The CMA brief contains seven recommendations to address pressing needs in the health care system.
Before I get to those, I'd like to highlight why, from my perspective, our health care system is in need of the federal government's attention.
Yesterday, at the Ottawa Hospital, where I am Chief of Staff:
* Our occupancy was 100 per cent.
* 30 patients who came to the emergency department were admitted to the hospital, but we had beds for only four of them.
* 10 are still waiting on gurneys in examining rooms within the emergency department.
* Six patients were admitted to wards and are receiving care in hallways.
* Three surgeries were cancelled - bringing the number of cancellations this year to 480.
* But while all this was happening, we had 158 patients waiting for a bed in a long-term-care facility.
Equally, a few blocks from here and in communities across the country, the health status of our poorest and most vulnerable populations is comparable to countries that have a fraction of our GDP - despite very significant investments in their health.
This is just my perspective. Health care providers of all types experience the failings of our system on a daily basis.
We as a country can do better and Canadians deserve better value for their money.
Canada's physicians are calling for transformative change to build a health care system based on the principles of accessibility, high quality, cost effectiveness, accountability and sustainability.
Through new efficiencies, better integration and sound stewardship, governments can reposition health care as an economic driver, an agent of productivity and a competitive advantage for Canada in today's global marketplace.
The Health Accord expires in March 2014, and we strongly urge that the federal government begin discussions now with the provinces and territories on how to transform our health care system so that it meets patients' needs and is sustainable into the future.
Canadians themselves also need to be part of the conversation.
To help position the system for this transformative change, the CMA brief identifies a number of issues that the federal government should address in the short term:
First, our system needs investments in health human resources to retain and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Although we welcome measures in the last budget to increase the number of residency positions, we urge the government to fulfill the balance of its election promise by further investing in residencies, and to invest in programs to repatriate Canadian-trained physicians living abroad.
Second, we need to bolster our public health e-infrastructure so that it can provide efficient, quality care that responds more effectively to pandemics.
We recommend increased investment:
* to improve data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices,
* for local health emergency preparedness, and
* for the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy for responding to potential health crises.
Third, issues related to our aging population also call for action.
As continuing care moves from hospitals into the home, the community, or long-term care facilities, the financial burden shifts from governments to individuals.
We recommend that the federal government study options for pre-funding long-term care - including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance - to help Canadians prepare for their future home care and long-term care needs.
And, as much of the burden of continuing care for seniors also falls on informal, unpaid caregivers, the CMA recommends that pilot studies be undertaken to explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work, and to expand programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations.
Finally, the government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
Mr. Chair, a fuller set of recommendations is contained in our report -- Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works. Care that Lasts.
These include universal access to prescription drugs; greater use of health information technology; and the immediate construction of long-term care facilities.
We urge the Committee to consider both our short-term recommendations - and our longer term vision for transforming Canada's health care system.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Thank you Madame Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As mentioned, I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I am a family physician by training and a member of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Medical Isotopes.
The working group was created to advise the Minister of Health in 2008 when the first major sustained shutdown of the Chalk River occurred. When I agreed to join the group, I certainly didn't expect it to still be going over two years later. And, while I am a member of the working group, I want to be clear, that today I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our more than 72,000 physician members across the country.
My comments are a reflection of the Working Group's June 2008 Lessons Learned report and I regret to say that a good portion of our observations are still true today.
I congratulate the Senate for looking specifically at the AECL proposals and for looking at implications for patients. While the CMA is not taking a specific position on the proposal in
Bill C-9 for Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL), in whole or in part, to be sold off to the private sector, we do believe that it is in the best interests of our patients that Canada remains a leader in the sector.
As well, Canada's doctors strongly believe that the impact on individual patient care must be considered and factored into any decisions that might result in disruptions of the supply of medical isotopes.
The CMA acknowledges that the federal budget did include $48 million over two years for research, development and application of medical isotopes and alternatives. Further, there was another allocation of $300 million on a cash basis for AECL's operations in 2010/11 to cover anticipated commercial losses and support the corporation's operations to ensuring a secure supply of medical isotopes and maintaining safe and reliable operations at the Chalk River Laboratory.
However, the CMA remains preoccupied with Canada's ability to ensure a long-term, stable and predictable supply of medically necessary isotopes. That is why we are uneasy about the federal government's exit strategy from the isotope production sector.
The report of the federal government's Expert Panel on the Production of Medical Isotopes, (December 2009) and the federal government's response to that report, (March 2010) appears to focus on the viability of this specific sector of the nuclear industry and has not alleviated our concerns. The government's response to the Panel Report was disappointing to the medical community. The government's decision to abandon Canada's long-standing international leadership in this sector is disheartening.
Of particular concern is the absence of both immediate and medium-term solutions to address the current and impending challenges facing nuclear medicine. This is simply unacceptable.
The CMA, along with our colleagues in the medical community, continues to assert that ensuring access to safe and reliable medical procedures and the provision of high-quality patient care must be the fundamental consideration of government decisions. While the production cost of isotopes cannot be ignored, particularly in times of global fiscal challenges, the medical application and benefits received are of paramount importance and must be neither discounted nor dismissed.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key factors in successful outcomes in cardiac and cancer cases. Without early diagnosis and treatment, patients have an increased risk of needing greater medical intervention later on. With more intensive treatment comes a corresponding increase in costs to the health care system and, most importantly, poorer outcomes for patients.
Specific concerns identified by the CMA and the medical community include, but are not limited to the following:
* Canada's current dependence on international reactors, without a practical back-up plan should these reactors experience difficulties, or shutdown for routine maintenance.
This is especially worrisome as the international agency, the Association of Imaging Producers & Equipment Suppliers (AIPES) warns of the unprecedented level of shortages, in a large part due to the Canada's Chalk River nuclear reactor remaining off line until August 2010 or beyond. In a recent Supply Crisis Update, AIPES points out that with a number of international reactors off-line for scheduled maintenance, the remaining reactors -the OPAL (Australia), Maria (Poland) and REZ (Czech Republic) reactors-are producing Mo99, but their combined output is limited to 15 - 20 % of the world requirements.
* The abandonment of Canada's international responsibilities and world leadership in this sector is counter to the government's own innovation and productivity agenda.
* A growing reliance on emerging technology, cyclotrons and liner accelerators that have yet to be proven as a suitable secure alternative source of radiopharmaceutical.
* A projected future supply chain that is reliant on external sources, rather than domestic production, in times of domestic supply shortages. As well, we are concerned that the federal government is leaving it to the marketplace, solely relying on current distributors to identify external sources supply, rather than searching to identify alternative safe sources of supply.
* Basing Canada's supply strategy on relicensing of the Chalk River reactor five years past its current license with no current guarantees that the plant will return and remain in production, let alone meet relicensing standards.
* The apparent lack of a federal contingency plan if, in 2016, alternative sources of supply and alternative emerging technology does not meet clinical needs.
* An analysis of the overall costs to the health care system as a result of the increased costs incurred during the prolonged period of shortages of isotopes supply and the rising costs as the demand for the alternative diagnostic and treatment models is not apparent.
* Initiatives to help mitigate increased costs for governments and particularly for nuclear medicine facilities do not exist.
The just released survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that two-thirds of nuclear medicine facilities reported that they experienced an increase in the cost of isotopes and that they were managing but exceeding their budget due to vendor surcharges. Only 2% reported that the isotope supply disruptions had no economic impact.
Canada's medical community therefore strongly urges that consideration be given to:
* investing in a mixed-use reactor for research and isotope production, as per the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Isotopes Production report of December, 2009;
* putting in place appropriate strategies and contingency plans to meet the health needs of Canadians; in particular consider a national deployment of PET technology for cancer detection and follow up.
* enhancing transparency by the government that provides more information on the short and medium-tern detailed plans to address isotope shortages;
* increasing the direct consultation with the official representatives of the nuclear medicine and medical community;
* making a public commitment to keep the Chalk River NRU reactor operational beyond the arbitrary date of 2016, as long as necessary and until secure alternative supplies of isotopes or alternative radiopharmaceuticals are proven and are in place; and,
* ensuring that the CNSC resurrects the external medical advisory council to facilitate communication between the medical community and the commission. Prior to 2001, members of the council provided CNSC staff with insight into how operational and policy decisions would affect patient care across the country.
Canada's doctors believe that the federal government must maintain a leadership role in this sector and must not compromise the medical needs of Canadians.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to commend the multi-party group of Members of Parliament who have come together to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.
The challenge we face today in caring for our aging population is only going to get greater. Statistics Canada has projected a rapid increase in the proportion of seniors in the population. The first wave of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year. By 2031, seniors will account for roughly one-quarter of the population, nearly double the 13.9% observed in 2009.1
Canadians are clearly concerned about their ability to cope with future health care expenses, either their own or those of their parents. Respondents to the CMA's 2010 Annual National Report Card on Health Care survey anticipate a range of implications associated with our aging population:
* 29% reported that they will likely alter their retirement plans (e.g., work longer) to help pay for their own future costs or those of their parents;
* Almost one in five (19%) anticipates moving their parents into their own home and supporting them financially; and
* One in six (16%) anticipates paying for their parents to live in a nursing home.2
The CMA believes that the federal government could play a key role in allaying Canadians' concerns about the future by leading negotiations with the provinces and territories and taking direct action on extending access along the continuum of care. These actions should focus on three priority areas:
* Increasing access by all Canadians to affordable prescription drugs;
* Supporting informal caregivers; and
* Increasing access to palliative care at the end of life.
If nothing is done to extend Medicare to cover more of the continuum of care, it will erode over time as a national program. When the Canada Health Act (CHA) was passed in 1984, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this had declined to 42% as of 2009.3 While there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (more than 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care, these programs are not subject to the CHA principles and coverage across the provinces and territories varies significantly.
Access to Prescription Drugs
The federal government missed an excellent opportunity to modernize Medicare in July 2004 when Premiers called on it to upload responsibility for drug programs. The Premiers stated that "a national pharmaceutical program should immediately be established. The federal government should assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug plan for all Canadians, and be accountable for the outcomes."4
The federal government did not give this offer even fleeting consideration. Instead, the September 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care contained a watered-down version of the First Ministers' 2003 commitment to ensure that all Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by the end of 2005/06.
The 2004 Accord reduced this commitment to the development of costing options for pharmaceutical coverage, as part of a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS).5 Costing options were included in the 2006 progress report of the NPS but they included estimates of the cost of catastrophic coverage wildly exceeding those of Romanow and Kirby, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion.6 Nothing further has been heard about the NPS since stakeholder consultations were held in fall 2007.
As recently as September 2008, the provinces and territories (PTs) were still interested in federal participation in pharmaceuticals. In the communiqué from their annual meeting, the PT health Ministers called for a three-point funding formula to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage, including:
* PT flexibility and autonomy in program design;
* Prescription drug costs not to exceed 5% of net income; and
* Federal and PT governments to cost share 50/50, estimated at $2.52 billion each in 2006.7
Again there was no reaction from the federal government. Since then the PT governments have appeared to be giving up hope of federal participation in access to pharmaceuticals. At their June 2009 meeting, the western Premiers announced they would develop a joint western purchasing plan for pharmaceuticals,8 and more recently at the August 2010 meeting of the Council of the Federation, Premiers agreed to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance for common drugs, medical supplies and equipment.9 Health Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at their September 2010 meeting.10 One can speculate that had the federal government taken up the Premiers' offer in 2004, many aspects of the NPS would be in place by now.
Meanwhile, access to prescription drugs presents a hardship for many Canadians. In the CMA's 2009 National Report Card survey, nearly one in six (14%) reported they had either delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs. This ranged from more than one in five (22%) with annual incomes of less than $30,000 to just over one in 20 (7%) of those with incomes greater than $90,000.11
The wide geographic disparity in out-of-pocket drug expenditures is shown in the table below, which is compiled from Statistics Canada's 2009 Survey of Household Spending. Table 1 shows the percentage of households spending more than 3% and 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs, by province, in the year prior to the survey.
[Note - see PDF for correct display of table information]
% of Households Spending Greater than 3% and 5% of After-tax Income
on Prescription Drugs, Canada and Provinces, 2008
Geography >3% >5%
Canada 7.6 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 11.6 5.4E
Prince Edward Island 13.3 5.8E
Nova Scotia 8.9 3.8
New Brunswick 9.1 4.1E
Quebec 11.6 3.3
Ontario 4.7 2.2E
Manitoba 12.0 5.2
Saskatchewan 11.5 5.9
Alberta 4.6E 2.2E
British Columbia 7.5 3.6
E - Use with caution - high coefficient of variation
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 109-5012
Under both thresholds there is a more than two-fold variation across provinces in the incidence of catastrophic drug expenditures. At the 5% threshold the range is from 2.2% of households in Ontario and Alberta to 5.8% in PEI and 5.9% in Saskatchewan. With the growing availability of more expensive drugs, this variation is only likely to be exacerbated in the years ahead.
The federal government should negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with the provincial/territorial governments.
This program should be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies. Such a program should include the following elements:
* A mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* Uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income);
* Federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both;
* Group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size; and
* A continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs).
In negotiating this plan, consideration should be given to the following:
* Establishing a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
* Assessing the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
* Provision of adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans; and
* Provision of comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada.
Supporting Informal Caregivers
As the population ages, the incidence of diseases associated with dementia is projected to increase dramatically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada has reported that the 2008 level of an estimated 103,728 new dementia cases is expected to more than double to 257,811 per year by 2038. Over this period, the demand for informal caregiving will skyrocket. In 2008, the Alzheimer Society reports, the opportunity cost of unpaid care giving was estimated at almost $5 billion. By 2038 this cost is expected to increase by 11-fold, to reach $56 billion, as the overall prevalence of dementia will have risen to 1.1 million people, representing 2.8% of the Canadian population.12
The burden of informal care giving extends beyond the costs related to dementia. Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey has documented the extent to which Canadians are providing unpaid assistance to family, friends or other persons with a long-term health condition or physical limitation.
Nationwide, 1.4 million adults aged 45 or over living in the community were receiving care in 2007. Of this number almost one in two (46.9%) were receiving both paid and unpaid care, almost three in 10 (27.4%) were receiving unpaid care only, and just under one in five (18.8%) were receiving paid care only. This underscores the importance of the informal sector.
In terms of who was providing this care, an estimated four million Canadians were providing care, of whom one million were aged 65 or over, while almost two million (1.8) were in the prime working age range of 45 to 54. The provision of unpaid care represents a significant time commitment.
The caregivers who reported helping with at least one activity spent an average 11.6 hours in a typical week doing so. Those providing care reported significant personal consequences. One in three reported spending less time on social activities (33.7%) or incurring extra expenses (32.7%), almost one in five cancelled holiday plans (18.7%) or spent less time with their spouse (18.7%), and more than one in 10 (13.7%) reported that their health had suffered.
The 2.5 million informal caregivers who were in the paid labour force were likely to report that caregiving had had a significant impact on their jobs. Almost one in four (24.3%) reported missing full days of work and one in six (15.5%) reported reducing hours of work.
Compared to the total population, informal caregivers were more likely to report stress in their lives. Almost three in 10 (27.9%) reported their level of stress on most days to be either quite a bit or extremely stressful compared to fewer than one in four (23.2%) of the total population.13
As the demand for informal care grows, it seems unlikely that the burden of informal caregiving will be sustainable without additional support.
The federal government took the positive step in 2004/05 of introducing Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits for people who are away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and at risk of dying within 26 weeks.14 So far, however, this program has had limited uptake. In 2007/08, 5,706 new claims were paid.15 This pales in comparison to the 235,217 deaths that year (although not all of these would be candidates for this type of care).16
The federal government should implement measures within its jurisdiction, such as the use of tax credits, to support informal caregivers.
Increasing Access to Palliative Care at the End of Life
The Senate of Canada, and Senator Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided exemplary leadership over the last 15 years in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. The Senator's 2005 report Still Not There noted that only an estimated 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care and that for children the figure drops even further to just over 3%.17 The 2005 report repeated the 1995 call for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. To date, palliative care in Canada has primarily centred on services for those dying with cancer. However, cancer accounts for less than one-third (30%) of deaths in Canada.
Diseases at the end of life, such as dementia and multiple chronic conditions, are expected to become much more prevalent in the years ahead. The demand for quality end-of-life care is certain to increase as the baby boom generation ages. There will be an estimated 40% more deaths a year by 2020. While the proportion of Canadians dying in hospital has been decreasing over the past decade, many more Canadians would undoubtedly prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of their lives than current capacity will permit.
In the 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers built on their 2003 Accord by agreeing to provide first dollar coverage for certain home care services by 2006, including end-of-life care for case management, nursing, palliative-specific pharmaceuticals and personal care at the end of life. Seven years later we have no comprehensive picture of the availability of end-of-life care across Canada.
The Health Council of Canada's last detailed reporting on the implementation of the 2003 Accord was in 2006. At that time, the only province to report comprehensive end-of-life care was British Columbia.18 For most other jurisdictions, end-of-life care was discussed under "next steps." Since then, the Health Council has ceased comprehensive reporting on the Accord.
In the 2007 National Physician Survey, doctors across Canada were asked to rate the accessibility of the range of services for their patients. Just one in three (32%) rated access to palliative care services as either excellent or very good.19
In 2006, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Home Care Association jointly issued a 35-point "gold standard" for palliative home care, covering the areas of case management, nursing care, pharmaceuticals and personal care, which they commended to governments.20
In its April 2009 report, the Special Senate Committee on Aging recommended a federally funded national partnership with provinces, territories and community organizations to promote integrated, quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, the application of gold standards in palliative home care to veterans, First Nations and Inuit, and federal inmates, and renewed research funding for palliative care.21
In 2010, the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCC), of which the CMA is a member, released its Blueprint for Action 2010 to 2020. The four priorities are:
* Ensure all Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative end-of-life care;
* Provide more support for family caregivers;
* Improve the quality and consistency of hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada; and
* Encourage Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life.22
This blueprint embodies the sound ideas that have emerged over the past decade.
In June 2010, Senator Carstairs released her latest report Raising the Bar, which, while acknowledging some of the achievements that have been made in palliative care, repeats her previous calls for a national role and active engagement of the federal government.23
A wide range of stakeholders either have, or should have, a significant stake in the issue of palliative care. They include patients and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, caregivers (both formal and informal), the institutional and community health sectors, and the employer/business community.
The CMA urges the federal government to collaborate with the provincial and territorial governments to convene a national conference in 2011 to assess the state of palliative care in Canada.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. Catalogue no. 91-520-X. Ottawa. Minister of Industry, 2010.
2 Canadian Medical Association. 10th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2010/report_card/2010-National-Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
4 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers' action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federation. July 30, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/850098004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
5 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
6 Health Canada. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
7 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual Conference of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. September 4, 2008. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
8 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers taking action on pharmaceuticals. June 18, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo09/850114004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
9 Council of the Federation. Premiers protecting Canada's health care systems. http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/pdfs/PremiersProtectingCanadasHealthCareSystem.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. P/T health Ministers work together to advance common issues. September 13, 2010. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/860578004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
11 Canadian Medical Association. 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2009/report_card/Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
12Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rising tide: the impact of dementia on Canadian society. http://www.alzheimer.ca/docs/RisingTide/Rising%20Tide_Full%20Report_Eng_FINAL_Secured%20version.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
13 Statistics Canada. 2007 General Social Survey: Care tables. Catalogue no. 89-633-X. Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2009.
14Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Information for health care professionals: EI Compassionate Care. http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/publications_resources/health_care/ei_ccb.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
15 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Table 2.12 Compassionate care benefits. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/employment/ei/reports/eimar_2009/annex/annex2_12.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
16 Statistics Canada. Deaths 2007. The Daily, Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
17 Carstairs S. Still not there. Quality end-of-life care: a status report. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Still%20Not%20There%20June%202005.pdf. Accessed 09/24/09.
18 Health Council of Canada. Jursdictional tables on health care renewal. Companion document to Health care renewal in Canada Measuring up? Annual report to Canadians 2006. Toronto, ON, 2007
19 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian Medical Association. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2007. Q25a. Please rate the accessibility of the following for your patients. http://www.nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/nps/2007_Survey/Results/ENG/National/pdf/Q25/Q25aALL.only_NON.CORE.only.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
20 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Canadian Home Care Association. The pan-Canadian gold standard for palliative home care. http://www.chpca.net/resource_doc_library/pan-cdn_gold_standards/Gold_Standards_Palliative_Home_Care.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
21 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. April 2009. http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/rep-e/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
22 Quality End -of-life Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2020. http://www.chpca.net/qelccc/information_and_resources/Blueprint_for_Action_2010_to_2020_April_2010.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
23Carstairs S. Raising the bar: a roadmap for the future of palliative care in Canada. June 2010. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Raising%20the%20Bar%20June%202010%20(2).pdf. Accessed 09/29/10.
The Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) pre-budget submission is based on the premise that healthier Canadians are more productive Canadians. It also recognizes that the delivery of quality health care, in a timely manner, is paramount and is not mutually exclusive of any productivity agenda. With the recent release of its Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change That Works. Care That Lasts. policy document, the CMA declared its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. Physicians are reaching out to the Canadian public, opinion and business leaders, governments, interested parties and stakeholders to find ways to improve our health care system and to make sure that the upcoming reforms will focus on better serving patients.
Canada's health care system cannot continue on its current path, especially as pressure grows from an aging population. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. We must work together toward a common vision of what we aspire for our health care system.
The CMA commends the federal government for publicly stating it will honour its previous commitment of a 6% annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer through to 2014. This sustained predictable funding has brought some long-term stability to the publicly financed health care sector. However, the CMA believes that the health care system must be capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressure. Capacity and innovation strategies need to be developed and implemented to meet emerging health necessities.
In this brief, the CMA identifies a number of key issues related to health human resources and infrastructure that require immediate attention if the Canadian economy is to retain its competitive position in the global economy. Pressure is mounting on the system and there is a need to move beyond data collection to interdisciplinary collaboration. Including health care providers in the decision-making process would lead to better health public policy decisions, and result in much needed pan-Canadian health human resource planning. By making strategic direct investments in health human resources, public health and retirement savings, the federal government would retain its leadership role and contribute to the sustainability of a patient-centred health care system.
Health care's contribution: A more productive and innovative economy
The health care system in Canada employs over a million people, or 7.5% of the labour force. In 2009, Canada invested $183 billion in health care, representing 11.9% of our GDP. The benefits of health care investments not only contribute to a higher quality of life for all Canadians, but the economic multiplier effect of the initial investment is estimated to create an additional $92 billion in economic activity, such as in the high technology sector, financial services and R&D jobs.i Further federal investments in the health care system contribute to ensuring a more productive and innovative economy.
Better Health, Improved Productivity
The Conference Board of Canadaii, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) iii, the World Health Organizationiv, the Commonwealth Fundv, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policyvi all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" as well as efficiency. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better. We know that investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
Our proposals are informed by regular consultations with our 72,000 physician members and reflect what they believe are the most pressing gaps that exist in our health care system today. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians, but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come.
* Please note that the sum of the following recommendations would add less than 0.5% to the current $25 billion Canada Health Transfer that is committed to the provinces.
Recommendations for the 2011 Federal Budget:
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
1. The federal government should fulfill the balance of its 2008 election promisevii of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
2. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
3. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
4. The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crises.
C. Improving retirement savings options for the self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
5. The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
6. The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
7. The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists and further waits for advanced diagnostics and treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada and the lack of long-term pan-Canadian planning to ensure needs are met.
Canada ranks 26th of 30 OECD member countries in physician-to-population ratio. The lack of physicians in Canada puts the system under pressure and the impact of this is being felt by patients across the country. A Centre for Spatial Economics studyviiicommissioned by the CMA, found that the Canadian economy is expected to lose $4.7 billion in 2010, as a result of excessive wait times for just four procedures: joint replacements, MRIs, coronary artery bypass surgery and cataract surgery. When people wait too long for care businesses face increased human resource costs to replace lost or affected employees. There is a loss in output and especially productivity. The reduction in output would lower federal and provincial government revenues in 2010 by $1.8 billion. The econometric model in the report used to calculate these costs also estimates that to cut wait times to government recommended benchmarks would require a $586 million investment or just 2% of the current Canada Health Transfer. This investment would boost GDP by $6.2 billion.
The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, and other health professionals are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside Canada.
The CMA commends the federal government for recently announcing the Northern and Remote Family Medicine Residency Program in Manitoba, which constitutes an investment of just over $6.9 million. The program will provide extensive medical training for 15 additional family medicine residents over the next four years. We urge the government to build on this announcement and honour its full commitment. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working abroad, including approximately 9,000 Canadian-trained physicians. We know that many of the physicians who do come back to Canada are of relatively young age, meaning that they have significant practice life left. While a minority of these physicians return on their own, many more can be repatriated in the short term through a relatively small but focussed effort by the federal government, led by a secretariat within Health Canada.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promiseix of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the Public Health Agency of Canada should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." Seven years later, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system.
Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. During the H1N1 outbreak, real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Greater adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care and better public health electronic health records (EHRs), with the ability to link systems, will augment existing surveillance capacity and are essential to a pan-Canadian system. International strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could provide annual system-wide savings of $6.1 billion. A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded their pre-existing constrained resources. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crises eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crisis.
C. Improved retirement savings options for self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
With the aging Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Of keen interest to the medical profession are measures to help self-employed Canadians save for their retirement. Physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older. Self-employed physicians, like many other self-employed professionals, are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes them more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehiclesx. The recent economic downturn has shown that volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short-and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to sell at a low price.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report, Mr. Mintz wrote that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits and the government should consider raising these limits.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
According to Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the population (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to between 23% and 25% by 2031xi. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act (CHA) first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs. These needs are an important part of the retirement picture as the federal government considers options for ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system.
Additional information is contained in CMA's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance during its study on Retirement Income Security of Canadians (May 13, 2010).
Recommendation 6: The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than a million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities, and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers. Canada lags behind several countries, including the U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S. in terms of supporting informal caregivers.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
The CMA encourages the federal government to consider the recommendation found in the report entitled; Raising the Bar:A Roadmap for the Future of Palliative Care in Canada supported by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.
The recommendations contained in the CMA's pre-budget submission represent our priority recommendations for federal investments that will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come. As the federal government's commitment to the provinces through the 2004 Health Care Accord expires in 2014, it is imperative that investments are made that not only provide better care but are also sustainable for our country's economy.
Appendix Table 1
i The additional economic activity generated by the health care sector is based on a conservative 1.5 multiplier. The CMA is pursuing precise estimates of the benefits of health care investments in Canada. Please see:
Economic Footprint of Health Care Services in Canada Prepared for: Canadian Medical Association by Carl Sonnen
with Natalie Rylska Informetrica limited January 2007 In economics, the multiplier effect or spending multiplier is the idea that an initial amount of spending (usually by the government) leads to increased consumption spending and so results in an increase in national income greater than the initial amount of spending. The existence of a multiplier effect was initially proposed by Richard Kahn in 1930 and published in 1931. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_multiplier Snowdon, Brian and Howard R. Vane. Modern macroeconomics: its origins, development and current state. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005. ISBNS 1845422082, 9781845422080. p. 61.
ii How Canada Performs 2008: A Report Card on Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
iii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
iv World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.
v Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Davis, Schoen, Schoenbaum, Doty, Holmgren, Kriss, Shea
vi Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008, Health Consumer Powerhouse, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, FC Policy Series No. 38 see:www.fcpp.org/pdf/ECHCI2008finalJanuary202008.pdf
vii Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
viii The economic cost of wait times in Canada, the Centre for Spatial Economics, July 2010.
ix Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
x A more detailed outline of the issues surrounding pension reform can e found in CMA's Submission on Pension Reform Backgrounder for the Standing Committee on Finance, May 13, 2010. www.cma/submissions-to-government
xi Statistics Canada. Populations projections. The Daily, Thursday, December 15, 2005.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submits this brief to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs for consideration as part of its study on Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018.
The CMA unites physicians on national, pan-Canadian health and medical matters. As the national advocacy organization representing physicians and the medical profession, the CMA engages with provincial/territorial governments on pan-Canadian health and health care priorities.
As outlined in this submission, the CMA supports the position of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in recommending that Schedule 1 of Bill 47 be amended to strike down the proposed new Section 50(6) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000. This section proposes to reinstate an employer’s ability to require an employee to provide a sick note for short leaves of absence because of personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
Ontario is currently a national leader on sick notes
In 2018, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada to withdraw the ability of employers to require employees to provide sick notes for short medical leaves because of illnesses such as a cold or flu. This legislative change aligned with the CMA’s policy position1 and was strongly supported by the medical and health policy community.
An emerging pan-Canadian concern about the use of sick notes
As health systems across Canada continue to grapple with the need to be more efficient, the use of sick notes for short leaves as a human resources tool to manage employee absenteeism has drawn increasing criticism in recent years. In addition to Ontario’s leadership, here are a few recent cases that demonstrate the emerging concern about the use of sick notes for short leaves:
In 2016, proposed legislation to end the practice was tabled in the Manitoba legislature.2
The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and Doctors Nova Scotia have been vocal opponents of sick notes for short leaves, characterizing them as a strain on the health care system.3,4
The University of Alberta and Queen’s University have both formally adopted “no sick note” policies for exams.5,6
The report of Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review summarized stakeholder comments about sick notes, describing them as “costly, very often result from a telephone consultation and repeat what the physician is told by the patient, and which are of very little value to the employer.”7
Ontario’s action in 2018 to remove the ability of employers to require sick notes, in response to the real challenges posed by this practice, was meaningful and demonstrated leadership in the national context.
The requirement to obtain sick notes negatively affects patients and the public
By walking back this advancement, Ontario risks reintroducing a needless inefficiency and strain on the health system, health care providers, their patients and families. For patients, having to produce a sick note for an
employer following a short illness-related leave could represent an unfair economic impact. Individuals who do not receive paid sick days may face the added burden of covering the cost of obtaining a sick note as well as related transportation fees in addition to losing their daily wage. This scenario illustrates an unfair socioeconomic impact of the proposal to reinstate employers’ ability to require sick notes.
In representing the voice of Canada’s doctors, the CMA would be remiss not to mention the need for individuals who are ill to stay home, rest and recover. In addition to adding a physical strain on patients who are ill, the requirement for employees who are ill to get a sick note, may also contribute to the spread of viruses and infection. Allowing employers to require sick notes may also contribute to the spread of illness as employees may choose to forego the personal financial impact, and difficulty to secure an appointment, and simply go to work sick.
Reinstating sick notes contradicts the government’s commitment to end hallway medicine
It is important to consider these potential negative consequences in the context of the government’s commitment to “end hallway medicine.” If the proposal to reintroduce the ability of employers to require sick notes for short medical leaves is adopted, the government will be introducing an impediment to meeting its core health care commitment.
Reinstating sick notes would increase the administrative burden on physicians
Finally, as the national organization representing the medical profession in Canada, the CMA is concerned about how this proposal, if implemented, may negatively affect physician health and wellness. The CMA recently released a new baseline survey, CMA National Physician Health Survey: A National Snapshot, that reveals physician health is a growing concern.8 While the survey found that 82% of physicians and residents reported high resilience, a concerning one in four respondents reported experiencing high levels of burnout.
How are these findings relevant to the proposed new Section 50(6) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000? Paperwork and administrative burden are routinely found to rank as a key contributor to physician burnout.9 While a certain level of paperwork and administrative responsibility is to be expected, health system and policy decision-makers must avoid introducing an unnecessary burden in our health care system.
Conclusion: Remove Section 50(6) from Schedule 1 of Bill 47
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide this submission for consideration by the committee in its study of Bill 47. The committee has an important opportunity to respond to the real challenges associated with sick notes for short medical leaves by ensuring that Section 50(6) in Schedule 1 is not implemented as part of Bill 47.
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Third-Party Forms (Update 2017). Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD17-02.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
2 Bill 202. The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Sick Notes). Winnipeg: Queen’s Printer for the Province of Manitoba; 2016. Available: https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-5/pdf/b202.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
3 CBC News. Sick notes required by employers a strain on system, says NLMA. 2018 May 30. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/employer-required-sick-notes-unnecessary-says-nlma-1.4682899
4 CBC News. No more sick notes from workers, pleads Doctors Nova Scotia. 2014 Jan 10. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/no-more-sick-notes-from-workers-pleads-doctors-nova-scotia-1.2491526 (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
5 University of Alberta University Health Centre. Exam deferrals. Edmonton: University of Alberta; 2018. Available: www.ualberta.ca/services/health-centre/exam-deferrals (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
6 Queen’s University Student Wellness Services. Sick notes. Kingston: Queen’s University; 2018. Available: www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/health-services/services-offered/sick-notes (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
7 Ministry of Labour. The Changing Workplaces Review: An Agenda for Workplace Rights. Final Report. Toronto: Ministry of Labour; 2017 May. Available: https://files.ontario.ca/books/mol_changing_workplace_report_eng_2_0.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
8 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). One in four Canadian physicians report burnout [media release]. Ottawa: The Association; 2018 Oct 10. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Pages/One-in-four-Canadian-physicians-report-burnout-.aspx (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
9 Leslie C. The burden of paperwork. Med Post 2018 Apr.
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