Recommendation: That the federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
The Canadian Medical Association unites physicians on national health and medical matters. Formed in Quebec City in 1867, the CMA’s rich history of advocacy led to some of Canada’s most important health policy changes. As we look to the future, the CMA will focus on advocating for a healthy population and a vibrant profession.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission, focused on the major challenges confronting seniors care in Canada. As Canada’s demographic shift advances, the challenge of ensuring quality seniors care will only become more daunting unless governments make critical investments in our health care system today. This is a national issue that will affect all provinces and territories (PTs). However, not all PTs will bear the costs equally. The current federal health transfer system does not take demographics into account. The CMA proposes the federal government fund a share of the health care costs associated with our aging population by means of a new “demographic top-up” to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT).
Recommendation: That the federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
Seniors Care: Challenges and Opportunities
Canada, like most OECD economies, is grappling with the realities of a rapidly aging population. The population of seniors over the age of 65 in Canada has increased by 20% since 2011 and it has been projected that the proportion of Canada’s total population over 65 will exceed one-third by 2056 with some provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador reaching that point as soon as the mid-2030s.1 Census figures also show that the fastest growing demographic in Canada between 2011 and 2016 was individuals over 90, growing four times the rate of the overall population during this period.2
These demographic changes have a number of major implications for the future of Canadian society. Chief among them is the new pressure they add to our health care system. As the population ages, it is expected that health care costs will grow at a significantly faster rate than in previous years. As demonstrated in Chart 1 below, population aging will be a top contributor to rising health care costs over the decade ahead. By 2026–27, these increases will amount to $19 billion in additional annual health care costs associated with population aging, as shown in Chart 2.
Many seniors experience varying degrees of frailty, which the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) defines as “a state of increased vulnerability, with reduced physical reserve and loss of function across multiple body systems” that “reduces ability to cope with normal or minor stresses, which can cause rapid and dramatic changes in health.”3 About 75% to 80% of seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.4 It is primarily the care associated with management of these conditions as well as increased residential care needs that drive the higher costs associated with seniors care. The average annual per capita provincial/territorial health spending for individuals age 15 to 64 is $2,700 compared with $12,000 for seniors age 65 and over.5
Our medicare system, which was established over half a century ago, is not designed or resourced to deal with this new challenge. The median age of Canadians at the time of the Medical Care Act’s enactment in 1966 was 25.5 years. It is now 40.6 years and is expected to rise to 42.4 years in the next decade.5 While past governments have placed significant focus on hospital care (acute and sub-acute), transitional care, community supports such as home care and long-term care (LTC) have been largely underfunded. Demographic changes have already begun to place pressure on our health care system, and the situation will only become worse unless funding levels are dramatically raised.
Chart 1: Major contributors to rising health care costs (forecast average annual percentage increase, 2017–26)5
Chart 2: Provincial/terrioritial health care costs attributable to population aging ($ billions, all PTs relative to 2016–17 demographics)5
Individuals in Ontario wait a median of 150 days for placement in a LTC home.6 In many communities across the country acute shortages in residential care infrastructure mean that seniors can spend as long as three years on a wait list for LTC.7 Seniors from northern communities are often forced to accept placements hundreds of kilometres from their families.8 The human and social costs of this are self-evident but insufficient spending on LTC also has important consequences for the efficiency of the system as a whole.
When the health of seniors stabilizes after they are admitted to hospital for acute care, health care professionals are often confronted with the challenge of finding better living options for their patients. These patients are typically assigned Alternate Level of Care (ALC) beds as they wait in hospital for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility.
In April 2016, ALC patients occupied 14% of inpatient beds in Ontario while in New Brunswick, 33% of the beds surveyed in two hospitals were occupied by ALC patients.9 The average length of hospital stay of all ALC patients in Canada is an unacceptable 380 days. Not only does ALC care lead to generally worse health outcomes and patient satisfaction than both LTC and home care, but it is also significantly more expensive. The estimated daily cost of a hospital bed used by a patient is $842, compared with $126 for a LTC bed and $42 per day for care at
home.10 Moreover, high rates of ALC patients can contribute to hospital overcrowding, lengthy emergency wait times and cancelled elective surgeries.11 Committing more funding to LTC infrastructure would lead to system-wide improvements in wait times and quality of care by helping to alleviate the ALC problem.
A recent poll found that only 49% of Canadians are confident that the health care system will be able to meet senior care needs and that 88% of Canadians support new federal funding measures.12 Fortunately, there have been some signs at both the provincial and federal levels that seniors care has become an issue of increasing importance. New Brunswick recently introduced a caregiver’s benefit while the Ontario government has recently committed to building 15,000 LTC beds over the next decade. The federal government highlighted home care as a key investment area in the most recent Health Accord bilateral agreements and has made important changes to both the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs.
The Demographic Top-Up: Modernizing the CHT
Despite these recent and important initiatives by governments in Canada, additional policy and fiscal measures will be needed to address the challenges of an aging population. Many provincial governments have shown a clear commitment to the issue, but the reality is that their visions for better seniors care will not come to fruition unless they are backed up by appropriate investments. This will not be possible unless the federal government ensures transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Projections in a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada, commissioned by the CMA, indicate that health transfers are expected to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.3
Over the next decade, unless changes are made, provinces/territories will need to assume an increasingly larger share of health care costs. If federal health transfers do not account for population aging, the federal share of health care spending will fall below 20% by 2026.5 Aging will affect some provinces more than others, as demonstrated in Figure 1 below. The overall cost of population aging to all of the provinces and territories is projected to be $93 billion over the next decade.5 The absence of demographic considerations in transfer calculations therefore indirectly contributes to regional health inequality as provinces will not receive the support they need to ensure that seniors can count on quality care across Canada.
Figure 1: Increases in health care costs associated with population aging, 2017 to 2026 ($ billions)5
The CMA recommends that the federal government address the health costs of population aging by introducing a “demographic top-up” to the Canada Health Transfer. One model for this would require the federal government to cover a share of the costs projected to be added by population aging in each province/territory (see above) equal to the federal share of total health costs covered now (22%). The Conference Board of Canada estimates that the overall cost of such a change would be $21.1 billion over the next decade (see Table 1).
This funding would greatly enhance the ability of the provinces and territories to make much-needed investments in seniors care and the health care system as a whole. It could be used to support the provinces’ and territories’ efforts to address shortages in LTC, to expand palliative care and home care supports and to support further innovation in the realm of seniors care.
Table 1: Cost of demographic top-Up by province in $ millions5
The evidence that our health care systems are not prepared or adequately funded to ensure appropriate and timely access to seniors care, across the continuum of care, is overwhelming. Wait times for LTC and home care are unacceptably high and complaints about lack of availability in Northern and rural communities are becoming increasingly common. Health care providers in the LTC sector regularly raise concern about overstretched resources and a lack of integration with the rest of the health care system.
By introducing a new demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer, the federal government would demonstrate real leadership by ensuring that all provinces/territories are able to adapt to an aging population without eroding quality of care. Furthermore, improvements in how we care for our seniors will lead to improvements for patients and caregivers of all ages through greater system efficiencies (e.g., shorter wait times for emergency care and elective surgeries) and more coordinated care.
The CMA has been, and will continue to be, a tireless advocate for improving seniors care in Canada. The CMA would welcome opportunities to provide further information on the recommendation outlined in this brief.
1Statistics Canada. Age and sex, and type of dwelling data: key results from the 2016 Census. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2017. Available: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170503/dq170503a-eng.htm
2Ministry of Finance Ontario. 2016 Census highlights, fact sheet 3. Toronto: Office of Economic Policy, Labour Economics Branch; 2017. Available: www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/economy/demographics/census/cenhi16-3.html.
3Canadian Frailty Network. What is frailty? Kingston: The Network; 2018. Available: www.cfn-nce.ca/frailty-in-canada/
4Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Health care in Canada, 2011: a focus on seniors and aging. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf
5The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Conference%20Board%20of%20Canada%20-%20Meeting%20the%20Care%20Needs%20of%20Canada%27s%20Aging%20Population.PDF
6Health Quality Ontario. Wait times for long-term care homes. Available: www.hqontario.ca/System-Performance/Long-Term-Care-Home-Performance/Wait-Times
7Crawford B. Ontario’s long-term care problem: seniors staying at home longer isn’t a cure for waiting lists. Ottawa Citizen 2017 Dec 22. Available: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/ontarios-long-term-care-problem-seniors-staying-at-home-longer-isnt-a-cure-for-waiting-lists
8Sponagle J. Nunavut struggles to care for elders closer to home. CBC News 2017 Jun 5. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/nunavut-seniors-plan-1.4145757
9McCloskey R, Jarrett P, Stewart C, et al. Alternate level of care patients in hospitals: What does dementia have to do with this? Can Geriatr J. 2014;17(3):88–94.
10Home Care Ontario. Facts and figures – publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; n.d. Available: www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare
11Simpson C. Code gridlock: why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final.pdf
12Ipsos Public Affairs. Just half of Canadians confident the healthcare system can meet the needs of seniors. Toronto: Ipsos; 2018. Available: www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/Canadian-Medical-Association-Seniors-July-17-2018
Thank you Madam Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today. I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and a family physician by training. I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our 67,000 physician members across the country.
We commend the Senate for striking this Committee. We are concerned that the aging population has not received sufficient national policy attention. With regard to today's discussion I would note that the CMA has advocated for the elimination of mandatory retirement and we are pleased to see that in general, provincial jurisdictions have eliminated mandatory retirement based on what has become an arbitrary age cutoff. With some obvious exceptions, such as athletics, competence is not related to age per se for most areas of human endeavour. Where human activity may pose risk to the safety of others we believe that the best approach is to develop evidence-based tools and procedures that can be used to assess competence on an ongoing basis.
While physicians play a significant role on a variety of fronts related to aging, I am going to focus my remarks on two specific areas:
* Ensuring the competence of physicians; and
* Fitness to operate motor vehicles and the role of physicians.
Turning first to the competence of the medical workforce, physicians are making diagnoses and performing procedures on a daily basis, both of which may entail a significant amount of risk for our patients. I would add that this is being done in an era where medical knowledge is rapidly increasing.
As a profession that continues to enjoy a high degree of delegated self-regulation, we recognize the importance of ensuring that physicians are and remain competent across the medical career lifecycle. This entails both an individual and collective obligation to:
* engage in lifelong learning;
* recognize and report issues of competence in one's self and one's peers; and
* participate in peer review processes to assure ongoing competence.
First and foremost, physicians have an individual ethical and professional obligation to maintain their competence throughout their career lifecycle. The CMA Code of Ethics calls on physicians to:
* practise the art and science of medicine competently, with integrity and without impairment;
* engage in lifelong learning to maintain and improve professional knowledge skills and attitudes;
* report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional conduct by colleagues; and
* be willing to participate in peer review of other physicians and to undergo review by your peers1
I would stress the importance of peer review in medicine, which is one of the defining characteristics of a self-regulating profession. Simply put, physicians are expected to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for their behaviour and for the outcomes they achieve on behalf of their patients.2
The individual accountability that physicians have to themselves and to each other is reinforced by a collective accountability for lifelong learning and peer review that is mandated by the national credentialing bodies and by the province/territorial licensing bodies.
With regard to lifelong learning, both national credentialing bodies require evidence of ongoing continuing professional development as a condition of maintaining credentials. The College of Family Physicians of Canada operates a Maintenance of Proficiency program that requires its certificants to earn 250 credits over five years.3 The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada operates a Maintenance of Certification Program that requires its Fellows to achieve 400 credits over a five year period with a minimum 40 in any single year.4
The Canadian Medical Protective Association, the mutual defence organization that provides liability coverage for the vast majority of physicians in Canada also plays a role in identifying high risk areas of medical practice and providing a range of educational materials and programs designed to mitigate such risk.5
Each province and territory has a licensing body - usually known as a College of Physicians and Surgeons that is established to protect the public interest. These colleges operate mandatory peer review programs that ensure that physician's practices are reviewed at regular intervals. These programs typically involve a review of the physician's practice profile based on administrative data, a visit to the physician's office by a medical colleague in a similar type of practice and an audit of a sample of patient charts, followed by a report with recommendations.
In addition, most jurisdictions now have or will soon have in place a program pioneered in Alberta that provides a 360o assessment by administering questionnaires to a sample of a physician's patients, colleagues, and co-worker health professionals. These probe several aspects of competence and reports are provided back to the physician.6
Peer review is even more rigorous in the health care institutions where physicians carry out practices and procedures that involve the greatest potential risk to patients. Physicians are initially required to apply for hospital privileges that are reviewed annually by a credentials committee. These committees have the authority to renew, modify or cancel a physician's privileges. In between annual reviews a physician's day-to-day performance is subject to review by a variety of quality assurance processes and audit/review committees such as morbidity and mortality. Health care institutions in turn are subject to regular scrutiny by the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation which would include the oversight of physician practice among its review parameters.
In summary, the medical profession subscribes to the notion that competence is something that must regularly be reviewed and enhanced across the medical career life cycle, and that such reviews and assessments must be grounded in evidence that is gathered from peers and other validated tools.
Turning to our patients, one area that our members are regularly called on to assess competence is the determination of medical fitness to operate motor vehicles. To assist physicians in carrying out this societal responsibility, the CMA recently released our 7th edition of the Driver's Guide.7 What you will note about this 134 page guide is that the section on aging is only 3 pages long. The focus of the guide is on how substances such as alcohol and medications and a range of disease conditions such as cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease may impose risks on fitness to operate a range of motor vehicles including automobiles, off-road vehicles, planes and trains. It provides graduated guidelines that relate to the severity and stage of the condition. As is noted in the section on aging, while the guide acknowledges the greater prevalence of health conditions in older age groups and hence the higher crash rates among the 65 and over age group, it states that the high crash rates in older people cannot be explained by age-related changes alone. In fact, by avoiding unnecessary risk and possessing the most experience, healthy senior drivers are among the safest drivers on the road. Rather, it is the presence and accumulation of health-related impairments that affect driving that is the major cause of crashes for older people. Because older age per se does not lead to higher crash rates, age-based restrictions on driving are not supportable.
Rather than focusing on arbitrary age cutoffs what are required are evidence-based tools such as the Driver's Guide that can be used to detect and assess conditions that may present at any point in the life cycle.
I would like to return to the physician workforce and the practical implications of arbitrary age cutoffs. As you may know Canada is experiencing a growing shortage of physicians - the effects of which are about to be compounded as the first of the baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. Currently we rank 24th out of the 30 OECD countries in terms of physician supply per 1,000 population - our level of 2.2 physicians per 1,000 is one third below the OECD average of 3.0.
As of January 2008, according to the CMA physician Master File there are just over 8,200 licensed physicians in Canada who are aged 65 or older. They represent more than 1 in 10 (13%) of all licensed physicians. Moreover, they are very active; they work on average more than 40 hours per week and in addition more than 40% of them still have on-call responsibilities each month. These doctors make vital contributions to our health care system.
In conclusion, the CMA believes that the public interest is best served by ensuring that all competent physicians, regardless of age, are able to practice medicine. Artificial barriers to practice based on age are simply discriminatory and counter productive in an era of health human resource shortages.
Finally Madam Chair, we hope that the CMA will be invited back to appear before your committee. We have long been concerned with the access of the senior population to health care services and I will leave you with a copy of our policy on principles of medical care of older persons.8 We also hope you will examine the issue of long-term care which has had little if any national policy attention. I will also leave you with a copy of our recent technical background report on pre-funding of long-term care that we tabled at the Federal Minister of Finance's Roundtable in November 2007.9
Thank you again for this opportunity and I would be pleased to answer any questions.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of ethics.(Update 2004). http://policybase.cma.ca/PolicyPDF/PD04-06.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Medical professionalism (Update 2005). http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD06-02.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
3 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Mainpro(r)Maintenance of Proficiency. http://www.cfpc.ca/English/cfpc/cme/mainpro/maintenance%20of%20proficiency/default.asp?s=1. Accessed 01/23/08.
4 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Maintenance of Certification Program. http://rcpsc.medical.org/opd/moc-program/index.php. accessed 01/23/08.
5 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Risk management @ a glance. http://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/cmpapd03/pub_index.cfm?FILE=MLRISK_MAIN&LANG=E. Accessed 01/23/08.
6 College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. Physician Achievement Review Program. http://www.cpsa.ab.ca/collegeprograms/par_program.asp. Accessed 01/23/08.
7Canadian Medical Association. Determining medical fitness to operate motor vehicles. CMA Driver's Guide 7th edition.Ottawa, 2006.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Principles for medical care of older persons. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD00-03.pdf. Accessed 01/23/08.
9 Canadian Medical Association. Pre-funding long-term care in Canada: technical backgrounder. Presentation to the Federal Minister of Finance's roundtable, Oshawa, ON, November 23, 2007.
On behalf of the CMA, I thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today and commend the Subcommittee for focusing on the critical issue of child health.
My presentation today will focus on three areas:
1. What the CMA has done and plans to do in the area of children's health;
2. Why the CMA has chosen to focus on the early years as a priority; and
3. What the CMA recommends to the Subcommittee and government for action in the area of children's health.
The CMA's Role & Next Steps
Physicians see the adverse effects of poor child health all too often and we strongly believe that all children should have access to the best possible start in life. That healthy start includes opportunities to grow and develop in a safe and supportive environment with access to health services as needed.
The CMA is proud to have been a partner in the Child Health Initiative (CHI), an alliance between the CMA and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) that has pressed for improvements in child health and the development of Child Health Goals.
The CHI held the Child and Youth Health Summit last year where it developed a child health charter based on three principles:
* a safe and secure environment;
* good health and development; and
* a full range of health resources available to all.
The Charter states that all children should have things such as clean water, air and soil; protection from injury and exploitation; and prenatal and maternal care for the best possible health at birth. Further, the charter recognizes the need for proper nutrition for proper growth and long term health; early learning opportunities and high-quality care, at home and in the community; and a basic health care including immunization, drugs, mental and dental health.
Delegates at the Summit also endorsed the Child Health Declaration and the Child and Youth Health Challenge, a call to action to make the charter a reality.
Going forward, the CMA will invest considerable time and effort to develop policy targeting children from birth to five years of age.
To that end the CMA will host the Child Health Expert Consultation and Strategy Session on June 5-6, 2008. The purpose of this consultation is to create a discussion paper to:
* First, identify how CMA can help physicians improve the health of children under five; and second,
* Identify the key determinants of early child health and identify goals and recommend ways to achieve optimal health outcomes for children under five.
This paper will inform a Roundtable Discussion of Child Health Experts in Fall 2008 where we hope to produce a final report on the Key Determinants of Children's Health for the Early Years.
We then hope to be invited to come before this Subcommittee once again to present this report and discuss our conclusions and recommendations.
Why the Early Years
The CMA is focusing on the period from birth to five years old because it is a critical time for children and when the physicians of Canada are perhaps in the best position to make a difference.
Recent human development research suggests that the period from conception to age six has the most important influence of any time in the life cycle on brain development. As well, we are all well aware that Canada could be and should be performing better in comparison to other OECD nations in a number of key areas such as infant mortality, injury and child poverty.
We also know that:
* Early screening for hereditary or congenital disease must take place between the ages of zero and five in order to provide effective intervention; and
* Brain and biological pathways in the prenatal period and in the early years affect physical and mental health in adult life.
Physicians are well positioned to identify and optimize certain conditions for healthy growth and development. Physicians can identify and prescribe effective interventions following many adverse childhood experiences in order to improve health outcomes for children and as they grow into adults.
The CMA believes that there are a number of actions government could be taking today in the area of children's health.
First, Canada should not be at the bottom of the list of developed countries when it comes to spending, as a percentage of GDP, on early childhood programs and development. Investing in early development is essential for an optimal start to life and a physically, mentally and socially healthy childhood.
Second, we need to improve our surveillance capability to better monitor changes in children's health because we can't manage what we can't measure. That is why the CMA recommends the creation of an annual report card on child health in Canada.
Third, nearly one child in six lives in poverty in Canada. This can impact a child's growth and development, his or her physical and mental health and ultimately the ability to succeed as teenagers and adults. Governments can and must do more.
Finally, there are a number of recommendations within the recently released Leitch Report in areas such as injury prevention, environment vulnerabilities, nutrition, aboriginal and mental health. The CMA strongly supports these recommendations and urges this Subcommittee to consider them.
However, if there are two recommendations within the Leitch Report that the CMA believes government could and must act upon immediately, they would be the creation of a National Office of Child Health and a Pan-Canadian Child Health Strategy.
In conclusion, the CMA strongly supports the Subcommittee's work and its focus on child health.
Again, we hope to return to see you again this fall with specific recommendations to address child health determinants, especially those affecting children from birth to age five.
Canada can and should be among the leading nations on earth in terms of children's health status. Our children deserve no less.