Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Maura Ricketts and I am the Director of Public Health for the Canadian Medical Association. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this Committee today as part of your study of clinical trials and drug approvals.
The CMA represents more than 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with all Canadians, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Because prescription drugs are an essential component of health care, the CMA has developed a considerable body of policy on pharmaceutical issues. This work can be distilled into one fundamental principle: The CMA believes that our country requires a National Pharmaceutical Strategy to ensure every individual has timely access to safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs. Despite the commitment in the 2004 Health Accord to the creation of such a strategy, Canadians continue to wait for government leadership on this issue. Drugs replace more costly and invasive medical interventions. They are an essential tool in the physician's tool box.
To ensure safety and effectiveness, the CMA also believes in the need for a strong, unbiased, evidence-based system for research and approval. This is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
In evaluating whether to prescribe a new drug to a patient, a physician will weigh several factors: Does this product offer any benefits over what I am prescribing now? Will it be more effective? Will this new drug be safer? Will it solve any tricky clinical problems, such as drug interactions, or reduce side effects that prevent a medication from being used properly? The physician may also ask: What is the evidence that this new drug is an improvement? Can I trust the evidence? Where can I get access to accurate, reliable information and data on this drug?
Pre-approval drug research must provide answers to these fundamental questions.
I will now focus on two particular issues of concern to practising physicians with regard to clinical trials:
* First, what is being compared to what? Clinical trials may be sufficient for Health Canada's regulatory purposes, but may provide only part of the information a physician needs. For example, is a new cholesterol drug effective on all patients, or only on some of them? Would other patients derive equal benefit from an already existing drug, or from a lifestyle change such as diet or exercise? The CMA recommends that researchers compare a new product to other drugs on the market - and to other interventions, as well.
* Second, is timely, reliable and objective information available on all clinical trial results, not just the positive ones? Canadians need to be informed when a drug has performed disappointingly in trials if they are to make informed decisions about their health care. The CMA, therefore, recommends the results of all clinical trials, not just those with positive results, be made available to health professionals and the public.
I would like to add that the current documentation is not very user-friendly. We recommend that Health Canada prepare summaries of the most essential data, not only for physicians, but for all Canadians to be able to access this information.
The Drug Approval Process
Turning now to the drug approval process, the CMA believes the following principles should apply:
* The primary criteria for approval should be whether the drug improves health outcomes and offers an improvement over products currently on the market.
* The review process should be as timely as is consistent with ensuring optimal health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
* The review process should be impartial and founded on the best available scientific evidence.
* The review process should be open and transparent.
* Finally, approval of a drug is not an endpoint, but rather one step in that drug's life cycle. It is not uncommon to identify serious safety hazards after a drug has been approved, because that's when it first goes into wide use. It is important that the approval process be complemented by a rigorous and vigilant post-market surveillance process. We look forward to presenting our recommendations on this subject to your Committee at a future session.
Before closing, I would like to briefly address two other matters:
First, the issue of drugs for rare disorders. We are aware that the current clinical trial and approval processes, which place a high value on studies with large population samples, may be unable to adequately capture the value of drugs that are prescribed to only a handful of people. Some patient groups active in the area of rare disorders, such as the Canadian MPS Society and Alpha-1 Canada, have shared their concerns about this with us. These groups, along with the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, have been advocating for years for a fair process for evaluating drugs for rare diseases. Because Canada doesn't have a rare disorders strategy, Canadian patients have access to fewer therapies than patients in other developed countries. The issue of how to approve drugs for rare disorders merits closer consideration. The CMA recommends that the federal government develop a policy on drugs for rare disorders that encourages their development, call for ongoing evaluation of their effectiveness, and ensures fairness so that all patients who might benefit have reasonable access to them.
The second matter is that Health Canada's review process provides little guidance on another question which physicians are increasingly asking: Can my patient afford this drug? It is not sufficient that the Common Drug Review conducts reviews of the cost effectiveness of drugs and that provincial/territorial formularies undertake similar studies, as the fact remains that cost is one of the factors physicians need to consider when deciding whether to prescribe a new drug. This is especially true in the case of new biologics, which are very expensive. Canadian doctors believe that the difficulty of making effective prescribing decisions without information about cost needs to be overcome. This only underscores the necessity of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for consideration as part of its study on drug supply in Canada. The severe impact of the disruption in production at one pharmaceutical company's manufacturing facility has demonstrated the significant shortcomings in how drug shortages are managed in Canada. This submission focuses on what is needed to ensure Canada's health care system delivers patient-centred care.
In order to deliver the best possible care to patients, physicians require timely, comprehensive and accurate information about current and anticipated drug supply shocks and constraints. With this objective in mind, we have provided input to the government and to the pharmaceutical industries. Further, Canada requires an uninterrupted supply of medically necessary medication for patients.
Impacts on Patients and the Health Care System
Canada's doctors are deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of drugs that they and their patients are encountering. Prescription drugs can prevent serious disease, reduce hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. Pharmaceuticals benefit the health care system by reducing costs in other areas such as hospital stays and disability payments. Disruptions in the supply of pharmaceuticals can impact patient care, patient health and the efficiency of the overall health care system.
At the CMA, patient organizations are telling us about the anxiety, pain and harm that drug shortages are inflicting on patients. Below are excerpts of these experiences:
* According to the Brain Injury Association of Canada: "Any drug medication shortage endangers Canadian patients. In the brain injury community, anti-depressants are prescribed to some, as is pain medication, so if there is a shortage some members in the community will be endangered even if the medication is altered."
* The interim-president of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance, Louise Bergeron, wrote CMA to say: "Actually, I have had this happen to me on three occasions and it is quite scary when you know you will not have access to certain drugs for an extended period of time, since you know your health will be on the line."
* Sharon Baxter, Executive Director, of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, says: "All are encouraging the government to find a solution very quickly as pain medication at the end of life is essential and urgent. I don't think we are at the stage where people are dying without access, but getting to that end is totally unacceptable in a country like Canada."
Among the impacts of drug shortages are:
* delays in access to needed medication;
* delays or disruptions to clinical treatment;
* delayed or cancelled surgeries;
* loss of therapeutic effectiveness when an appropriate alternate therapy is not available;
* increased risk of side effects when alternate therapies are used; and
* increased non-compliance when patients, particularly those on long-term therapy, find it harder to comply with a new medication regime.
Any one of these situations can impact patient health, particularly in patients with complex problems. In many instances, this in turn leads to a greater demand on the health care system, whether in physician visits or emergency room treatments.
In a survey of physicians conducted by the CMA in 2011, two-thirds of respondents said that the shortage of generic drugs had had negative consequences for their patients or practice.
Of these physicians, 22 per cent indicated that the consequences were that their patient suffered clinical deterioration because an alternate drug was substituted. Similarly, in a survey of pharmacists by the Canadian Pharmacists Association in 2011, 69 per cent of respondents indicated that they believed that patients' health outcomes had been adversely affected by drug shortages.
Notably, of the physicians who indicated the shortage of generics resulted in consequences to their patients or practice, 28 per cent reported that their patient did not fill the substitution prescription due to the cost of the medication. Numerous respondents raised concerns about the financial impact of substitute medications on patients.
Survey responses also shed light on the increased demand on the health care system created by the lack of information on drug shortages provided to physicians. When physicians are not made aware of a drug shortage, and prescribe that medication, they later have to provide the patient with a new prescription, which often requires an additional patient visit. Better informing physicians about drug shortages can reduce demand on the health care system by eliminating the inefficiencies associated with drug shortages.
Scope of Drug Shortages
In an attempt to outline the scope of the problem, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) stated that:
"It is difficult to quantify and determine the extent of drug shortages in Canada because manufacturers are not required to report disruptions in drug supply to Health Canada and because there is no single accountable Canadian organization that provides system-wide drug distribution oversight."i
Surveys by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) shed light on the lack of drug shortages management in Canada. Taken together, the results of these surveys paint an alarming picture of drug shortages management in Canada and underscore the need to improve our system.
In terms of notification, the majority of physicians and pharmacists indicated they never (51 per cent and 29 per cent) or infrequently (32 per cent and 33 per cent) receive advance notice of shortages. Ironically, given the high proportion of pharmacists reporting they never or infrequently receive notice, 65 per cent of physicians indicated that they receive notification from pharmacists. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of physicians also indicated that they were notified of drug shortages by their patients.
Alarmingly, 81 per cent of the pharmacists surveyed indicated they had trouble locating medications to fill a prescription during their last shift prior to completing the survey and 93 per cent had difficulty over the week prior.
This is not a new problem, but since we surveyed CMA members in the fall of 2011, the situation has worsened. Currently about 250 medications are listed on Canadian drug shortage websites. Before the dire impact of the loss of production at Sandoz, Canadian hospitals were already dealing with shortages in the supply of sterile injectables - critical in specialties like surgery, oncology and anesthesia.
What Canada's Doctors Require to Provide Care
Physicians have expressed their frustration at the time it takes to find an appropriate drug for substitution - time taken from the physician, the pharmacy and the patient. Time better spent with patients is being used by physicians to work with pharmacists to identify alternative drugs and therapies.
Of greatest concern are those drugs that are single sourced. When single source medications are in short supply, there are no clear substitutes. The impact of this is being felt now in hospitals across the country as they grapple with the loss of numerous Sandoz products and are forced to ration the remaining stock.
The majority of physicians surveyed by the CMA indicated that greater knowledge of drug supply issues would allow them to deliver better patient care.
To this end, the CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring and responding to domestic shortages of medically necessary drugs. Canada needs a sustainable, adequately resourced system to: identify shortages, rapidly and proactively inform health care professionals, and respond quickly to allocate supply as needed to resolve shortages.
The CMA has provided input to both industry and government on the key information needs of doctors. These are:
* Information about the product in short supply;
* Expected duration of the shortage;
* Therapeutic alternatives;
* Regions affected;
* Notification of the end of the shortage.
While the recent establishment of the online inventories by the pharmaceutical industry associations marks an improvement in Canada's management of drug shortages, significant issues remain to be addressed. These include the need for: complete and more consistent information; automatic notifications to alert physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers; a mechanism to prevent potential disruptions; and a mechanism to seek new or interim sources of supply during a shortage.
The CMA recognizes that other countries are also grappling with drug shortages. Canada must also work with its partners abroad to find an international solution to this phenomenon.
Drug shortages management in Canada has significant shortcomings that impact patients, doctors and the health care system. With the current shortage of injectable drugs teetering on the verge of a crisis, quick action and cooperation are required to address the supply shock.
The CMA calls on Members of Parliament to exercise leadership to ensure that Canada's health care providers have access to the information necessary for them to care for their patients, and that Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
i Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2011) "Environmental Scan: Drug Supply Disruptions." Ottawa: CADTH, accessed online at: http://www.cadth.ca/media/pdf/Drug_Supply_Disruptions_es-18_e.pdf, 1.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to take part in the second phase of the study of prescription pharmaceuticals by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. During the first phase, we presented the CMA's policy position regarding clinical trials and the process for approving new drugs for use. In this phase we will discuss our position and recommendations on post-approval surveillance of prescription drugs.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Prescription drugs are a very important part of high quality and cost-effective health care. They can prevent serious disease, reduce the need for hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. Therefore, the CMA has developed a substantial body of policy on pharmaceutical issues, including on the post-approval surveillance of prescription drugs.
The essence of our position is contained in our first recommendation:
The CMA recommends that federal and provincial/territorial governments collaborate to develop and implement a national pharmaceutical strategy to ensure that every Canadian has timely access to an adequate supply of safe and effective prescription drugs.
This recommendation has two elements: "safe and effective" and "adequate supply," both of which we will discuss in this submission.
2) Ensuring Safety and Effectiveness
As we have previously told this Committee, the CMA supports a robust regulatory framework and system for researching and approving new pharmaceutical products. But however strong Canada's pre-approval system is, it will not identify all potential problems with a new drug. Pre-approval clinical trials tend to focus on small numbers of patients, and exclude vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. They also tend to be of short duration, whereas in the real world, patients may take these drugs for years. As a consequence, problems with a drug are often identified only after widespread, long-term use in the general population. For this reason, it is essential that Canada have in place a robust regulatory framework that includes a timely system to monitor the performance of prescription drugs after they come on the market.
The Government of Canada has taken several recent steps to enhance its drug surveillance system. In 2009, it established the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Research Network. In 2008, it introduced Bill C-51, An Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act, to improve drug safety and effectiveness monitoring by Health Canada. Unfortunately, the bill died with the 2008 election call and has not been re-introduced. That is why we are pleased that the Senate has chosen to re-open this issue.
What would a comprehensive post-approval surveillance regulatory framework and system look like? In order to effectively monitor the safety and effectiveness of the country's drug supply, the CMA believes it should include:
a) Comprehensive processes for gathering drug safety and effectiveness data
In gathering data about adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in Canada, Health Canada has traditionally relied on spontaneous reports from manufacturers and health professionals. The government could enhance its capacity to gather information by:
* making it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report ADRs voluntarily. This can be accomplished by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Health Canada has improved the process by introducing online reporting, which may have contributed to the significant increase in the number of ADR reports over the past 10 years. The reporting process could be made even more efficient by incorporating it directly into the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) as this is developed.
* augmenting spontaneous reports with information gathered through other, more systematic means. These could include formal post-market studies of specific drugs, or recruitment of "sentinel" groups of health care providers who would contract to report ADRs in detail, and who, because of these contractual obligations, would be committed to assiduous reporting.
b) A capacity for rigorous and timely data analysis to identify significant threats to drug safety.
Information gathering does not in itself constitute post-market surveillance. In our opinion, the most important element of the process is the monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction (ADR) report has been received.
Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis that can sort "signal from noise" - in other words, sift through the reports, find the ones that indicate unusual events, investigate their cause, and isolate those that indicate a serious health risk. It also requires that the analysis be timely: we note that in 2011 the Auditor General was particularly critical of Health Canada's post-market surveillance timeliness, noting that it could take several years for reports to be reviewed internally.
Post-market monitoring should do more than identify safety risks. It should also provide information about a drug's efficacy and effectiveness. Does it achieve the health outcome for which it is being marketed? Does it perform better than other drugs or therapies for the same condition?
c) Communication of useful information to health care providers and the public.
When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that physicians and other health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information to physicians and other health professionals, which they can absorb quickly and incorporate into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada continue to improve the capacity of its post-approval surveillance system to:
* Make it easier for health professionals to submit voluntary ADR reports;
* Analyze the data that has been gathered in a rigorous and timely manner; and
* Communicate essential information to health care providers and the public in a timely and user-friendly manner.
d) Increased regulatory authority for Health Canada
Drug safety is a serious issue; recent research has revealed that nearly a quarter of new drugs approved in Canada will eventually receive a serious safety warning1. Given the potential risks to patient safety we believe Health Canada should have the legal authority to take strong action when a safety problem is identified.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada should be given the authority to:
* require post-market studies of newly approved drugs if clinical trials identify possible safety risks;
* require manufacturers to disclose information if Health Canada thinks it germane to making a decision in the interest of patient safety; and
* take action if post-market research uncovers new safety concerns. This could mean ordering changes to product labels, or pulling a product off the market.
Granting Health Canada this regulatory authority is only the first step. Health Canada should not hesitate to use this authority if the situation warrants.
3) Ensuring an Adequate Drug Supply
In the past few years Canada's doctors have become deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of drugs that they and their patients are encountering. In a survey of physicians conducted by the CMA in September 2012, two-thirds of respondents said that the shortage of drugs was a significant issue in terms of its impact on patient care and outcomes. Of these physicians, 70 per cent indicated that their patient received a less effective medication, and 20 per cent had patients who had suffered clinical deterioration because an alternate drug was substituted. This in turn leads to a greater demand on the health care system, whether in physician visits or emergency room treatments. Twenty-three per cent reported that their patient suffered financially due to the cost of the substituted medication, since many of the drugs in short supply are older, low-cost generics.
The lack of information about shortages compounds the stress of dealing with them. When physicians prescribe a medication, unaware that it is in short supply, they later have to provide the patient with a new prescription, which often requires an additional patient visit. Physicians have expressed their frustration at the time it takes to find an appropriate substitute drug - time which could better be spent in patient care.
As a consequence, the CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring domestic shortages of medically necessary drugs. To be of greatest benefit to doctors, such a system should include:
* Information about the product in short supply;
* Expected duration of the shortage;
* Therapeutic alternatives;
* Regions affected;
* Notification of the end of the shortage.
Although pharmaceutical industry associations and drug manufacturers are now supporting a drug shortage reporting website (http://www.drugshortages.ca/drugshortages.asp), there is room for improvement. The reporting website does not yet capture all of the drug product shortages. It must become more user friendly for health practitioners and the public, with search and sort functions to easily find product listings. In addition, a mechanism to obtain information on possible therapeutic substitutions would be of value to practitioners.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada work with provincial and territorial governments, industry groups and health professionals to enhance the current system for reporting drug shortages and ensure its sustainability.
Finally, while a reporting system to provide information to health professionals and Canadians on drug shortages is valuable, it is essential that Canada address the root causes of drug shortages. A review of the supply processes, both domestic and international, is strongly recommended.
While the CMA acknowledges that provinces are responsible for purchasing drugs, we believe that solutions will be stronger if all provinces, and the federal government, work together on them. And since drug shortages are an international concern, it is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to work with other countries in seeking solutions.
The CMA supports an investigation into the underlying causes of prescription drug shortages in Canada.
4) Other Important Elements of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy
As Recommendation 1 states, the CMA believes that Canada's federal and provincial/territorial governments should implement a national pharmaceutical strategy, one of whose objectives would be to ensure an adequate supply of prescription drugs. The strategy should address other important objectives, as well, notably:
* ensuring comprehensive prescription drug coverage for all Canadians. According to a recent CMA survey, one in 10 Canadians has gone without a prescription drug because they couldn't afford it. Governments should work with private insurers and other stakeholders to develop a system to provide equitable, comprehensive prescription drug coverage to all Canadians.
* encouraging optimal prescribing by health professionals. To accomplish this, the CMA has recommended a strategy that includes education, user-friendly guidelines and practice tools, and the provision of impartial information to health professionals and the public.
Once again, we commend the Senate Social Affairs Committee for bringing this issue to your table. Canada's physicians are prepared to work with governments, health professionals and the public in strengthening Canada's post-approval surveillance system, to ensure that the prescription drugs Canadians receive are safe and effective and in adequate supply.
1 Lexchin J. New drugs and safety: what happened to new active substances approved in Canada between 1995 and 2010? Arch Intern Med. 2012;():1-2. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.4444.
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.
Bill C-38 covers a lot of ground and we welcome the occasion to discuss it.
Right at the outset, let me remind you that the Canadian Medical Association has a long tradition of staunch non-partisanship. Our mandate is to be the national advocate for the highest standards in health and health care.
In a bill as wide-ranging as this one, there is a great deal I could talk about. In the time allotted, however, I am going to frame my brief remarks around three themes... namely:
First, what is very clearly in the bill;
Second, what is lacking in the bill, and
Third, what I would characterize as a general lack of clarity and consultation on certain aspects of the federal government's actions on health care.
First, I will comment on one of the key measures contained in the budget bill.
We are greatly concerned about the move to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security.
Many seniors have low incomes and delaying this relatively modest payment by two years is certain to have a negative impact.
For many older Canadians, who tend to have more complex health problems, medication is a life line. We know that, already, many cannot afford their meds.
Gnawing away at Canada's social safety net will no doubt force hard choices on some of tomorrow's seniors... the choice between whether to buy groceries or to buy their medicine.
I think it is safe to say it would not hold up to a cost-benefit analysis.
People who skip their meds, or lack a nutritious diet or enough heat in their homes, will be sicker.
In the end, this will put a greater burden on our health care system.
Let me now turn to a couple of things we were hoping to see in the budget but that are not there.
As we all know, the Finance Minister announced the government's plans for the Canada Health Transfer in December.
The CMA was encouraged when the Minister of Health subsequently spoke about collaborating with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures for this funding.
We look forward to this accountability plan for the minimum of $446 billion that will flow to the provinces and territories in federal transfers for health over the next twelve years.
In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada last out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care.
We believe that federal government should lever its spending on health care to bring change to the system.
It could introduce incentives, measurable goals, pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that would link health care spending to comparable health outcomes.
This would recognize, too, that the federal government is itself the fifth-largest jurisdiction in health care delivery.
We believe the federal government has a role to play in leading this change and that transferring billions of federal dollars in the absence of this leadership shortchanges Canadians.
This budget thus represents an opportunity lost to find ways to transform the health care system and help Canadians get better value and better patient care for the money they spend on health care.
The other major piece missing from this budget is any move to establish a national pharmaceutical strategy.
A pharmaceutical strategy that would ensure consistent coverage and secure supply across the country remains unfinished business from eight years ago.
Access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity of our health care system.
I should point out that the Senate Social Affairs Committee in its recent report on the 2004 Health Accord also recommended the implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy.
Now I come to the third part of my remarks, which is about a general lack of clarity in regard to certain aspects of the federal government's responsibilities vis-a- vis health care.
Since the budget was tabled, the federal government has announced $100 million in cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program and eliminated the National Aboriginal Health Organization.
As far as we know, no one was consulted on these changes, and since they are not in the budget bill, there is no opportunity for debate on the potential implications on the health of Canadians.
We are also uncertain about the impact of changes in service delivery at Veterans Affairs Canada, changes in the mental health programs at the Department of National Defence, and plans to consolidate some of the functions of the Health Canada and the Canadian Public Health Agency.
There are many unknowns and these are serious matters that warrant serious consideration.
The government committed that it would not balance the books on the backs of the provinces, yet there appears to be a trend toward the downloading of health care costs to federal client groups or the provinces and territories or individuals.
As we have seen in the past, cost downloading is not the same as cost saving.
In fact, when health is impacted, the costs will be inevitably higher, both in dollars and in human suffering.
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.