2 million caregivers in Canada is estimated at $25-26 billion annually, while incurring $80 million dollars annually in out-of-pocket costs8. The role of informal caregivers will only increase with the move to providing more care at home.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends the federal government make the Family Caregiver Tax Credit a refundable tax credit as part of an effort to better support informal caregivers.
3. Accelerating innovation in health care through enhanced use of electronic medical records (EMRs)
"The need for innovation ..., both in terms of medical technologies and healthcare delivery systems, is one of the most pressing public policy challenges of our times."
Hon. Rona Ambrose, Health Minister - January 2014
The CMA supports prioritizing continuing the development and meaningful use of electronic medical records (EMRs).
A recent report estimates the costs of a pan-Canadian electronic health record (EHR) between $7.9 billion and $16.0 billion9 while total gross savings over a 20-year range were projected at over $82 billion. To date, approximately $2.1 billion in federal funding has been invested. Five national benefit evaluation studies have been commissioned since 2008 and these analyses estimated $7.7 billion in benefits to date as a result of this investment10.
This initial investment has resulted in digitized health care information and paper processes, and created a robust marketplace for innovation by EMR vendors. As such, the value of investments in EMRs is emerging. The 2013 National Physicians Survey11 indicated that:
* Almost 70% of medical general practitioners (GPs) and specialists now use an EMR, up from 56% in 2012 and 37% in 2009.
* 45% of GPs and 40% of specialists report increased or greatly increased efficiency due to the use of EMRs.
* 63% of GPs and 50% of specialists report the quality of patient care they provide is better or much better since they started using an EMR.
The next step in the evolution of EMRs is enhanced use. In Canada, federal investment does not extend beyond the equivalent of the first stage of the U.S. framework for Meaningful Use. There remain significant gaps in funding to achieve enhanced use of EMRs by clinicians, regional interoperability, and to structure EMR data to leverage big data analytics.
Recommendation: The CMA recommends the federal government continue to fund Canada Health Infoway (CHI) to administer remaining project funds from the $500 million allocated in 2009, and allocate an additional $500 million, to be administered by CHI, for projects to achieve enhanced use of EMRs.
1 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Helping Canadians prepare for long-term care costs. CLHIA report on long-term care policy. 2014.
2 Employment and Social Development Canada. 2012 CESP Annual Statistical Review. http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/jobs/student/reports/statistics/cesp_2012.shtml#h2.4-h3.1
3 There is a detailed analysis of the TFSA in the 2012 Tax Expenditures and Evaluations report by Finance Canada (Pages 31-42 in http://www.fin.gc.ca/taxexp-depfisc/2012/taxexp-depfisc12-eng.pdf).
4 PHAC 2010
5 PHAC 2010
6 PHAC 2010
7 Canadian Medical Association, The Need for Health Infrastructure in Canada. Submitted to Hon. Denis Lebel, PC, MP Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. March 18, 2013.
8 Hollander, M.J, Liu, G., Chappeell, N.L. (2009). Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthcare Quarterly, 12(2), 42-59.
10 Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) Evaluation; EMR Evaluation; Telehealth evaluation; Drug Information Systems (DIS) evaluation; Diagnostic Imaging (DI) systems evaluation
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-13 - An act respecting assisted human reproduction : Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
November 20, 2002
BILL C-13 - AN ACT RESPECTING ASSISTED HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Madame Chair and Members of the Committee:
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association Committee on Ethics. I am here today representing our members, more than 54,000 physicians from across Canada. I also wish to speak as a advocate for our patients, especially those affected by infertility and those who are or will suffer from diseases for which medical science is searching for cures.
I am accompanied today by Dr. John Williams, our Director of Ethics.
You will recall that we appeared before this Committee on October 23, 2001 in company with representatives from eight other national health provider and scientific organizations to present our views on draft legislation on assisted human reproduction. Although we were pleased that your December 2001 report recommended the establishment of an assisted reproduction regulatory body outside the Department of Health, we were disappointed that you did not find favour with other recommendations we put forward.
The government responded to your report with Bill C-56, now Bill C-13. It is this bill that we are here to address today. Although there are many details in the bill on which we would like either clarification or changes, we intend to focus our remarks on the issue that we consider of greatest importance for our patient’s wellfare and the practice of medicine. That issue is the use of the criminal power to deal with medical and scientific activities.
The Standing Committee Report and Bill C-13
In your December 2001 report, you acknowledged our position on this issue: “Some witnesses recommended the elimination of the prohibited activities category altogether. Citing the benefits of regulatory flexibility, they felt that all activities should come under the controlled activity category, including the more reprehensible activities like reproductive cloning for which licences, arguably, would never be allowed under the regulations” (page 9). However, you rejected this view on the grounds that “a licence-related prohibition of this sort would not carry the same weight or degree of social censure as the statutory prohibition…. An outright statutory ban signals more clearly that certain activities are either unsafe or socially unacceptable.
The use of the statutory ban also signals that these activities are of such concern to Canadians that their status as a prohibited activity may not be altered except with the approval of Parliament” (page 9).
Bill C-13 reflects your views on this matter. We recognize your good faith in proposing and defending this position but we are convinced that its potential for harm outweighs its potential benefits. And so we are pleased to have this opportunity to reiterate the reason why the CMA believes that Bill C-13 will adversely affect the patient-physician relationship and the advance of medical science.
Need to Change Bill C-13
As you know, our position on this matter is supported by legal scholars such as Patrick Healy, McGill University Faculty of Law, Tim Caulfield, Director of the University of Alberta Health Law Institute, and Bartha Knoppers, Université de Montréal Centre de Recherche en Droit Publique. In essence, our position is that the criminal law is a blunt instrument and very difficult to change and is therefore appropriate for activities whose status is unlikely to change over time, such as murder and theft, rather than medical and scientific activities that are constantly developing. The latter are better left to a representative regulatory body to determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations and public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Bill C-13 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” This echoes the conclusions in your report. However, as the transcripts of your hearings demonstrate, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable. As a matter of public policy, should Canadians who hold this view be denied access to medical treatment for infertility because others consider such treatments to be ethically unacceptable? Should patients who suffer from conditions for which research that is forbidden in Bill C-13 might lead to a cure be denied that opportunity? We question whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities on which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
In Canada legislators have been justifiably reluctant to use the criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research. Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction? What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
We are also concerned about the bill’s penalties for infractions: jail terms up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000. These are disproportionate to the penalties for crimes that injure persons or property and, as such, will create a climate of undue fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area, such that they will avoid any activity that is potentially covered by the bill, even to the detriment of patient care. Given the rapid advance of science and medical practice and the difficulty of anticipating new developments, it will be difficult to adjust the law to deal with new applications of prohibited activities that may be ethically acceptable.
An Alternate Solution
The CMA has stated repeatedly that we are not opposed to the prohibition of certain assisted human reproduction activities. Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, we remain convinced that an independent body on an ongoing basis should determine the activities that are permissible or prohibited on the basis of up-to-date scientific research, public input and ethical review. This can be accomplished very easily in Bill C-13 by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” (sections 5-9) to “Controlled Activities” and adding the words “except in accordance with the regulations and a licence” to each of the provisions in sections 5-9.
Consistent with this recommendation we consider that the regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and be given as much authority as possible over the matters that Bill C-13, section 65, reserves to regulations of Governor in Council. We hope that the agency will build upon the experience and expertise of existing organizations and structures in the field of assisted reproduction that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
To summarize, we strongly support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices either temporarily or permanently. However, like others who have appeared before this Committee, we do not believe that criminalizing the medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We consider that the objectives could be as well achieved by far less drastic means than criminalization and, moreover, that criminalization would create major obstacles to legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility. We recommend that the proposed agency be empowered to regulate these practices and that the criminal power be invoked when controlled activities are performed without authority of a licence from the agency or in defiance of the licensing conditions established by the agency.
Thank you, Madame Chair and members of the Committee. We will be pleased to respond to your questions.
Since 2010, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been calling for health care transformation in Canada to better meet the needs of Canadians. A high performing health care system must be able to respond to the changing nature of its population's health needs.
The CMA believes that seniors care is the paramount health care issue of our time. Our older population will double over the next 20 years, while the 85 and older group is set to quadruple. Currently, we spend almost half of all our health care dollars on seniors. Improving seniors' care will go a long way to fixing our health care system; this is because strategies to address the needs of this population can be leveraged to address the needs of other population groups. That is why CMA has called for the development of a Pan-Canadian Seniors Strategy as a necessary first step.
The CMA welcomes the creation of the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation to better prepare health systems across the country for the above challenges and to contribute toward the sustainability of Canada's public finances and social programs. This brief identifies five important innovations that will not only benefit Canada's growing seniors population but the broader Canadian population as well.
Five Innovations to Improve our Health Care System
1. Supportive living models and palliative care
Canada suffers from a lack of integrated community/residential supports and palliative care models, contributing to poor patient outcomes, significant inappropriate use of health care resources, and higher health care costs. An obvious sign of this gap is the significant number of alternate-level-of care (ALC) patients-most of whom are seniors-languishing in hospitals across Canada. ALC patients are those inpatients that no longer require acute care and are waiting for placement in a more appropriate setting. According to a 2009 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) report, dementia accounted for almost one-quarter of ALC hospitalizations and more than one-third of ALC days.i Dementia is the leading cause of dependency and disability among older persons. The Wait Time Alliance (WTA) has stated that the most important action to improve timely access to specialty care for all Canadians is by addressing the issue of alternate-level-of-care (ALC) patients.ii
The creation of supportive and integrated living models particularly for the frail elderly and those with dementia would lead to improved health outcomes for these patients as well as savings to the health care system.
* Supportive living models can involve providing technology and human resources to support seniors to stay in their home. It has been estimated that tele-homecare could yield an annual reduction in approximately $540 million in inpatient costs and $23 million in emergency department visit costs.iii
* For others, particularly those with dementia, residential care models are required that can properly support their needs and provide the highest quality of life possible. A few such models are already in existence but more are required. Models include the Bruyère Village in Ottawa (http://www.bruyere.org/bruyere-village) and Saskatoon's Sherbrooke Community Centre (http://www.sherbrookecommunitycentre.ca/). CMA recommends that federal and provincial infrastructure programs allow for innovative residential care options to be eligible for funding.
* Despite the vast majority (96%) of Canadians supporting the use of palliative and hospice care in end-of-life care, only 16-30% of Canadians who are dying have access to or receive hospice, palliative and end-of-life servicesiv. This issue must be addressed immediately across the country. Currently, there is no standard palliative and hospice care model in Canada. However, there are some innovative programs around the country that are leading the way to higher quality palliative care (e.g., West Island Palliative Care Residence in Quebec). The CMA is currently preparing a report to inform health care decision makers including physicians on tools to integrate palliative and hospice care services in their respective communities. But assistance is required to implement innovative practice models across the country.
2. Integrated strategies for high-users of health care and at-risk populations
It is now recognized that a targeted approach is necessary to make substantive change to improve the health status of populations; including reducing health inequities and ensuring more appropriate access to health care resources by those citizens who have a range of socio-economic needs.
Approximately five percent of patients account for two-thirds (66 percent) of provincial health expenditures-many of whom are elderly. This picture is consistent across the country.v This high use is often due to systemic issues, such as poor integration or lack of access, rather than the choices of these patients. There is general agreement that multi-sectoral approaches are necessary that involve the integration of clinical and social care as well as other sectors to best address this population group that often has polymorbidities.
Programs are being implemented in a few provinces at the regional or provider level to try and accommodate the needs of the high-users population by coordinating and integrating care for the benefit of the patient and the family. Examples include Health Links in Ontario and the Regional Integrated Complex Patient Care Planning (RICP2) program at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. However, funding models-particularly for inter-sectoral approaches-to support the wide-spread adoption of these approaches are rare.
In addition to the high-users are those populations that feature a high burden of illness. Hundreds of research papers have confirmed that people in the lowest socio-economic groups carry the greatest burden of illness.vi Those within the lowest socio-economic status are 1.4 times more likely to have a chronic disease, and 1.9 times more likely to be hospitalized for care of that disease.vii
As with the high-user group, a multi-sectoral approach is required to address the social determinants of health. While it is important for society to strive to eliminate poverty and provide adequate housing and food security, the health care sector can also contribute. Some innovative programs have been put in place such as the Well North program in the United Kingdom that is targeted at improving the health of the poorest fastest, reducing premature mortality and reducing worklessness.viii In Canada, the St. Michael's family health team has an income security specialist on their multi-disciplinary team. This individual helps patients to navigate the government's social services system, will help patients reduce expenses, complete their taxes, set up bank accounts, access free programs, budget and save for emergencies. These patients are identified through screening conducted by family physicians on the team.
There are innovative approaches being developed to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these innovations involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. The Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/). Despite this innovative approach to sharing information to better manage chronic care conditions, its five-year federal funding terminates in 2015. The estimated cost of continuing the project is approximately $3 million per year.
3. Optimal prescribing
Poor prescribing can lead to poor patient outcomes and unnecessary costs to the health care system (e.g., fractured hips from falls). The evidence is clear that many seniors in Canada are exposed to inappropriate drug therapy. Data from European countries such as Denmark, , show that inappropriate prescribing can be controlled with only 5.8% of elderly patients using an inappropriate medication in a four month period in 2001. In Canada, CIHI studied senior's drug claims from public programs in four provinces from 2000 to 2006 and found that the rate of inappropriate drug use in 2005-06 varied from 25.2% in Manitoba to 31.3% in New Brunswick. The rate of regular use of such medications ranged from 12.9% in Alberta to 18.8 % in New Brunswick.
E-prescribing decreases the likelihood of adverse drug events or interactions, and provides tools to monitor both patient adherence and practitioner prescribing patterns. One component of an optimal prescribing strategy would be to provide support to provincial/territorial ministries of health to complete the implementation of drug information systems and regional e-prescribing solutions, and/or to develop an agenda to accomplish the enhanced use of electronic medical records.
A second component of an optimal prescribing initiative would be the development of a collaboration of content experts and professional associations to raise awareness of inappropriate prescribing among physicians and other health professionals and then to develop online educational courses and practice tools to assist at the point of care. Initially the focus might be on prescribing for seniors, but subsequently could expand to cover other priority topics such as inappropriate antibiotic use or the use of narcotics for non-cancer pain.
4. Choosing Wisely Canada - Reducing the provision of low value care
A disconcerting proportion of health care, estimated in the United States to be as much as 30%, confers little of no benefit on patients and may, through exposure to excess radiation, drug reactions, adverse events during procedures, or the worry associated with false positive tests, actually cause harm. This represents both sub-optimal quality of care and poor stewardship of scarce health care resources.
The provision of unnecessary care is driven by many elements including physician habit, lack of up-to-date clinician knowledge, patient demand, and structural or financial incentives in the health system. To counter these diverse influences the CMA partnered with the University of Toronto to launch Choosing Wisely Canada, a campaign to facilitate evidence-informed conversations between physicians and patients about the necessity of tests and treatment about low-value tests and treatment. As of October 2014, 102 recommendations have been developed by national specialty societies about clinical activities that generally should be avoided. For example, the Canadian Geriatrics Society advises physicians and patients against the use of antipsychotics as a first choice to treat behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia as well as against the use of benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotics in older adults as a first choice for insomnia, agitation or delirium.
Within its first year of operation the campaign enlisted over 30 national specialty societies, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, all provincial and territorial medical associations, and six large citizen groups. To date the campaign has been resourced by seed funding from the Ontario government, direct contribution from the CMA, and a modest contribution agreement from Health Canada.
If the early success of Choosing Wisely Canada is to be sustained, secure long-term funding is essential. Such resources are necessary to support the development and dissemination of materials to raise physician awareness, provide educational opportunities, make available point-of-care tools, assist with implementation at the practice level, and contribute to data collection for evaluation. The medical professional has clearly stepped forward to take ownership of the low value care challenge; they deserve federal support to ensure a successful long-term outcome.
5. National Health Care Guidance Institute
Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have a unique ability to enhance quality of care. The peer-reviewed literature provides robust evidence that guideline use is associated with a positive impact on both processes of care and patient outcomes. Additionally, a number of studies have reported that the application of specific CPGs result in cost-effective care, including, for example, those used in the treatment of community-acquired pneumonia, stroke prevention in primary care, traumatic brain injury, and the use of lipid-lowering drugs. Conditions such as these gain particular significance in the face of an aging population: what is the out-patient antibiotic of choice in an elderly patient with pneumonia?; in an older patient with a cardiac arrhythmia what are the comparative risks of treatment with anticoagulants versus possible cerebrovascular accident?; at what age is it no longer helpful to treat hyperlipidemia? CPGs available at the point of care provide evidence-based answers to such questions.
Internationally, national governments have recognized the value of CPGs and taken a leadership role in ensuring their quality and making them available to practitioners. Three among many examples are: United States (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, National Guideline Clearinghouse); United Kingdom (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence); and Australia (National Health and Medical Research Council, National Institute of Clinical Studies).
The challenge is that CPGs are not uniformly utilized across Canada nor do we possess a national body or systematic approach to CPG development and dissemination. There are various models that can be implemented to execute this function (e.g., full function agency, collaborative virtual agency) to perform such key functions as prioritizing areas for guideline development, maintaining a national repository and driving active dissemination. The key is having a dedicated agency that can oversee the development and dissemination of CPGs at a pan-Canadian level to improve the quality of care that Canadians receive.
Federal mechanisms to support health innovation
All health systems in Canada and elsewhere are facing the challenge to better meet the needs of their seniors' population. National governments can provide necessary direction and support. The federal government must play a leadership role on seniors care and supporting health care innovation in concert with the provinces and territories and as a system manager itself for those patients falling under federal jurisdiction (e.g., armed forces). This can begin with a First Ministers' Conference as part of the development of a Pan-Canadian Seniors Strategy.
CMA recognizes there are elements of transformation already taking place in the country across the continuum of care that are being supported by technological innovation or clinical innovation (e.g., Choosing Wisely Canada). However, in many cases, there is little funding available to fund projects beyond pilot project status or bring them up to scale, and there is very little cross-country awareness of these "pockets of excellence" due to the absence of mechanisms to share best practices.
Accordingly, CMA recommends the establishment of a National Health System Innovation Fund targeted to provinces and territories to support the adoption of health system innovations including those identified in this brief. Funding criteria should be designed to not only support the development of these innovations but to incent their adoption on a scaled-up basis.
Finally, recognizing the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system, the federal government should implement a requirement for all cabinet decision-making to include a health-in-all policies approach whereby all polices from tax, to transportation, to trade would undergo a health lens to ensure that negative health impacts were minimized/eliminated and positive health outcomes were supported or expanded. This would help to minimize the often unintended health consequences that arise from policies outside of the health sector.
This brief identifies five opportunities for innovating Canada's health care system by improving seniors care-the paramount health care issue of our time. Our proposed innovations would not only improve the efficient delivery of health care but more importantly the quality of care provided to all Canadians. These innovation initiatives require medical leadership at the point of care level in tandem with change at the broader system level with federal support. Together, these innovations can further contribute to the transformation of Canada's health care system-one that better meets the needs of Canadians today and into the future.
i Canadian Institute for Health Information. Alternate level of care in Canada. Ottawa (ON): The Institute; 2009. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_FINAL.pdf
ii Wait Time Alliance, Shedding light on Canadians' total wait for care. Report card on wait times in Canada. June 2012.
iii Telehealth Benefits and Adoption: Connecting People and Providers Across Canada. Praxia and Gartner. May, 30, 2011.
iv Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. 2014. Fact sheet: hospice palliative care in Canada. [Accessed 11 November 2014]. Available from http://www.chpca.net/media/330558/Fact_Sheet_HPC_in_Canada%20Spring%202014%20Final.pdf
v Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pan-Canadian forum on high users of health care-Summary report. The Institute: 2014.
vi Dunn, James R. (2002) The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project: Are Widening Income Inequalities Making Canada Less Healthy? Available at: http://www.opha.on.ca/our_voice/collaborations/makeconnxn/HDP-proj-full.pdf
vii CIHI/CPHI (2012) Disparities in Primary Health Care Experiences Among Canadians with Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions. http://secure.cihi.ca/cihiweb/products/PHC_Experiences_AiB2012_E.pdf