On behalf of 83,000 physician members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health study on the Development of a National Pharmacare Program. Recognizing that the term “pharmacare” is used in different contexts, for the purposes of this brief, pharmacare is defined as a program whereby Canadians have comparable access to medically necessary prescription medications, irrespective of their ability to pay, wherever they live in Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients.
On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease/injury prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2014, of the estimated $28.8 billion spent in Canada on prescription medications (representing 13.4% of total health spending), governmentsi accounted for 42.0%, and private insurers and out-of-pocket (OOP) payment accounted for 35.8% and 22.2% respectively.1
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and over 60 national medical organizations.
i Includes federal. Social security fund and provincial/territorial spending
1 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Prescribed drug spending in Canada, 2013: a focus on public drug programs. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Prescribed%20Drug%20Spending%20in%20Canada_2014_EN.pdf. Accessed 05/15/16.
2 Royal Commission on Health Services. Report Volume One. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Database 1975 to 2015. Table D 3.1.1-D3.13.1 https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/08/16.
4 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 203-0022 Survey of household spending (SHS), household spending, Canada, regions and provinces, by household income quintile. Accessed 05/18/16.
5 Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada. 2014-15 Report Card on Cancer in Canada. http://www.canceradvocacy.ca/reportcard/2014/Report%20Card%20on%20Cancer%20in%20Canada%202014-2015.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
6 Canadian Cancer Society. Cancer drug access for Canadians. http://www.colorectal-cancer.ca/IMG/pdf/cancer_drug_access_report_en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
7Schoen C, Osborn R, Squires D, Doty M. Access, affordability, and insurance complexity are often worse in the United States compared to ten other countries. Health Affairs 2013;32(12):2205-15.
8 Himmelstein D, Woolhandler S, Sarra J, Guyatt G. Health issues and health care expenses in Canadian bankruptices and insolvencies. International Journal of Health Services 2014;44(1):7-23.
9 Law M, Cheng L, Dhalla I, Heard D, Morgan S. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ 2012. 184)3):297-302.
10 Tamblyn R, Eguale T, Huang A, Winslade N, Doran P. The incidence and determinants of primary nonadherence with prescribed medication in primary care. Ann Inter Med 2014;160:441-50.
Pharmacare is clearly part of the unfinished business of Medicare. Numerous authors have pointed out that Canada is the only developed country that does not include prescription medications as part of its universal health program. Table 1 below shows how Canada compares with the 22 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the proportion of public spending for major categories of health expenditure in 2012.
Table 1. Public spending as % of total spending: Major health spending categories, Canada and 22 OECD country average, 2012
% Public Spending
Prescription Drugs Hospitals Doctors’ Offices
Canada 42 91 99
OECD Average 70 88 72
Source: OECD.Stat, Doctors’ offices figure for Sweden is 2009
In the case of prescription medications, Canada was more than one-third (40%) below the OECD average.
The Patchwork Quilt of Public-Private Coverage
In 1964 the Hall Commission recommended 50/50 cost-sharing between the federal and provincial governments toward the establishment of a prescription drug program, with a $1.00 charge for each prescription. At the time, prescription medications represented 6.5% of spending on personal health services.2 This recommendation was not implemented. It might be further added that the Hall report contained 25 forward-looking recommendations on pharmaceuticals that remain current to this day, including bulk purchasing, generic substitution and a national formulary.2
As a result of the lack of inclusion of prescription medications in Medicare, there is wide variation today in public per capita spending on prescription drugs across the provinces. It may be seen in Table 2 that, for 2014, CIHI has estimated that public per capita expenditure ranged from $219 in British Columbia and $255 in Prince Edward
Island (PE) to $369 in Saskatchewan and $437 in Quebec.3 CIHI does not provide estimates of private per capita prescription drug spending (private insurance plus OOP) below the national level.
Table 2: Spending on prescription drugs: Selected indicators by province and territory, 2014
Public per capita spendinga
Average household out-of-pocketc $
a CIHI, National Health Expenditure Database 1975-2015, includes all public funding sources
b Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
c Statistics Canada, Survey of Household Spending, 2014
d Provincial/territorial average
Table 2 also shows the significant role of private insurance in every region of Canada. Data provided by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, shown in Column 3 of Table 2, show that private health insurance companies paid out $10.2 billion for prescription drug claims in 2014, representing 83% of the $12.3 billion paid for by governments. In three provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — the amount paid by private insurance exceeds that paid by governments. Table 2 also shows that there is wide variation in average household OOP spending on prescription drugs, according to Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending (SHS). In 2014 this ranged from a low of $324 in Ontario to a high of $516 in PE and Manitoba.4
Even more striking variation is evident when looking at household out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs by income quintile (detailed data not shown). According to the 2014 SHS the poorest one-fifth (lowest income quintile) of PE households spent more than twice as much ($645) OOP on prescription drugs than the poorest one-fifth in Ontario ($300).4 Aside from overall differences in public spending there are also differences in which medications are covered, particularly in the case of cancer drugs. The Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada reported in 2014 that four provinces have fully funded access to cancer medications taken at home. In Ontario and Atlantic Canada however, cancer drugs that must be taken in a hospital setting and are on the provincial formulary are fully funded by the provincial government; if the drug is taken outside of hospital (oral or injectable), the patient and family may have to pay significant costs out-of-pocket.5 More generally the Canadian Cancer Society has reported that persons moving from one province to another may find that a medication covered in their former province may not be covered in the new one. 6
Other sources confirm that prescription medication spending is an issue for many Canadians. On the Commonwealth Fund’s 2013 International Health Policy Survey, 8% of the Canadian respondents said that they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.7 Himmelstein et al. reported on a survey of Canadians who experienced bankruptcy between 2008 and 2010. They found that 74.5% of the respondents who had had a medical bill within the last two years reported that prescription drugs was their biggest medical expense.8
At least two Canadian studies have documented the impact that out-of-pocket costs, lack of insurance and low income have on non-adherenceii to prescription regimens. Law et al. examined cost-related non-adherence in the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey and found that those without drug insurance were more than four times as likely to report non-adherence than those with insurance. The predicted rate of non-adherence among those with high household incomes and drug insurance was almost 10 times as high as that among those with low incomes and no insurance (35.6% vs. 3.6%).9 Based on a large-scale study of the incidence of primary non-adherence (defined as not filing a new prescription within nine months) in a group of some 70,000 Quebec patients, Tamblyn et al. reported that there was a 63% reduction in the odds of non-adherence among those with free medication over those with the maximum level of co-payment. They also reported that the odds of non-adherence increased with the cost of the medication prescribed.10
ii Non-adherence can be defined as doing something to make a medication last longer or failing to fill or renew a prescription.
Previous Pharmacare Proposals
In a recent monograph Katherine Boothe has contrasted the development of national prescription medication programs in Australia and the United Kingdom with the failure to do so in Canada.11
11 Boothe K. Ideas and the pace of change: national pharmaceutical insurance in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.
12 National Forum on Health. Directions for a pharmaceutical policy in Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/renewal-renouv/1997-nfoh-fnss-v2/index-eng.php. Accessed 05/18/16.
13 National Forum on Health. Canada health action: building on the legacy. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 1997.
14 Bank of Canada. Inflation calculator. http://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/?page_moved=1. Accessed 05/18/16.
15 Statistics Canada. Table 051-0001 Estimates of population, by age group and sex for July 1, Canada, provinces and territories. Accessed 05/15/16.
16 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure database 1975 to 2015. Table C.3.1. Public health expenditure by use of funds, Canada, 1975 to 2015. https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/25/16.
17 Berry C. Voluntary medical insurance and prepayment. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965.
18 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1969. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer for Canada, 1969.
19 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1972. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1972.
20 Privy Council Office. Speech from the Throne to open the first session thirty-sixth Parliament of Canada. http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=information&sub=publications&doc=aarchives/sft-ddt/1997-eng.htm. Accessed 05/18/16.
21 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians – the federal role. Volume six: recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
22 Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Building on values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, 2002.
23 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers’ accord on health care renewal. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800039004_e1GTC-352011-6102.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
24 Council of the Federation. Premiers’ action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federalism. Communiqué July 30, 2004. http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/newsroom-2004/healtheng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
25 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800042005_e1JXB-342011-6611.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
26 National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy progress report. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
27 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Backgrounder: national pharmaceutical strategy decision points. http://www.scics.gc.ca/english/conferences.asp?a=viewdocument&id=112. Accessed 05/18/16.
28 Canada’s Premiers. The pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance: April 2016 Update. http://www.pmprovincesterritoires.ca/en/initiatives/358-pan-canadian-pharmaceutical-alliance. Accessed 05/18/16.
29 Canadian Medical Association. General Council Resolution GC15-C16, August 26, 2015.
30 Gagnon M. The economic case for universal pharmacare. 2010. https://s3.amazonaws.com/policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2010/09/Universal_Pharmacare.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
31 Gagnon M. A roadmap to a rational pharmacare policy in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, 2014.
32 Morgan S, Law M, Daw J, Abraham L, Martin D. Estimated cost of universal public coverage of prescription drugs in Canada. CMAJ. 2015 Apr 21;187(7):491-7. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.141564.
33 Morgan S, Martin D, Gagnon M, Mintzes B, Daw, J, Lexchin, J. Pharmacare 2020. The future of drug coverage in Canada. http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
34 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC15-C19, August 26, 2015.
35 Conference Board of Canada. Federal policy action to support the health care needs of Canada’s aging population. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/conference-board-rep-sept-2015-embargo-en.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
36 Government of the United Kingdom. Written statement to Parliament NHS charges from April 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nhs-charges-from-april-2016. Accessed 05/18/16.
37 Appleby J. Prescription charges: are they worth it? BMJ 2014;348:g3944 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g3944.
Among the several Canadian attempts that she describes, the most activity occurred in the decade following the National Forum on Health (NFH), which was struck in 1994 and reported in 1997. A NFH working group paper on pharmaceutical policy recommended first dollar coverage for prescription medications, but acknowledged that it could not occur overnight: “over time we propose to shift private funding on prescribed pharmaceuticals (estimated at $3.6 billion in 1994) to public funding”.12 The NFH included this recommendation in its final report, noting that “the absorption of currently operating plans by a public system may involve transfer of funding sources as well as administrative apparatus”.13
It is instructive to place the 1994 prescription drug expenditure cited by the NFH in today’s context. According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, the $6.5 billion in 1994 would have cost $9.5 billion in 2014.14 CIHI estimates that actual spending in 2014 was $28.7 billion1 – 203% above the level of 1994 spending, compared to population growth of 23% over the same time period.15 Annual prescription drug spending increases averaged 7.3% over the period, although they have averaged just over 1% since 2009. 16
A significant shift from private to public funding is not without precedent. A study prepared for the Hall Commission estimated that 9.6 million Canadians, representing 53% of the total population, had some form of not-for-profit or commercial insurance coverage for medical and/or surgical services in 1961.17 With the passage of the Medical Care Act in 1966 these plans were all displaced as the provinces joined Medicare. The funding shift did not occur overnight, although it did move quickly. In the first year, 1968/69, Ottawa paid out $33 million to the provinces pursuant to the Medical Care Act, which grew quickly to $181 million in 1969/70, and reaching $576.5 million in 1971/72.18,19
Since the 1997 NFH report the closest that the federal government has come to acting on pharmacare was a commitment in the 1997 Speech from the Throne to “develop a national plan, timetable and a fiscal framework for providing Canadians with better access to medically necessary drugs”, but nothing further was ever made public.20
Pharmacare was subsequently examined in two national studies, both of which recommended federal involvement in reimbursing “catastrophic” prescription drug expenditures above a threshold of household income. The Senate study on the State of the Health Care System in Canada, chaired by Michael Kirby, was authorized in March 2001 and the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, headed by Roy Romanow, was approved in April 2001. Both issued their final reports in 2002.
The Kirby plan was designed so as to avoid the necessity of eliminating existing private plans or the provincial/territorial public plans, not unlike the approach taken by Quebec in 1997. In the Kirby plan, in the case of public plans, personal prescription medication expenses for any family would be capped at 3% of total family income. The federal government would then pay 90% of prescription drug expenses in excess of $5,000. In the case of private plans, sponsors would have to agree to limit out-of-pocket costs to $1,500 per year, or 3% of family incomes, whichever was less. The federal government would then agree to pay 90% of drug costs in excess of $5,000 per year. Both public and private plans would be responsible for the difference between out-of-pocket costs and $5,000, and private plans would be encouraged to pool their risk. Kirby estimated that this plan would cost approximately $500 million per year.21
The Romanow Commission recommended a $1 billion Catastrophic Drug Transfer through which the federal government would reimburse 50% of the costs of provincial and territorial drug insurance plans above a threshold of $1,500 per person per year.22
The advantage of these proposals is that they are fully scalable. The federal government could adjust either the out-of-pocket household income threshold, the ceiling above which it would assume costs, or the percentage of costs that it would pay above the ceiling.
Following the Kirby and Romanow reports there was a back and forth exchange between the federal and provincial-territorial (PT) governments on a plan for catastrophic coverage. In their February 2003 Accord, First Ministers agreed to ensure that Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by March 2006.23 At their annual summer meeting in 2004 the Premiers later called on the federal government to “assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug program for all Canadians”, with compensation to Quebec for its drug program.24 In the September 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers directed health ministers to develop a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), including costing options for catastrophic coverage.25
A federal-provincial-territorial Ministerial Task Force on the NPS was struck and a progress report was issued in June 2006. The estimates of catastrophic spending were markedly higher than those of the Kirby and Romanow reports. Using a variable percentage of income threshold it estimated that, based on public plan costs, only catastrophic spending represented 42% of total prescription drug spending. If private plan costs were also considered, catastrophic spending would represent 55% of total prescription drug spending. This report proposed four options for catastrophic coverage with estimates for new public funding ranging from $1.4 to $4.7 billion.26 Although no account of the methods was provided it is evident that a significant proportion of existing plan costs were included in the estimates of catastrophic expenditure. At their September 2008 meeting, the PT health ministers called for a national standard for drug coverage not to exceed 5% of net income and for the federal government to share 50/50 in the estimated $5.03 billion cost.27
The uncertainty about the projected cost of a pharmacare plan resulting from widely varying estimates has doubtless contributed to a reluctance of governments to engage on advancing this issue.
At the PT level, there has been a concerted effort on price negotiations during the past few years through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) that was established in 2010. As of March 31, 2015, the pCPA reported that price reductions in generic and brand-name prescription medications result in annual savings of an estimated $490 million.28 The federal drug plans are now participating in the pCPA and the CMA has recommended that the pCPA should also invite the participation of private health insurance companies.29
The prospect of savings through lower prices has been foundational to two recent studies that have made the case that a single public payer pharmacare program with little or no co-payment is affordable.
The first was by Marc-André Gagnon in 2010. The proposal was developed on the basis of a review of cross-provincial and international practices in pharmaceutical policy. The review formed the basis of a set of 11 assumptions that were used to develop four scenarios that resulted in estimates of prescription drug cost savings over the 2008 baseline expenditure of $25.1 billion that ranged to $2.7 billion to $10.7 billion.30 In a 2014 update Gagnon estimated that a first dollar coverage program would save 10% to 41% of prescription drug costs, representing savings of as much as $11.4 billion annually on a 2012-13 base of $27.7 billion.31
Steve Morgan and colleagues (2015) have estimated that a universal public plan with small co-payments could reduce prescription drug spending by $7.3 billion.32 Subsequently, in Pharmacare 2020 Morgan et al. set out five recommendations calling for the implementation of a single payer system with a publicly accountable management agency by 2020.33
Taking a First Step Forward
At its 2015 annual meeting, the CMA adopted a policy resolution that supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive national pharmacare program.34 Reflecting on the experience of the past 40 years since the enactment of the Established Programs Financing Act in 1977 that eliminated 50:50 cost-sharing, it seems highly unlikely that the federal government would take on a new open-ended program in the health and social arena, cost-shared or not. However, notwithstanding the progress of the pCPA, we are unlikely to address the significant access gaps in prescription medication coverage without the involvement of the federal government. These are fiscally challenging times for both levels of government, with budget deficits expected for several years to come. As noted previously, the Kirby and Romanow proposals for a federal funding role in pharmacare are scalable.
In 2015 the CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to model the cost of covering prescription medication expenditure beyond a household spending threshold of $1,500 or 3% of gross household income, based on Statistics Canada’s 2013 Survey of Household Spending. The projected costs over the 2016 to 2020 are shown in Table 3 below.
The cost to the federal government of covering the entire amount above the ($1,500 – 3%) threshold would be $1.6 billion in 2016.35
Recommendation 1: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health request the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a detailed examination of the financial burden of prescription medication coverage across Canada and to develop costing options for a federal contribution to a national pharmacare program.
Recommendation 2: As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medications, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government establish a cost-shared program of coverage for prescription medications.
First dollar coverage?
The issue of co-payment arises in most discussions of pharmacare. Hall recommended a $1.00 prescription charge in 1964. In England, which does include prescription medications in the National Health Service (NHS), the current prescription charge is £8.40, although the government has previously noted that 90% of prescription items are provided free of charge.36 Appleby has noted however that the NHS’s in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have eliminated prescription charges.37One observational study of dispensing rates in Wales found that the overall impact of removing prescription charges was minimal.38 Table 4 shows the total volume of prescriptions dispensed in Scotland over the period 2009-2015, which straddles the removal of prescription charges on April 1, 2011. It indicates that percentage increases in the annual dispensing volume diminished after 2012 and the increase observed in 2015 was just 1.4%. It should be added, however, that patient charges accounted for less than 4% of Scotland’s dispensing expenditures in 2010.39 It will be interesting to see the results of further studies in these jurisdictions.
38 Cohen D, Alam M, Dunstan F, Myles S, Hughes D, Routledge P. Abolition of prescription copayments in Wales: an observational study on dispensing rates. Value in Health 2010;13(5):675-80.
39 ISD Scotland. Prescribing and medicines. Data tables. http://www.isdscotland.scot.nhs.uk/Health-Topics/Prescribing-and-Medicines/Publications/data-tables.asp?Co=Y. Accessed 05/15/16.
40 Canadian Medical Association. A prescription for optimal prescribing. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
41 Canadian Medical Association. Vision for e-prescribing; a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Associaiton and the Canadian Pharmacists Association. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-02.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
42 Department of Finance Canada. Growing the middle class. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2016/docs/plan/budget2016-en.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
Table 4 Prescription Dispensing in Scotland, 2009 – 2015
Year Number of Prescriptions % increase from previous year
2009 88.4 3.8
2010 91.0 3.0
2011 93.8 3.1
2012 96.6 3.0
2013 98.4 1.9
2014 100.6 2.2
2015 102.0 1.4
Source: annual tabulations - Remuneration and reimbursement details for all prescribing made in Scotland.39
Other Elements of a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy
It was noted previously that the Hall Report contained 25 recommendations on pharmaceuticals, and the 2004 Health Accord called for a 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. Two of the NPS points that the CMA would emphasize are the need to influence prescribing behaviour and the need to advance electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).
The CMA refers to the first of these points as “optimal prescribing” and defines it as the prescription of a medication that is: the most clinically appropriate for the patient’s condition; safe and effective; part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and the most cost-effective available to best meet the patient’s needs. Toward this end the CMA has identified principles and recommendations to promote optimal prescribing, including the need for current information on cost and cost-effectiveness.40
The CMA believes that e-prescribing has the potential to improve patient safety, to support clinical decision-making and medication management, and to increase awareness of cost and cost-effectiveness considerations. In 2012 the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association adopted a joint vision statement calling for e-prescribing to be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians by 2015.41 Clearly that date has come and gone and we are not there yet. The current state primarily consists of demonstration projects and “workarounds”. The CMA was pleased to see an amount of $50 million allocated to Canada Health Infoway in the 2016 federal budget to support the advancement of e-prescribing and telehomecare.42
Finally the CMA remains very concerned about ongoing shortages of prescription drugs. We would caution that whatever measures governments might take to implement a pharmacare program these must not exacerbate drug shortages.
Recommendation 3: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial health Ministers direct their officials to convene a working group on a comprehensive National Pharmaceuticals Strategy that will consult widely with stakeholders representing patients, prescribers, and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries to report with recommendations by spring 2017.
In conclusion, few would argue that prescription medications are less vital to the health and health care of Canadians than hospital and medical services. We would not have had the Medicare program that Canadians cherish today without the leadership and financial contribution of the federal government, and similarly without it now we will not have any form of a national pharmacare program.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to confirm its strong support for the federal government's health and social policy commitments, as identified in the ministerial mandate letters.
In this brief, the CMA outlines seven recommendations for meaningful and essential federal action to ensure Canada is prepared to meet the health care needs of its aging population. The CMA's recommendations are designed to be implemented in the 2016-17 fiscal year in order to deliver immediate support to the provinces and territories and directly to Canadians.
Immediate implementation of these recommendations is essential given the current and increasing shortages being experienced across the continuum of care in jurisdictions across Canada. In 2014, the CMA initiated a broad consultative initiative on the challenges in seniors care, as summarized in the report A Policy Framework to Guide a National Seniors Strategy for Canada. This report highlights the significant challenges currently being experienced in seniors care and emphasizes the need for increased federal engagement.
Finally, if implemented, the CMA's recommendations will contribute to the federal government's strategic commitments in health, notably the commitment to the development of a new Health Accord.
1) Demographic Imperative for Increased Federal Engagement in Health
Canada is a nation on the threshold of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In 2015, for the first time in Canada's history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumbered those under the age of 15 years.1 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.2
It is increasingly being recognized that the projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments.3 Today, while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest National Health Expenditures report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) projects that health spending in 2015 was to exceed $219 billion, or 10.9% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).6 To better understand the significance of health spending in the national context, consider that total federal program spending is 13.4% of GDP.7 Finally, health budgets are now averaging 38% of provincial and territorial global budgets.8 Alarmingly, the latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories, who "cannot meet the challenges of population aging under current policy."9
Taken together, the indicators summarized above establish a clear imperative and national interest for greater federal engagement, leadership and support for the provision of health care in Canada.
2) Responses to Pre-Budget Consultation Questions
Question 1: How can we better support our middle class?
A) Federal Action to Help Reduce the Cost of Prescription Medication
The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to support measures aimed at reducing the cost of prescription medication in Canada. A key initiative underway is the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance led by the provinces and territories. The CMA supports the federal government's recent announcement that it will partner with the provinces and territories as part of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. In light of the fact that the majority of working age Canadians have coverage for prescription medication through private insurers10, the CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
Prescription medication has a critical role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.11 It is an unfortunate reality that the affordability of prescription medication has emerged as a key barrier to access to care for many Canadians.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.12 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.13 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.14
The CMA has long called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial harm and to reduce the cost barriers of treatment. As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.57 billion in 2016-17 (Table 1).
Table 1: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)15
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
B) Deliver Immediate Federal Support to Canada's Unpaid Caregivers
There are approximately 8.1 million Canadians serving as informal, unpaid caregivers with a critical role in Canada's health and social sector.16 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007, informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.17 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.18 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent receive any form of government support.19 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance, while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.20
It is clear that Canadian caregivers require more support. As a first step, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure would cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.21
C) Implement a new Home Care Innovation Fund
The CMA strongly supports the federal government's significant commitment to deliver more and better home care services, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Health.
Accessible, integrated home care has an important role in Canada's health sector, including addressing alternate level of care (ALC) patients waiting in hospital for home care or long-term care. As highlighted by CIHI, the majority of the almost 1 million Canadians receiving home care are aged 65 or older.22 As population aging progresses, demand for home care can be expected to increase.
Despite its importance, it is widely recognized that there are shortages across the home care sector.23 While there are innovations occurring in the sector, financing is a key barrier to scaling up and expanding services. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund. As outlined in the Liberal Party of Canada's election platform, the CMA recommends that the fund deliver $3 billion over four years, including $400 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Question 2: What infrastructure needs can best help grow the economy...and meet your priorities locally?
Deliver Federal Investment to the Long-term Care Sector as part of Social Infrastructure
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.24
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. More than 50% of ALC patients are in these hospital beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care beds25. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an inefficiency cost to the health care system of $2.3 billion a year.26
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been unduly excluded from federal investment in infrastructure, namely the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 2), if implemented on a cost-share basis.
Table 2: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)27
Forecasted shortage in long term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
In addition to improved delivery of health care resources, capital investment in the long-term care sector would provide an important contribution to economic growth. According to previous estimates by the Conference Board of Canada, the capital investment needed to meet the gaps from 2013 to 2047 would yield direct economic benefits on an annual basis that include $1.23 billion contribution to GDP and 14,141 high value jobs during the capital investment phase and $637 million contribution to GDP and 11,604 high value jobs during the facility operation phase (based on an average annual capital investment).
Question 3: How can we create economic growth, protect the environment, and meet local priorities while ensuring that the most vulnerable don't get left behind?
Deliver new Funding to Support the Provinces and Territories in Meeting Seniors Care Needs
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are struggling to meet health care needs in light of the demographic shift. This past July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
It is recognized that as an equal per-capita based transfer, the CHT does not currently account for population segments with increased health needs, specifically seniors. The CMA was pleased that this issue was recognized by the Prime Minister in his letter last spring to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
However, the CMA is concerned that an approach to modify the transfer formula would potentially delay the delivery of federal support to meet the needs of an aging population. As such, rather than the transfer formula, the CMA has developed an approach that delivers support to jurisdictions endeavoring to meet the needs of their aging populations while respecting the transfer arrangement already in place.
The CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to calculate the amount for the top-up to the CHT using a needs-based projection. The amount of the top-up for each jurisdiction is based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address the health needs of the aging population, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 3). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 3: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)28
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Question 4: Are the Government's new priorities and initiatives realistic; will they help grow the economy?
Ensure Tax Equity for Canada's Medical Professionals is Maintained
Among the federal government's commitments is the objective to decrease the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%. The CMA supports this commitment to support small businesses, such as medical practices, in recognition of the significant challenges facing this sector. However, it is not clear whether as part of this commitment the federal government intends to alter the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework. The federal government's framing of this commitment, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, has led to confusion and concern.
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country's knowledge economy. Canadian physicians are directly or indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities, ensuring that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible.
In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners. As self-employed small business owners, they typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, they are responsible for these benefits for their employees.
In addition to managing the many costs associated with running a medical practice, Canadian physicians must manage challenges not faced by many other small businesses. As highly-skilled professionals, physicians typically enter the workforce with significant debt levels and at a later stage in life. For some, entering practice after training requires significant investment in a clinic or a practice.
Finally, it is important to recognize that physicians cannot pass on the increased costs introduced by governments, such as changes to the CCPC framework, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
For a significant proportion of Canada's physicians, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for individuals taking on significant personal financial burden and liability as part of our public health care system. As well, in many cases, practices would not make economic sense if the provisions of the CCPC regime were not in place. Given the importance of the CCPC framework to medical practice, changes to this framework have the potential to yield unintended consequences in health resources, including the possibility of reduced access to much needed care.
The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The CMA recognizes that the federal government must grapple with an uncertain economic forecast and is prioritizing measures that will support economic growth. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the seven recommendations outlined in this submission as part of these efforts. In addition to making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada's aging population, these recommendations will mitigate the impacts of economic pressures on individuals as well as jurisdictions. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication; this would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication.
2. The CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
3. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable.
4. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund.
5. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
6. The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
7. The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily, Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.htm
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Conference Board of Canada. A difficult road ahead: Canada's economic and fiscal prospects. Available: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/conf_bd_difficultroadahead_aug_2014.pdf.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
7 Finance Canada. Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections 2015. http://www.budget.gc.ca/efp-peb/2015/pub/efp-peb-15-en.pdf.
8 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
9 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
10 IBM for the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. Pan Canadian Drugs Negotiations Report. Available at: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/pcpa/pan_canadian_drugs_negotiations_report_march22_2014.pdf .
11 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
12 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
13 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
14 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
15 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
16 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
17 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
18 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. 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. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
19 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
21 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
22 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf.
23 CMA. A policy framework to guide a national seniors strategy for Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/gc2015/policy-framework-to-guide-seniors_en.pdf.
24 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
25 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf
26 CMA. CMA Submission: The need for health infrastructure in Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Health-Infrastructure_en.pdf.
28 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.