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Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance 1995 Pre-Budget Consultation

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy1994
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1994-11-18
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Parliamentary submission
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1994-11-18
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
I. PURPOSE While Canada is undergoing significant social, political and economic change, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) remains committed to the delivery of high quality health care and to safeguarding the national integrity of the health system. However, given the need for the federal government to gain control over our deficit and national debt, it seems clear that putting Canada's fiscal house in order remains a high priority. In this regard, CMA appreciates the invitation to submit its views on the 1995 pre-budget consultations that are underway. One overriding objective of the brief is to provide the Committee with a better understanding of the current pressures on physicians across Canada that have arisen as a direct result of past government decisions in this area. It is our firmly-held position that the health care system in general, and the medical profession in particular, have paid more than their fair share in terms of contributing to debt management. This brief focusses on five somewhat distinct areas of concern to Canadian physicians: (1) federal health transfers to the provinces; (2) taxable health benefits; (3) the goods and services tax (GST); (4) Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) contributions, and (5) the Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption (LCGE) for Small Businesses. In each case, the brief contains specific recommendations as to what the government should do, and more importantly what the government should not do, to balance its short-term deficit reduction targets against longer-term Canadian values. To summarize, good health policy and prudent economic policy go hand-in-hand provided the principles of fairness and good management practices are observed. If change is to come within an overall policy framework that is strategic, coordinated and fair and which preserves (or augments) the integrity of Canada's health care system, it behooves us to avoid short-term, stop-gap initiatives. As the government's 1994 Throne Speech put it "...the agenda of the government is based on an integrated approach to economic, social, environmental and foreign policy". Accordingly, in establishing an appropriate fiscal framework for health, change must take place within the context of a longer-term integrated view. II. BACKGROUND...."Medicare Is A Shared Value" Canada's system of universal health insurance is still one of the best in the world. Experts from around the world travel many thousands of miles to study and, in some cases, emulate our system. For most Canadians, medicare is a highly cherished, integral component of our social fabric. While Medicare's popularity has not diminished over the past 30 years, it is sometimes taken for granted in these difficult economic times. Recent public opinion surveys indicate that 84% of Canadians (with the highest response in Quebec) see medicare as a defining characteristic of being Canadian. Furthermore, 84% of Canadians are of the opinion that the system provides high quality care. 1 At the same time, however, 65% of Canadians are concerned about continued accessibility to a full range of publicly-financed benefits. According to the same poll, 83% of Canadians see current financing of the system as being "unsustainable" over the longer-term 2 and they are right. As much loved as the Canadian medicare system is, there is a large and growing consensus that we need to make changes. This brief is not about maintaining the status quo. Rather, it is about managing the changes required in the long-term best interests of all Canadians and of the physicians who are ultimately responsible for serving those interests, subject to the fiscal realities confronting government. III. CONSIDERATIONS CMA acknowledges that there is a pressing need, now more than ever, for the federal government to balance a number of competing social and economic policy challenges. In a time when deficit reduction measures are required, all segments of society are being asked to do more with the same or less. Health care is no exception, having done so for quite some time. At the same time, we must re-evaluate the variety of services provided or paid for by government. Deficit Management, but at what Costs? As of 1993/94, Canada's net public debt stood at $508.2 billion, or $17,484 for every Canadian. Combined with the debts of the provinces and territories, our national debt is in excess of $700 billion. Not to understate the case, currently one-third of each revenue dollar the government collects is allocated to debt service payments on the federal debt. 3 CMA believes enough is enough: we must not pass this burden on to future generations of Canadians. The federal government has managed to run operating surpluses for five of the past seven years. 4 While this is necessary it is no longer sufficient to meet our fiscal challenges. Maintaining the status quo would mean that debt service payments would further crowd out government expenditures at an accelerated rate. While the government's first priority should be to get us "out of hock", there is an equally- compelling need to respect the longstanding and fundamental principle of fairness/equity that help define Canadian society. One step toward meeting these twin objectives is to consider all possible methods of repatriating that portion of the national debt held by the international lending community. Some experts have argued that Canada, as a country, can no longer afford to have "massive leakages" in interest payments to individuals/countries abroad. 5 In so doing, we would also repatriate our ability as a sovereign nation to set and maintain social policy objectives. This involves guarding against the persistent "tyranny of the deficit" and the influence that international bond rating agencies can exert on the economy. Facts and Fallacies about Health Spending In reviewing expenditures in the public sector, some would suggest that health and health care spending are "out of control". This is a myth. While it is true that Canada spends 10.0% (1993) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care (second highest among OECD countries), the reality is that the public sector share of total health care expenditures has fallen from 76.4% in 1975 to approximately 71.9% in 1993 6 (falling to the lowest third of OECD countries). This process of reducing real public sector expenditures, in the absence of a well-coordinated and planned framework, has not always been in the best interests of health and health care. Specifically, federal offloading in terms of unilateral reductions in health cash transfers to the provinces have been followed by: * the elimination of entire programs, such as dental insurance programs for children and universal drug insurance programs; * hospital closures (e.g., 52 hospitals in Saskatchewan); * massive regionalization of health programs and the attendant disempowerment of community hospital boards; * the reduction of total bed capacity by as much as 20% in some provinces; * the reduction in medical school enrolment by 10% and a planned 10% reduction in post-MD residency slots; * global medical care expenditure caps in virtually every province in Canada; * individual physician income thresholds in at least five provinces; * a moratorium on interprovincial mobility of physicians; * legislative overrides of duly-negotiated contracts for health care providers; * widespread restrictions on the operation of high technology equipment; and * the de facto "expropriation" of physician business practices without compensation (e.g., Saskatchewan pathologists). These repercussions also serve to underline the fact that change is the only constant in the health care system. Many physicians across the country have expressed concerns that such changes or "threats" to our health care system are already beginning to have serious consequences for individual patients in terms of access to needed medical facilities. If the national integrity of medicare is to survive, federal fiscal policy changes must be assessed within a larger and longer-term framework; one that respects the need for innovation and professionalism in the health care system. Physicians as Responsible Professionals Some mistakenly argue that physician expenditures are responsible for the increasing costs to the health care system. The reality is that physician expenditures as a proportion of total health care expenditures in Canada have declined from 15.7% in 1975 to 15.1 in 1991. 7 Furthermore, physician expenditures constitute a declining share of GDP. Given the recent round of unilateral reductions in medical care spending in many jurisdictions, this percentage share will continue to drop significantly as more recent data become available. As health care resources have become increasingly constrained, physicians have taken on added responsibilities at the macro, meso and micro levels to better manage our health resources. * At the "macro" level, within the provinces and territories, the medical profession has been engaged in formalized consultation structures known as "Joint Management Committees" or "Administrative Councils" with government and other stakeholders to ensure value for money within a diminishing "real" globe of publicly-available resources for health care. * At the "meso" or institutional level, physicians are working hand-in-hand with health care administrators and other community stakeholders to "rationalize" services so as to provide the best value for money in all areas. In addition, to give a greater voice for choice and improve overall accountabilities in the system, physicians are providing formal input to governments that are looking to regionalize health system operations. * At the "micro" or clinical level, physicians have been taking the lead in developing and disseminating clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) to ensure that the care provided is both appropriate and cost-effective. More can and is being done, in collaboration with government, to ensure responsible use of the taxpayer's dollar while meeting the needs of individual patients. At all levels, physicians will continue to involve themselves as capable and responsible professionals. As the health policy agenda continues its rapid pace, physicians and the organizations that represent them should be viewed as "agents" for, rather than "objects" of, change. Good Health Policy Means Good Economic Policy Agencies such as the World Economic Forum, 8 tell us that our system of financing health care is one of Canada's greatest assets in competing in the new world economic order. We should heed this advice, as the Prime Minister recently observed. Compared to the United States, this economic advantage takes the form of 30 percent lower health spending (measured as a percent of GDP or in per capita expenditures) while providing for universal medical benefits and high quality care. In terms of our European trading partners, the fact that health insurance programs are financed primarily through consolidated revenues (rather than employment-based taxes), also confers a unit cost advantage to Canadian exporters. In this sense, good health policy and good economic policy should be mutually reinforcing. Aside from the complementary nature of the relationship between health and the economy, this fundamental concept also suggests that we need to take a longer-term, more integrated and more strategic approach to managing our collective debt and debt-servicing challenges. The federal government can no longer simply shift its financial obligations onto the backs of lower levels of government or individual Canadians without consultation or advance notice. We need to re-evaluate the full range of government- provided or -funded services. Again, however, if federal fiscal reductions are to take place, the principles of fairness and equity must begin to guide the development of sustainable economic and health policies. While there are no doubt trade-offs that can and must be made, if the price of getting our fiscal house in order is losing a national treasure - i.e., our health care system, it is a price too high to be paid. To summarize, we have set out a series of principles that should serve to guide the Committee in its decision-making, they are: * take the longer-term view; * adopt a system-wide, integrated approach for fiscal management; * strive for a strategic approach that mutually reinforces health and economic policies; and * strengthen the fundamental foundation of fairness and equity. These four principles form the building blocks of the remainder of CMA's submission. IV. ISSUES Canada is at a social, political and economic crossroad. The challenge to this Committee and to this Government is to balance short-term fiscal pressures against the longer-term need to re-position Canada to take advantage of economic opportunity while preserving that which is of fundamental importance to Canadian society as a whole. As the Committee looks to striking the right balance, there are five specific areas of concern that the CMA wishes to bring to your attention on behalf of the Canadian medical profession. The Temptation to Reduce Federal Health Transfers CMA commends this Government for exempting EPF health transfers from the extended freeze that was applied to other provincial transfer programs in its spring 1994 budget. We would have been surprised had this Government done anything else, given that medicare is the "Liberal legacy" of the 1960s and given the Liberal Party's consistent opposition to the previous government's "policy by stealth" (i.e., Bill C-69; Bill C-96). The fact is that medicare's contribution to getting our "fiscal house in order" is already large and continues to grow. In specific terms, the Committee will know that over the 1986/87 to 1995/96 fiscal period, it is estimated that $42.108 billion will have been removed via reductions in Established Program Financing for health and post-secondary education. For health alone, over $30 billion will have been removed from the system by fiscal year 1995/96. 9 Even with a resumption of GNP minus three percent growth formula in per capita EPF entitlements for health, beginning next spring, reduced cash contributions to medicare programs will continue to contribute to the attainment of the government's fiscal targets. Given the unprecedented health reforms taking place across the country, Canadians and the health care system can ill afford another federal fiscal shock. The system is already balkanizing, with poorer regions not being able to fiscally sustain some basic health care benefits. Any further acceleration in the rate of reduction in federal cash transfers will all but assure the demise of the national integrity of medicare programs. Moreover, any further reductions in federal health-related cash transfers will: (1) significantly hamper or stall the work of the newly-created National Health Forum; (2) further reduce the capacity for enforcement of national health principles under federal law; (3) exacerbate health-related problems of dealing with child poverty and problems of reducing health inequalities by socio-economic class; and (4) increase other areas of federal direct program expenditures in the context of renewed efforts to provincial program "uploading" (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Program). A propos of health and economy going hand-in hand, it is useful to remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining the comparability of health benefits across Canada in terms of promoting regional development, shared opportunity and efficient resource allocation. Poor regions of this country are already finding it difficult to compete for scarce new business investment capital. The implications of competing from a more uneven playing field in terms of being able to offer only "bare bones" publicly-financed health benefits will further widen the gap between the "have" and "have not" provinces. It is for these reasons that the CMA joins with other national health organizations 10 in recommending the following: 1. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AVOID FURTHER CUTS TO THE EPF HEALTH TRANSFER AND LOCK IN THE CASH PORTION; 2. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATE A STABLE FIVE-YEAR FUNDING ARRANGEMENT WITH THE PROVINCES/TERRITORIES; 3. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MUST ENSURE THAT ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE HEALTH TRANSFER BE SEPARATE AND EXPLICIT. Taxable Health Benefits Canadians have already been dealt one blow with the increasing de-insurance of health care services (e.g., reduction of out-of-country benefits to an unfair and dangerous level, elimination or reduction in drug benefit programs). In the context of funding those services that remain public benefits, only the cruellest government would strike yet another blow to individual Canadians and to Canadian business by taxing the very benefits that taxes were raised to pay. If implemented, this proposal would be tantamount to nothing less than double taxation. Fairness and equity would suggest that the government should be doing more, not less at the legislative and regulatory levels to promote the availability of private health insurance benefits in areas increasingly vacated by government cutbacks. This is why CMA makes the following recommendation: 4. THAT THE CURRENT FEDERAL GOVERNMENT POLICY WITH RESPECT TO NON-TAXABLE HEALTH BENEFITS BE MAINTAINED; Goods and Services Tax (GST) When the GST was introduced in 1991, preoccupation with implementation issues resulted in a number of fundamental injustices at the micro level. One such injustice was dealt to the medical profession. Physicians, like other Canadians, expect to pay their fair share of taxes. We do not however, accept what essentially amounts to double taxation. Physicians in practice in Canada are in the unique, unenviable and unfair position of being forced to absorb all the GST on business inputs. Unlike all other professions, physicians are precluded from being able to pass on the tax to consumers (with provincial health insurance plans as payment in full) or from claiming input tax credits (ITCs) since insured medical services are deemed to be "tax exempt". Unlike other professions, physicians cannot claim input credits for the imputed taxes associated with providing needed medical care. In fact, all of the following health professionals are capable of recouping from patients the GST paid on inputs because their revenues are not restricted by government: dentists; optometrists; chiropractors; physiotherapists; chiropodists; osteopaths; audiologists; speech therapists; occupational therapists and psychologists. Physicians are still angrily awaiting remedial steps to correct this injustice. To be clear, CMA is not asking for preferential treatment for Canadian physicians. What we want is the same fair and equitable treatment from the federal government accorded to other self-employed professional groups. Like physicians, other professions are purchasing inputs and paying GST; but unlike physicians, they are able to recoup the GST. Given this oversight in the legislation and regulations, physicians have already been asked to pay (over and above the GST paid by other professional groups) a cumulative total of $250 million since its introduction of the tax in 1991. The magnitude of this tax paid is not in dispute (as a result of a study prepared by KPMG). While the direct effects of the GST are significant and measurable, the indirect effects are even more significant though less measurable. It is estimated that the 55,000 physicians in Canada employ up to 100,000 Canadians. Given the disproportionate effects of the GST on the medical profession as employers, the employment dampening could be at least as high as 1,000 full-time jobs lost. In addition, the tax-induced distorting effects in terms of efficient resource allocation in the health care system cannot be measured, but are thought to be significant. A goal of health reform in many parts of the country is to move care services out of institutions and into the community. Current federal GST policy, by taxing supplies in a clinical practice setting but not in a hospital setting, acts to discourage this shift in emphasis. No other issue in recent years has raised the ire of individual practitioners as much as the imposition of this most unfair and inequitable tax on business inputs. Understanding that the Minister of Finance is in the process of consulting with the provinces as to the nature of a replacement tax for the GST, we are confident that this oversight will be remedied. In the interests of fundamental fairness/equity and allocative efficiency, CMA respectfully recommends the following: 5. THAT THE COMMITTEE WORK TO ENSURE THAT CANADIAN PHYSICIANS, AS SMALL BUSINESSES, PAY NO MORE THAN OTHER PROFESSIONS UNDER ANY REPLACEMENT TAX FOR THE GST; 6. THAT ALL TAXES ON BUSINESS EXPENSES BE FAIRLY AND FULLY REMOVED UNDER ANY REPLACEMENT TAX FOR THE GST; 7. THAT IF ANY REMEDIAL STEPS ARE TAKEN TO ENSURE NO TAXES ARE LEVIED ON BUSINESS INPUTS, THESE BE APPLIED UNIFORMLY ACROSS ALL EXEMPT SERVICES. Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) Canadian physicians, while receiving a large proportion of their professional earnings from the public sector (94%), do not benefit as self-employed individuals from defined benefit plans or from publicly-financed pension benefits that accrue to employed professionals. They, like other self-employed individuals, must plan and fund their own retirement. Fairness/equity once again demands that there be symmetry between money-purchase (MP) and defined-benefit (DB) retirement plans. This is all the more important for physicians because of their compressed period of lifetime earnings in relation to other groups. This Committee will have heard various calls for either reducing the annual contribution limit or taxing assets within RRSPs. Such arguments are both specious and patently unfair. Both propositions potentially involve double taxation. Experts both within and outside government argue, quite correctly, that the current policy be maintained, and that equity between employees and the self-employed before the taxman be assured. It is for these reasons, that CMA has led an unprecedented alliance for the preservation of retirement savings, and recommends the following: 8. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT; 9. THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE; 10. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES. Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption (LCGE) for Small Businesses Most Canadian physicians are independent, self-employed practitioners. As such, they have the ability if they are incorporated to claim the LCGE when they sell their practices. Over time, several provinces have accorded physicians the right to incorporate (e.g., Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory), in other jurisdictions, physician incorporation is under active review (e.g., Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and the Northwest Territories). While physicians have benefited from incorporation on a limited basis, this issue takes on added importance when one considers the "national" move towards incorporation allowing a greater number of eligible physicians to claim the LCGE. Recent health reforms have also underscored the importance of maintaining the current policy. Previously, physicians were free to move their practices from one location to another to meet the changing health needs of Canadians. Over the past two years, provincial governments have moved to restrict inter-provincial mobility of physicians and indeed mobility within any given province or territory. These "barriers" not only restrict the number of new entrants into the system in addition to those who wish to move to other areas of the country, but also can be thought of as increasing the capitalized value of established practices. Indeed, with the advent of regional physician resource plans across Canada, the cost of establishing a new practice can be expected to continue to grow at an unprecedented rate. So while some physicians have yet to claim the LCGE, it is reasonable to think that they will some time in the future. As the health needs of Canadians change, and as people move, medical care services will have to respond accordingly. The elimination of the LCGE, by significantly increasing the purchase price of a new medical practice, unnecessarily and unfairly raises additional economic barriers to shifting practices in response to changing community health needs. CMA therefore recommends: 11. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAINTAIN THE CURRENT POLICY FOR THE LIFETIME CAPITAL GAINS EXEMPTION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES. V. TRADE-OFFS To summarize: in broad terms the health care sector has already paid its fair (and to a larger extent unfair) share. Everyone who has appeared before this Committee will argue that cuts should not occur in their backyard. They can't all be right! The government of Canada must decide where its priorities lie over the longer-term. Deficit reduction targets can no longer be met by simply chipping away at the full range of federally-sponsored programs. The national integrity of national health insurance programs, given their importance to Canada's economic, social and political future must be on the short list of safeguarded social programs. If further reductions in federal health transfers are deemed appropriate, the Committee should be prepared to publicly acknowledge that the principles of universality or comprehensiveness (i.e., the choice between covering everyone versus everything) will have to be fundamentally re-examined. Given the degree of support for the universality principle, if the federal government is serious about further reducing its direct or indirect contributions to health, then it must reconsider the range of core benefits that will be made available to Canadians. In fact, we may now have reached the point where we need to get back to basics; reminding ourselves of the original medicare promise, which was to protect Canadians from the spectre of personal bankruptcy associated with large and unexpected health care bills. Not to pay the day-to-day ("grocery") bill of health care. The recently-announced National Health Forum, chaired by the Prime Minister, will provide an important opportunity to assess the breadth and depth of publicly-financed health care. The contribution of medicine to the health of Canadians and to the economy is just too important to be traded off. Physicians are still feeling the "aftershocks" of recent federal fiscal decisions. They have also had to absorb sharp unilateral reductions at the provincial level. The provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Alberta - to name only three - have disproportionately singled out the medical profession on a net earnings basis in decreasing health funding. Taken together, these fiscal forces could trigger an unprecedented exodus of physicians from Canada. As governments move to restrict the ability of physicians to provide needed medical care, CMA is increasingly concerned about the growing number of physicians who are being actively recruited by the United States, and those who feel they have no alternative but to leave the country. At a macro level, we as a society, must recognize that we are in a North American labour market, and as such, each physician heading south represents both a short-term pain and long-term pain. VI. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS The CMA offers the following recommendations to the Committee in its deliberations: 1. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AVOID FURTHER CUTS TO THE EPF HEALTH TRANSFER AND LOCK IN THE CASH PORTION; 2. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATE A STABLE FIVE-YEAR FUNDING ARRANGEMENT WITH THE PROVINCES/TERRITORIES; 3. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MUST ENSURE THAT ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE HEALTH TRANSFER BE SEPARATE AND EXPLICIT. 4. THAT THE CURRENT FEDERAL GOVERNMENT POLICY WITH RESPECT TO NON-TAXABLE HEALTH BENEFITS BE MAINTAINED; 5. THAT THE COMMITTEE WORK TO ENSURE THAT CANADIAN PHYSICIANS, AS SMALL BUSINESSES, PAY NO MORE THAN OTHER PROFESSIONS UNDER ANY REPLACEMENT TAX FOR THE GST; 6. THAT ALL TAXES ON BUSINESS EXPENSES BE FAIRLY AND FULLY REMOVED UNDER ANY REPLACEMENT TAX FOR THE GST; 7. THAT IF ANY REMEDIAL STEPS ARE TAKEN TO ENSURE NO TAXES ARE LEVIED ON BUSINESS INPUTS, THESE BE APPLIED UNIFORMLY ACROSS ALL EXEMPT SERVICES. 8. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT; 9. THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE; 10. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES. 11. THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAINTAIN THE CURRENT POLICY FOR THE LIFETIME CAPITAL GAINS EXEMPTION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES. _______________ 1 The Angus Reid Group, The Reid Report. Vol. 8, No. 7, July/August, 1993 and Vol. 8, No. 8, September, 1993. 2 Ibid. 3 Agenda: Jobs and Growth: Creating A Healthy Fiscal Climate (The Economic and Fiscal Climate), Department of Finance, October 1994. 4 Economic and Fiscal Reference Tables, Department of Finance, September 1994; Annual Financial Report of the Government of Canada, Fiscal Year, 1993/94. 5 Valaskakis K.: The Debt Monster, Montreal Gazette, November 5, 1994. 6 National Health Expenditures in Canada, 1975-1993. Health Canada. 7 Ibid. 8 World Economic Forum 1991: The World Competitiveness report 1990, Institut pour l'étude des méthodes de direction de l'entreprise, Lausanne, Switzerland. 9 Thomson A 1991: Federal Support for Health Care: A Background Paper. Health Action Lobby, Ottawa, June 1991. 10 See the 1995/96 Pre-Budget Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance by the Health Action Lobby (HEAL), November 15, 1994.
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Canadians’ Access to Quality Health Care: A System in Crisis : Submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance 1999 Pre-budget consultations

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy1987
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1998-08-31
Topics
Health human resources
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Parliamentary submission
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1998-08-31
Topics
Health human resources
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
I. INTRODUCTION The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) commends the federal government, in its second mandate, for continuing the public pre-budget consultation process. This visible and accountable process encourages public dialogue in the development of finance and economic policies of the country. As part of the 1999 pre-budget consultation process, the CMA welcomes the opportunity to submit its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, and looks forward to meeting with the Committee at a later date to discuss our recommendations and their rationale in greater detail. II. POLICY CONTEXT While the current and future status of our health care system is a top priority for all Canadians, it is evident that their faith in the system’s ability to ensure access to quality care is eroding. In May 1991, 61% of Canadians rated the system as excellent/very good. By February 1998 that rating had slipped to 29% - a dramatic decrease in the confidence level of Canadians in the health care system. 1 Unfortunately, their outlook on the future of the health care system is not much better. Some 51% of Canadians believe that their health care will be in worse condition in 10 years than it is today. 2 It is not surprising that Canadians are losing confidence in the future sustainability of the health care system. They have experienced firsthand the decline in access to a range of health care services (see Table 1): * 73% reported that waiting times hospital emergency departments had worsened, up from 65% in 1997, and 54% in 1996 * 72% reported that waiting times for surgery had lengthened, up from 63% in 1997, and 53% in 1996 * 70% reported that availability of nurses in hospitals had worsened, up from 64% in 1997, and 58% in 1996 * 61% reported that waiting times for tests had increased, up from 50% in 1997, and 43% in 1996 * 60% reported that access to specialist physicians has worsened, up from 49% in 1997, and 40% in 1996 [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 1 (a) [TABLE END] [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 1 (b) [TABLE END] Clearly, these findings are significant, and demonstrate the public’s increasing concerns regarding current access to quality health care, as well as the future sustainability of our health care system. Canadians have made it clear that it is not, nor can it be, “business as usual” in attempting to meet their health care needs as we move into the next millennium. Medicare, Canada’s crowning social policy achievement, is in crisis. It is time for the federal government to re-establish its leadership role in this strategic priority area. The CMA has repeatedly placed its concerns about access to quality health care on the public record. Physicians, as patient advocates, have consistently expressed their frustration with the difficulties faced in accessing medically necessary services - only to fall on the deaf ears of the federal government. In surveying Canadian physicians on the front lines, they know the degree of difficulty in accessing services that their patients need: 3 * only 27% of physicians surveyed rated as excellent/very good/good their access to advanced diagnostic services (e.g., MRI) * only 30% of physicians surveyed rated as excellent/very good/good their access to long-term institutional care * only 45% of physicians surveyed rated as excellent/very good/good their access to psychosocial support services * only 46% of physicians surveyed rated as excellent/very good/good their access to acute institutional care for elective procedures These findings are cause for concern. Particularly troublesome is that only 63% of physicians surveyed rated as excellent/very good/good their access to acute institutional on an urgent basis. The cause for this crisis of confidence is clear - the federal government's unilateral and repeated decreases in the rate of increase in transfer payments beginning with Established Financing Programs (EPF), established in 1977, and continuing for the next decade-and-a-half. It culminated, in April, 1996, with the severe and successive cuts in cash transfers for health, post-secondary education (PSE) and social assistance via the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). The CMA is not alone in its view. In addition to the public, other health groups and the Provincial and Territorial Premiers have expressed serious concern about the sustainability of the health care system and the urgent need for Federal leadership and reinvestment. Following their meeting in August, 1998, the Premiers "re-affirmed their commitment to maintaining and enhancing a high quality universal health care system for all Canadians and observed that every government in Canada but one - the federal government - has increased its funding to health care - the people's priority". 4 Underscoring the Premiers' view was a detailed proposal submitted to the federal government calling for an immediate increase in CHST cash transfers. From Federal Government Acknowledgement to Action At the 1997 Annual General Meeting of the CMA in Victoria, the federal minister of health, Allan Rock, stood before delegates and acknowledged "the very real anxiety that's being felt by Canadians" over the future of the health care system. 5 The minister also conceded that cuts to transfer payments have not been insignificant and have had an impact on the system, a point on which the CMA wholeheartedly agrees. The CMA recognizes that the federal government has made a series of difficult decisions when it comes to its funding priorities in order to restore our country’s fiscal health. However, the time has come to consider the fundamental issue of reinvesting in the health of Canadians. The federal government must move beyond the rhetoric in terms of acknowledging the pain and suffering that the cuts have caused, and move to an agenda of action by showing leadership and making the necessary and overdue re-investments in our health care. At a time when the federal government is beginning to reap the benefits of a fiscal dividend, it must recognize that health care is not simply a consumption good that, once spent, provides no additional benefits. Investments in the health care system provide a substantial and lasting social rate of return in terms of restoring, maintaining and enhancing Canadians health. Furthermore, in an increasingly interdependent and global marketplace, a sustainable health care system must be viewed as a necessary precondition for Canadians to excel, thus strengthening the link between good economic policy and good health care policy in Canada. They should not be viewed as competing against each other or that one must be sacrificed at the expense of the other. The 1998 federal budget ignored Canadians' number one concern and did nothing to bolster their confidence that the system will be there when they or their family need it. In responding to the massive reductions in cash transfers to the provinces and territories, in his February 24, 1998, budget speech, federal finance minister Paul Martin announced that he had increased the floor under cash transfers to the provinces in support of health and other programs from the $11.0 billion to $12.5 billion annually and further that it "will provide provinces with nearly $7 billion more in cash over the 1997/98 to 2002/03 period”. 6 While this was announced as an "increase" these statements are misleading. It must be remembered that this is not “new” money; the $12.5 billion represents nothing more than a partial restoration, which falls $6.0 billion (or 32%) short of the cash floor of $18.5 billion prior to the introduction of the CHST in 1996/97. To date, the cumulative impact of cuts to the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) in 1996 and 1997 amounts to a $15.5 billion withdrawal in federal cash from health and social transfers. Their impact is still working its way through the system and being felt in patients' pain and suffering and unfortunately, even death. The CMA has consistently stated publicly that the integrity of the health care system is being jeopardized by reductions to federal cash transfer payments for health. The federal government, however, has failed to respond to these concerns. Unless the federal government reinvests in health care, it will only deepen the crisis of confidence Canadians share about the future sustainability of the health care system. III. HEALTH CARE FUNDING AND THE FEDERAL ROLE The Federal Role When it comes to the health care system, the federal government’s role is aimed at ensuring that Canadians have access to health care services under “uniform terms and conditions”. This derives from the government’s right to exercise its spending power and has been manifested over the past 40 years through a number of cash-transfer mechanisms to the provinces and territories, framed more precisely by the principles of the Canada Health Act (i.e., public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility). Since the inception of national health insurance in Canada, the federal government has played a central role in the funding of health care. Until 1977, the government reimbursed each province 50 cents on each dollar spent in the areas of hospital and medical care insurance. Following a renegotiated formula, government moved from a “cost-sharing” to a “block funding” formula from 1977/78 to 1995/96. Federal-provincial transfers were distributed through a funding mechanism known as Established Programs Financing (EPF). Under EPF, a combination of (basic) cash and tax points were transferred to the provinces for health care and post-secondary education (PSE). While both the tax points and cash components are important in funding health care, there are those who argue that the level of federal cash should be viewed as a true reflection of the government’s commitment to health care. This is significant for two reasons. First, it demonstrates the priority the government places on our health care system, and secondly, the cash component (which can be withheld under the Canada Health Act) can play an important role in preserving and enhancing national standards. 7 The Origins of Federal Cash Withdrawal The genesis for the crisis in confidence about the future of Canada’s health care system can be traced to 1982, when the federal government introduced a series of unilateral decisions which reduced its cash contributions to the provinces and territories for health and other social programs. Figure 1 highlights the changes made to the EPF formula used to fund health and post-secondary education between 1977 and 1995. These unilateral changes, resulted in the withholding of approximately $30 billion in federal cash that would have otherwise been transferred to provincial and territorial health insurance plans (and an additional $12.1 billion for post-secondary education - for a total of $42.1 billion). 8 This dollar amount is of no small consequence when it comes to ensuring that all Canadians have access to quality health care. [FIGURE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Figure 1 [FIGURE END] Into the Mist... Prior to April 1, 1996 the federal government's commitment to insured health services, post-secondary education and social assistance programs could be readily determined since the federal government made separate notional cash contributions to the provinces and territories in each of these areas. 9 Announced in the 1995 federal budget, the creation of the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST), on April 1, 1996, saw EPF merge with the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). In effect, health, post-secondary education, and social assistance were collapsed into one large cash transfer. At the time, the government claimed that the CHST was “a new approach to federal-provincial fiscal relations marked by greater flexibility and accountability for provincial governments, and more sustainable financing arrangements for the federal government.” 10 In reality, the increased “flexibility and accountability” was accompanied by a $7.0 billion reduction in the cash portion of the new transfer, and introduced a lower level of transparency with respect to where and what proportion the federal government notionally allocated its dollars for health, PSE and the social programs previously funded under CAP. In its 1998 budget, the federal government moved to partially restore CHST funding by establishing a new cash floor of $12.5 billion (see Table 2) - however, this is still $6.0 billion short of the pre-CHST cash floor. To date, the cumulative impact of previous CHST cash reductions in 1996 and 1997 amounts to a $15.5 billion withdrawal of cash from health and social transfers to 1998/99. By 2002/03, it is estimated that $39.5 billion will have been removed from the CHST. This is in addition to the $30 billion withheld from fiscal transfers that would otherwise have gone to the provinces and territories for health between 1982 and 1995. 11 [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] [TABLE END] Furthermore, in addition to the current cash floor, the cash entitlement will stagnate at $12.5 billion, as adequate provision has not been made to maintain the value of the cash portion of the transfer. 12 This means the spending power of the cash entitlement will continue to erode as the health care system is forced to meet the changing needs of Canadians based on population growth, aging, epidemiology, new technologies and inflation. With the introduction of the CHST, the disappearance of health, post-secondary education and social assistance into the shadowy mist makes it impossible to hold the federal government accountable with respect to its relative commitment to each of these important policy areas. Using the pre-CHST percentage distribution, the federal government’s current cash allocation to health care stands at roughly $5.0 billion, or 7% of total health care expenditures. This is not surprising considering that the “H” in CHST was added later, only after health organizations protested its absence. Based on the reduced federal cash contribution to health care, it would appear that the government has made a conscious decision to abdicate its responsibility and leadership role in funding health care. While claiming to uphold the integrity of our national health care system, the reality of reduced cash transfers has forced all provinces and territories to make do with significantly fewer federal dollars for health. Federal “offloading” at its best has allowed the federal government to meet (and exceed) its own financial projections; at its worst it has forced the provinces and territories to consider a series of unattractive options: re-allocate program spending from within current budgets; deficit-financed program spending; or reduced program spending. To be clear, from a national perspective, the CMA believes that the single most important reason for the deterioration of the health care system is the significant decline in federal financial support for health care. It is critical that the federal government immediately signal its commitment to Canadians that the health care system is a high priority, and to immediately reinvest in a program that will restore the confidence of Canadians' that the system will be there for them when they need it. Now is the time for the federal government to demonstrate leadership and address the number one concern of Canadians by turning the "vicious cycle" of deficit reduction into a "virtuous cycle" of reinvesting in the health care system. This is not business as usual, and the status quo is not sustainable. IV. A TIME TO RE-ESTABLISH FEDERAL LEADERSHIP IN HEALTH CARE Stabilize the System Canadians, who strongly support a publicly-funded health care system - a conviction shared by the CMA - need to see some leadership from their federal government about how it perceives the future of the health care system unfolding. The failure to re-invest in health care in the last federal budget leaves them confused by the contradiction of seeing the government withdraw funding while at the same time talking about introducing new programs such as home care and pharmacare. Before the federal government can even contemplate future program expansion, it must move quickly to stabilize our current health care system. Canadians have made it very clear where they believe the federal government's spending priorities lie. Seventy-one percent (Angus Reid, November, 1997) want federal cash transfer restored and 81% (Ottawa Sun/Roper, June 1998) of Canadians want the federal government to dedicate more resources to Medicare. The CMA believes strongly that there is an immediate need for a measured, deliberate and responsible approach to re-invest in our health care system. Canadians need to be reassured that the system will be there for them and their families when they need it. To restore access to quality health care for all Canadians, the CMA respectfully recommends: 1. That in order to ensure greater public accountability and visibility, the federal government introduce a health-specific portion of the cash transfers to the provinces and territories. 2. That in addition to the current level of federal cash transferred to the provinces and territories for health care, the federal government restore at a minimum $2.5 billion in cash on an annual basis to be earmarked for health care, effective April 1, 1999. 3. That beginning April 1, 2000, the federal government fully index the total cash entitlement allocated to health care through the use of a combination of factors that would take into account the changing needs of Canadians based on population growth, aging, epidemiology, current knowledge and new technologies, and economic growth. The principles outlined in the above recommendations are fundamental and underscore the importance of establishing an accountable (i.e., linking sources with their intended uses) and visible transfer for federal cash that is targeted for reinvestment into health care. While there is ongoing discussion about the mechanism(s) to reinvest in health care, the minimum federal cash restoration of $2.5 billion on an annual basis into the health care system recognizes the high priority of placing health care on a more sustainable financial footing for the future. This figure is separate from the $5 billion notionally allocated to health care via the current CHST, and is calculated on the basis of the recent historical federal cash allocation (approximately 41%) under EPF and CAP (now the CHST) to health care as a proportion of the $6.0 billion dollars required to restore the CHST cash floor to $18.5 billion (1995/96 level). The recommendations also speak to the necessity of having in place a fully indexed escalator to ensure that the federal cash contribution will continue to grow to meet the future health care needs of Canadians, and with the economy. The escalator formula recognizes that health care needs are not always synchronized with economic growth. In fact, it could be argued that in times of economic hardship (i.e., unemployment, stress, anxiety), a greater burden is placed on the health care system. Taken together, the above recommendations are a targeted approach to reinvesting in health care, and serve to re-establish the federal government's leadership role when it comes to the current and future sustainability of our health care system. It also signals that the federal government is prepared to address, in a focused and strategic approach, Canadians' number one concern - access to quality health care. Finally, it is important to note that in principle the above recommendations are consistent with those of other groups such as the provincial and territorial ministers of finance, the Canadian public and other national health organizations, who are not asking for new resources but an immediate restoration of monies that have been taken out of the federal/provincial/territorial transfer envelope over the past three years. Looking to the Future At the same time that the federal government reinvests to stabilize the health care system, it must also consider the broader spectrum of health care services that must be in place to ensure that Canadians do not fall through the cracks. In addition to the re-investment required to stabilize our Medicare system, there is also an urgent need for investments into other components of the health system. In many ways, this suggests that new transitional funding is required to ensure that as the system evolves, it remains accessible, and can do so with minimal interruption of service to Canadians. Proposed by the CMA, the Health System Renewal Fund, is time limited, sector-specific, and strategically targeted to areas that are in transition. Funding is intended to meet defined need and give the federal government sufficient flexibility in how the funds will be allocated, with full recognition for the investment. The CMA respectfully recommends: 4. That the federal government establish a one-time Health System Renewal Fund in the amount of $3 billion to be disbursed over the three-year period beginning April 1, 1999, for the following areas of need: a. Acute care infrastructure support: assist health institutions to enhance the delivery of a continuum of quality patient care by improving their access to necessary services including new technologies, and modernizing health facilities and upgrading infrastructure. b. Community care infrastructure support: to enable communities to develop services to support the delivery of home and community-based care in the wake of the rapid downsizing of the institutional sector. c. Support Canadians at risk: to provide access to pharmacotherapy and medical devices to those in need, who are not adequately covered by public or private insurance (pending the development of a long-term solution). d. Health information technology: to allow the provinces and territories to put in place the transparent, clinically driven health information infrastructure necessary to support the adequate and appropriate management of access and delivery of health care. In implementing the health information infrastructure scrupulous attention must be paid to privacy and confidentiality issues. The Acute Care Infrastructure Support program is designed to ensure that targeted reinvestments are made in the institutional sector such that it has the necessary physical capacity and infrastructure to deliver quality health care. In a world where downsizing has become the accepted wisdom, health care facilities need to be modernized in terms of new technology and equipment to ensure the full continuum of patient care is available. The Community Care Infrastructure Support program speaks to the important need to develop adequate community-based systems before any reforms are introduced in the acute care sector. It also recognizes that community-based programs should not be implemented at the expense of the acute care sector, but rather, should be designed such that both sectors complement one another and add value to the health care system. The Support Canadians at Risk program focuses on those who with inadequate coverage and have compromised access to needed pharmacotherapy and medical devices. Currently, drug coverage is not universal nor is it comprehensive. In many cases, the working poor, those that are self-employed or employed by small businesses do not have drug coverage (nor are they eligible for government sponsored plans). In other cases, co-payments/deductibles of some public plans are so high that individuals must pay out-of-pocket (e.g., $850 deductible, semi-annually, in Saskatchewan, then 35% co-payment) for all necessary prescription drugs. As a result, this patchwork coverage may inhibit Canadians access to quality care and may place additional demands on the acute care sector. Similarly, Canadians may not have access to medical devices covered by the public and/or private plans. The Health Information Technology program speaks to the critical need to develop and implement a transparent and clinically driven information systems that will support better management, measurement and monitoring of the health care system. At the same time, scrupulous attention must be paid to privacy and confidentiality issues. To this end, the CMA has taken a proactive approach in addressing these issues by developing a health information privacy code. Taken together, our recommendations are a powerful and strategic package. They speak to the need to immediately stabilize the health care system - which is in crisis, and the need to look at the broader spectrum of health care services to ensure that Canadians in need do not fall through the cracks. V. REINFORCING GOOD ECONOMIC POLICY WITH GOOD HEALTH CARE POLICY IN CANADA While the system-wide issues related to the federal role in funding health care is clearly of importance to Canada's physicians, there are also other important issues that the CMA would like to bring to the attention of the Standing Committee on Finance. As mentioned earlier in the brief, good economic policy and good health care policy should go hand-in-hand. They should serve to reinforce, not neutralize, one another. They should not be viewed as one gaining at the expense of the other. Viewed in their proper context, they can be balanced such that policy decisions produce outcomes that are fair to all parties. Tobacco Taxation Policy Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature mortality in Canada. The most recent estimates suggest that more than 45,000 Canadians die each year due to tobacco use. The estimated economic cost to society from tobacco use in Canada has been estimated between $11 billion to $15 billion 13. Tobacco use directly costs the Canadian health care system $3 billion to $3.5 billion 14 annually. These estimates do not take into account intangible costs such as pain and suffering. CMA is concerned that the 1994 reduction in the federal cigarette tax has had a significant effect in slowing the decline in cigarette smoking in the Canadian population, particularly in the youngest age groups - where the number of young smokers (15-19) is in the 22% to 30% range and 14% for those age 10-14 15. The CMA congratulates the federal government’s February 13, 1998 initiative which selectively increased federal excise taxes on cigarettes and tobacco sticks. This is a first step towards an integrated tobacco tax strategy, and speaks to the importance of strengthening the relationship between good tax policy and good health policy in Canada. The CMA understands that tobacco tax strategies are extremely complex. Strategies need to consider the effects of tax increases on reduced consumption of tobacco products with increases in interprovincial/territorial and international smuggling. In order to tackle this issue, the government could consider a selective tax strategy. This strategy requires continuous stepwise increases to tobacco taxes in those areas with lower tobacco tax (i.e., Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada). The goal of selective increases in tobacco tax is to increase the price to the tobacco consumer over time (65-70% of tobacco products are sold in Ontario and Quebec). The selective stepwise tax increases will approach but may not achieve parity amongst all provinces; however, the tobacco tax will attain a level such that inter-provincial/territorial smuggling would be unprofitable. The selective stepwise increases would need to be monitored so that the new tax level and US/Canadian exchange rates do not make international smuggling profitable. The selective stepwise increase in tobacco taxes can be combined with other tax strategies. The federal government should apply the export tax and remove the exemption available on shipments in accordance with each manufacturers historic levels. The objective of implementing the export tax would be to make cross-border smuggling unprofitable. The federal government should establish a dialogue with the US federal government regarding harmonizing US tobacco taxes with Canadian levels at the factory gate. Alternatively, US tobacco taxes could be raised to a level that when offset with the US/Canada exchange rate differential renders international smuggling unprofitable. The objective of harmonizing US/Canadian tobacco tax levels (at or near the Canadian levels) would be to increase the price of internationally smuggled tobacco products to the Canadian and American consumers. The CMA's comprehensive tobacco taxation strategy is designed to achieve the following objectives: (1) to reduce tobacco consumption; (2) to minimize interprovincial/territorial smuggling of tobacco products; (3) to minimize international smuggling of tobacco products from both the Canadian and American perspective; (4) to reduce and/or minimize Canadian/American consumption of internationally smuggled tobacco products. The CMA recommends: 5. That the federal government follow a comprehensive integrated tobacco tax policy: a. To implement selective stepwise tobacco tax increases to achieve the following objectives: (1) reduce tobacco consumption, (2) minimize interprovincial/territorial smuggling of tobacco products, and (3) minimize international smuggling of tobacco products; b. To apply the export tax on tobacco products and remove the exemption available on tobacco shipments in accordance with each manufacturers historic levels; and c. To enter into discussions with the US federal government to explore options regarding tobacco tax policy, bringing US tobacco tax levels in line with or near Canadian levels, in order to minimize international smuggling. The Excise Act Review, A Proposal for a Revised Framework for the Taxation of Alcohol and Tobacco Products (1996), proposes that tobacco excise duties and taxes (Excise Act and Excise Tax Act) for domestically produced tobacco products be combined into a new excise duty and come under the jurisdiction of the Excise Act. The new excise duty is levied at the point of packaging where the products are produced. The Excise Act Review also proposes that the tobacco customs duty equivalent and the excise tax (Customs Tariff and Excise Tax Act) for imported tobacco products be combined into the new excise duty [equivalent tax to domestically produced tobacco products] and come under the jurisdiction of the Excise Act. The new excise duty will be levied at the time of importation. The CMA supports the proposal of the Excise Act Review. It is consistent with previous CMA recommendations calling for tobacco taxes at the point of production. Support for Tobacco Control Programs Taxation should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use. The Liberal party, recognising the importance of this type of strategy , promised: "...to double the funding for the tobacco control programs from $50 million to $100 million over five years, investing the additional funds in smoking prevention and cessation programs for young people, to be delivered by community organizations that promote the health and well-being of Canadian children and youth." 16 The CMA applauds the federal government's efforts in the area of tobacco use prevention and cessation - particularly its intent to commit $50 million to public education through the proposed Tobacco Control Initiative. However, a time limited investment is not enough. Substantial and sustainable funding is required for programs in prevention and cessation of tobacco use. 17 A possible source for this type of program investment could be tobacco tax revenues or the tobacco surtax. The CMA therefore recommends: 6. That the federal government commit stable funding for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy; this strategy should include programs aimed at prevention and cessation of tobacco use and protection of the public from tobacco's harmful effects. 7. That the federal government clarify its plans for the distribution of the Tobacco Control Initiative funds, and ensure that the funds are invested in evidence-based tobacco control projects and programs. 8. That the federal government support the use of tobacco tax revenues for the purpose of developing and implementing tobacco control programs. Fair and Equitable Tax Policy? - The Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) When it comes to tax policy and the tax system in Canada, the CMA is strongly of the view that both should be administered in a fair and equitable manner. This principle-based statement has been made to the Standing Committee on a number of different occasions. While these principles are rarely in dispute, the CMA has expressed its strong concerns regarding their application - particularly in the case of the goods and services tax (GST) and the recently introduced harmonized sales tax (HST) in Atlantic Canada. By designating medical services as "tax exempt" under the Excise Tax Act, physicians are in the unenviable position of being denied the ability to claim a GST refund (i.e., input tax credits - ITCs) on the medical supplies necessary to deliver quality health care, and on the other, cannot pass the tax onto those who purchase such services. This is a critical point when one considers the raison-d'etre of introducing the GST: to be an end-stage consumer-based tax, and having not a producer of a good or a service bear the full burden of the tax. Yet this tax anomaly does precisely that. As a result, physicians are "hermetically sealed" - they have no ability to claim ITCs due to the Excise Tax Act, or pass the costs to consumers due to the Canada Health Act. To be clear, the CMA has never, nor is currently asking for, special treatment for physicians under the Excise Tax Act. However, if physicians, as self-employed individuals are considered as small businesses for tax purposes, then it only seems reasonable that they should have the same tax rules extended to them that apply to other small businesses. This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. While other self-employed professionals and small businesses claim ITCs, an independent (KPMG) study has estimated that physicians have "overcontributed" in terms of unclaimed ITCs by $57.2 million per year. By the end of this calendar year, physicians will have been unfairly taxed in excess of $480 million. Furthermore, with the introduction of the HST in Atlantic Canada, KPMG has estimated that it will costs physicians an additional $4.686 million per year. As it currently applies to medical services, the GST is bad tax policy and the HST will make a bad situation worse for physicians. Last year, the Standing Committee, in its report to the House of Commons stated: "According to the CMA, the GST is fundamentally unfair to physicians and is a deterrent in recruiting and retaining physicians in Canada. This issue merits consideration and further study". 18 The CMA believes that it has rigorously documented its case and further study is not required - the time has come for concerted action from the federal government to alleviate this tax impediment. There are other health care providers (e.g., dentists, physiotherapists, psychologists, chiropractors, nurses) whose services are categorized as tax exempt. However, there is an important distinction between whether the services are publicly insured or not. Health care providers who deliver services privately have the opportunity to pass along the GST costs through their fee structures. It must be remembered that physicians are in a fundamentally different position given that 99% of their professional earnings come from the government health insurance plans: under the GST and HST, "not all health care services are created equal". There are those who argue that the medical profession should negotiate the GST at the provincial/ territorial level, yet there is no province that is prepared to cover the additional costs that are being downloaded onto physicians as a result of changes to federal tax policy. Nor do these governments feel they should be expected to do so. The current tax anomaly, as it affects the medical profession, was created with the introduction of the GST - and must be resolved at the federal level. As it currently stands for medical services, the GST and HST is not a tax policy that reinforces good health care policy in Canada. The CMA view is not unique. The late Honourable Chief Justice Emmett Hall recognized the principles that underpin the fundamental issue of tax fairness by stating: "That the federal sales tax on medical supplies purchased by self-employed physicians in the course of their practices be eliminated". 19 Even though Mr. Hall's recommendation was made prior to the introduction of the GST and HST, the principles outlined above are unassailable and should be reflected in federal tax policy. Canadian physicians work hard to provide quality health care to their patients within what is a publicly funded health care system. Physicians are no different from Canadians in that they, too, are consumers (purchasers). Why then, they ask, has the medical profession been singled out for such unfair treatment under the GST regime? The CMA respectfully recommends: 9. That health care services funded by the provinces and territories be zero-rated. The above recommendation could be accomplished by amending the Excise Tax Act as follows: (1). Section 5 part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is replaced by the following: 5. "A supply (other than a zero-rated supply) made by a medical practitioner of a consultative, diagnostic, treatment or other health care service rendered to an individual (other than a surgical or dental service that is performed for cosmetic purposes and not for medical or reconstructive purposes)." (2). Section 9 Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is repealed. (3). Part II of Schedule VI to the Excise Tax Act is amended by adding the following after section 40: 41. A supply of any property or service but only if, and to the extent that, the consideration for the supply is payable or reimbursed by the government under a plan established under an Act of the legislature of the province to provide for health care services for all insured persons of the province. Our recommendation fulfils at least two over-arching policy objectives: (1) strengthening the relationship between good economic policy and good health policy in Canada; and (2) applying the fundamental principles that underpin our taxation system (fairness, efficiency, effectiveness), in all cases. Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) There are (at least) two fundamental goals of retirement savings: (1) to guarantee a basic level of retirement income for all Canadians; and (2) to assist Canadians in avoiding serious disruption of their pre-retirement living standards upon retirement. Reviewing the demographic picture in Canada, we see that an increasing portion of society is not only aging, but is living longer. Assuming that current demographic trends will continue and peak in the first quarter of the next century, it is important to recognize the role that private RRSPs savings will play in ensuring that Canadians may continue to live dignified lives well past their retirement from the labour force. This becomes even more critical when one considers that Canadians are not setting aside sufficient resources for their retirement. Specifically, according to Statistics Canada, it is estimated that 53% of men and 82% of women starting their career at age 25 will require financial aid at retirement age - only 8% of men and 2% women will be financially secure. In its 1996 Budget Statement, the federal government announced that it froze the dollar limit of RRSPs at $13,500 through to 2002/03, with increases to $14,500 and $15,500 in 2003/04 and 2004/05, respectively. As well, the maximum pension limit for defined benefit registered pension plans will be frozen at its current level of $1,722 per year of service through 2004/05. This is a de facto increase in tax payable. This change in policy with respect to RRSP contribution limits run counter to the White Paper released in 1983 (The Tax Treatment of Retirement Savings), where the House of Commons Special Committee on Pension Reform recommended that the limits on contributions to tax-assisted retirement savings plans be amended so that the same comprehensive limit would apply regardless of the retirement savings vehicle or combination of vehicles used. In short, the principle of "pension parity" was endorsed. Furthermore, in three separate papers released by the federal government, the principle of pension parity would have been achieved between money-purchase (MP) plans and defined benefit (DB) plans had RRSP contribution limits risen to $15,500 in 1988. In effect, the federal government postponed the scheduling of the $15,500 limit for seven years - that is, achieving the goal of pension parity was delayed until 1995. The CMA has been frustrated that ten years of careful and deliberate planning by the federal government around pension reform has not come to fruition, in fact, if the current policy remains in place it will have taken more than 17 years to implement (from 1988 to 2005). As a consequence, the current policy of freezing RRSP contribution limits and RPP limits without making adjustments to RRSP limits to achieve pension parity serves to maintain inequities between the two plans until 2004/2005. This is patently unfair for self-employed Canadians who rely on RRSPs as their sole vehicle for retirement planning. The CMA recommends: 10. That the dollar limit of RRSPs at $13,500 increase to $14,500 and $15,500 in 1999/00 and 2000/01, respectively. Subsequently, dollar limits increase at the growth in the yearly maximum pensionable earnings (YMPE). Under current federal tax legislation, 20% of the cost of an RRSP, RRIF or Registered Pension Plan's investments can be made in "foreign property." The rest is invested in "Canadian" investments. If the 20% limit is exceeded at the end of a month, the RRSP pays a penalty of 1% of the amount of the excess. In its December 1998 pre-budget consultation , the Standing Committee on Finance made the following recommendation (p. 66): "...that the 20% Foreign Property Rule be increased in 2% increments to 30% over a five year period. This diversification will allow Canadians to achieve higher returns on their retirement savings and reduce their exposure to risk, which will benefit all Canadians." A recent study by Ernst & Young, demonstrated that Canadian investors would have experienced substantially better investment returns over the past 20 years with higher foreign content limits. As well, the Conference Board of Canada concluded that lifting the foreign content limit to 30% would have a neutral effect on Canada's economy. The CMA and believes there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Canadians would benefit from an increase in the Foreign Property Rule, from 20% to 30%. The CMA therefore recommends: 11. That the 20% foreign property rule for deferred income plans such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans and Registered Retirement Income Funds be increased in 2% annual increments to 30% over a five year period, effective 1999. As part of the process to revitalize the economy, greater expectations are being placed on the private sector to create employment opportunities. While this suggests that there is a need to re-examine the current balance between public and private sector job creation, the government, nonetheless has an important role to play in fostering an environment that will stimulate job creation. In this context, the CMA, strongly believes that current RRSPs should be viewed as an asset rather than a liability. With proper mechanisms in place, the RRSP pool of capital funds can play an integral role in bringing together venture capital and small and medium-size businesses and entrepreneurs. In this regard, the CMA would encourage the government to explore current regulatory impediments to bring together capital with small and medium-size businesses. The CMA, recommends the following: 12. That the federal government foster economic development by treating RRSP contributions as assets rather than liabilities and by exploring the regulatory changes necessary to ensure increased access to such funds by small and medium-size businesses. Non-Taxable Health Benefits In last year's federal budget, the CMA was encouraged by the federal government's announcement to extend the deductibility of health and dental premiums through private health services plans (PHSP) for the unincorporated self-employed. The CMA believes that this initiative is a step in the right direction when it comes to improving tax fairness. As well, the federal government is to be commended for its decision to maintain the non-taxable status of supplementary health benefits. This decision is an example of the federal government's serving to strengthen the relationship between good tax policy and good health care policy in Canada. If supplementary health benefits were to become taxable, it is likely that young healthy people would opt for cash compensation instead of paying taxes on benefits they do not receive. These Canadians would become uninsured for supplementary health services. It follows that employer-paid premiums may increase as a result of this exodus in order to offset the additional costs of maintaining benefit levels due to diminishing ability to achieve risk pooling. As well, in terms of fairness it would seem unfair to "penalize" 70% of Canadians by taxing supplementary health benefits to put them on an equal basis with the remaining 30%. It would be preferable to develop incentives to allow the remaining 30% of Canadians to achieve similar benefits attributable to the tax status of supplementary health benefits. The CMA therefore recommends: 13. That the current federal government policy with respect to non-taxable health benefits be maintained. Health Research in Canada At the same time that our health care system has been de-stabilized, so too has the role of health research in Canada. In response, the federal government announced in its 1998 budget that it would increase funding levels for the Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC) from $237.5 million (1997/98), to $267 million (1998/99), $270 million (1999/00) and $276 million (2000/01). While this is a step in the right direction, the $134 million over three years represents for the most part a restoration of previously cut funding - only $18 million would be considered new money. Furthermore, when compared against other countries, Canada does not fare well. Of the G-7 nations for which recent data were available, Canada ranks last in per capita spending for health research. France, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom spend between 1.5 and 3.5 times more per capita than Canada. 20 In what is increasingly a knowledge-based world, the federal government must be reminded that a sustained and substantial commitment to health research in required. The CMA therefore recommends: 14. That the federal government establish a national target (either in per capita terms or as a proportion of total health spending), and an implementation plan for health research and development spending including the full spectrum of basic biomedical to applied health services research, with the objective of improving Canada's position relative to other G-7 countries. Brain Drain and Tuition Deregulation In June, 1998, the CMA met with the Standing Committee on Finance to discuss the issue of "brain drain" in Canada. At that time, the CMA expressed its serious concerns over the recent tuition deregulation policy in Ontario and its subsequent impact on the career choices of new medical graduates. Specifically, the CMA officially decries tuition deregulation in Canadian medical schools and believes that governments should increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases; that any tuition increase be regulated and reasonable; and that financial support systems be in place in advance of, or concomitantly with, any tuition increase. These measures will foster the education and training of a diverse population of health care givers, and will support culturally and socially sensitive health care for all Canadians. As new physicians graduate with substantial and growing debt loads, they will be attracted to more lucrative positions in order to repay their debts - particularly positions in the United States. As a consequence, tuition deregulation policies will have a direct and detrimental impact when it comes to retaining our best and brightest young physicians in Canada. The CMA is currently in the process of developing a position paper on this issue. VI. SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS With the future of access to quality health care for all Canadians at stake, the CMA strongly believes that the federal government must demonstrate that it is prepared to re-establish its leadership role and re-invest in the health care system that all Canadians cherish and closely identify with. The CMA therefore makes the following recommendations to the Standing Committee on Finance in its deliberations. Stabilize the System 1. That in order to ensure greater public accountability and visibility, the federal government introduce a health-specific portion of the cash transfers to the provinces and territories. 2. That in addition to the current level of federal cash transferred to the provinces and territories for health care, the federal government restore at a minimum $2.5 billion in cash on an annual basis to be earmarked for health care, effective April 1, 1999. 3. That beginning April 1, 2000, the federal government fully index the total cash entitlement allocated to health care through the use of a combination of factors that would take into account the changing needs of Canadians based on population growth, aging, epidemiology, current knowledge and new technologies, and economic growth. Looking to the Future 4. That the federal government establish a one-time Health System Renewal Fund in the amount of $3 billion to be disbursed over the three-year period beginning April 1, 1999, for the following areas of need: a. Acute care infrastructure support: assist health institutions to enhance the delivery of a continuum of quality patient care by improving their access to necessary services including new technologies, and modernizing health facilities and upgrading infrastructure. b. Community care infrastructure support: to enable communities to develop services to support the delivery of home and community-based care in the wake of the rapid downsizing of the institutional sector. c. Support Canadians at risk: to provide access to pharmacotherapy and medical devices to those in need, who are not adequately covered by public or private insurance (pending the development of a long-term solution). d. Health information technology: to allow the provinces and territories to put in place the transparent, clinically driven health information infrastructure necessary to support the adequate and appropriate management of access and delivery of health care. In implementing the health information infrastructure scrupulous attention must be paid to privacy and confidentiality issues. Tobacco Taxation Policy 5. That the federal government follow a comprehensive integrated tobacco tax policy: a. To implement selective stepwise tobacco tax increases to achieve the following objectives: (1) reduce tobacco consumption, (2) minimize interprovincial/territorial smuggling of tobacco products, and (3) minimize international smuggling of tobacco products; b. To apply the export tax on tobacco products and remove the exemption available on tobacco shipments in accordance with each manufacturers historic levels; and c. To enter into discussions with the US federal government to explore options regarding tobacco tax policy, bringing US tobacco tax levels in line with or near Canadian levels, in order to minimize international smuggling. Support for Tobacco Control Programs 6. That the federal government commit stable funding for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy; this strategy should include programs aimed at prevention and cessation of tobacco use and protection of the public from tobacco's harmful effects. 7. That the federal government clarify its plans for the distribution of the Tobacco Control Initiative funds, and ensure that the funds are invested in evidence-based tobacco control projects and programs. 8. That the federal government support the use of tobacco tax revenues for the purpose of developing and implementing tobacco control programs. Goods and Services Tax (GST) 9. That health care services funded by the provinces and territories be zero-rated. Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) 10. That the dollar limit of RRSPs at $13,500 increase to $14,500 and $15,500 in 1999/00 and 2000/01, respectively. Subsequently, dollar limits increase at the growth in the yearly maximum pensionable earnings (YMPE). 11. That the 20% foreign property rule for deferred income plans such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans and Registered Retirement Income Funds be increased in 2% annual increments to 30% over a five year period, effective 1999. 12. That the federal government foster economic development by treating RRSP contributions as assets rather than liabilities and by exploring the regulatory changes necessary to ensure increased access to such funds by small and medium-size businesses. Non-Taxable Health Benefits 13. That the current federal government policy with respect to non-taxable health benefits be maintained. Health Research in Canada 14. That the federal government establish a national target (either in per capita terms or as a proportion of total health spending), and an implementation plan for health research and development spending including the full spectrum of basic biomedical to applied health services research, with the objective of improving Canada's position relative to other G-7 countries. 1 Angus Reid, February, 1998. 2 Angus Reid, February, 1998. 3 Canadian Medical Association. January 1998 Physician Resource Questionnaire. 4 39th Annual Premiers’ Conference, Saskatoon Saskatchewan, August 5-7, 1998. Press Communique. 5 Rock A. Speech to the Canadian Medical Association’s 130th General Council Victoria, Aug 20, 1997. 6 The Budget Plan, 1998. Building Canada for the 21st Century, February 24, 1998. 7 The tax point transfer refers to the dollar value of ?tax points? that were negotiated with the federal government and the provinces. Specifically, where the federal government reduced personal and corporate income tax rates, the ?tax room? that was created was then occupied by the provinces. This is an important point because even though the federal government collects taxes on behalf of the provinces (with the exception of Quebec), it is argued that the value of the tax point transfer belongs to the provinces and is not considered as a true “federal contribution”. The last time this issue was negotiated was in 1965. 8 Thomson A. Federal Support for Health Care - A Background Paper. Health Action Lobby, Ottawa, 1991. 9 Thomson, A., Diminishing Expectations - Implications of the CHST, [report] Canadian Medical Association, Ottawa. May, 1996. 10 Federal Department of Finance. 11 Thomson A. Federal Support for Health Care - A Background Paper. Health Action Lobby, Ottawa, 1991. 12 Currently, the CHST cash entitlement has an escalator attached to it, however, it is scheduled to begin in 2000/01, 2001/02, 2002/03, at a rate of GDP- 2% (year 1), GDP-1.5% (year 2), and GDP-1% (year 3). 13 Health Canada, Economic Costs Due to Smoking (Information Sheet). Ottawa: Health Canada, November 1996. 14 Health Canada, Economic Costs Due to Smoking (Information Sheet). Ottawa: Health Canada, November 1996. 15 Health Canada, Youth Smoking Behaviour and Attitudes (Information Sheet). Ottawa: Health Canada, November 1996. 16 Liberal Party, Securing Our Future, Liberal Party of Canada, Ottawa, 1997. p. 77. 17 In California, between 1988 and 1993, when the state was carrying on an aggressive public anti-smoking campaign, tobacco consumption declined by over 25%. Goldman LK, Glantz SA. Evaluation of Antismoking Advertising Campaigns. JAMA 1988; 279: 772-777. 18 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance. December, 1997. 19 Hall Emmett (Special Commissioner). Canada?s National-Provincial Program for the 1980s, p. 32. 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD Health Data 97. Paris: OECD, 1997.
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Registered retirement savings plans : Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy1996
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1994-11-17
Topics
Physician practice/ compensation/ forms
  1 document  
Policy Type
Parliamentary submission
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
1994-11-17
Topics
Physician practice/ compensation/ forms
Text
Millions of Canadians are planning for their retirement relying on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and private pension plans, either as their only future retirement income or to supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP). Approximately 5 million contribute to RRSPs. Another 3.7 million participate in registered pension plans (RPPs). Some are independent business people, others work in family businesses. Some are self-employed or work for organizations that have opted for RRSPs instead of RPPs. Our Alliance is representative of this Canadian diversity. The objective of the Alliance is to maintain the current provisions of the Income Tax Act (the Act) and Income Tax Regulations (the Regulations) governing retirement savings. The current system is fundamentally good for the economy of Canada, and any changes made for short term deficit reduction will ultimately harm the economy in general and small and medium-sized business, in particular. Research shows that RRSPs are an important tool for small business retirement planning. Only in recent years have limits been adjusted to bring similar protection to those afforded under RPPs. We have only just started to achieve a measure of equitable treatment for the retirement savings of the self-employed and employees not protected by employer pension plans. The current system provides for the harmonization of all tax-assisted retirement savings arrangements, which will only be achieved when the limits on money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs) attain the equivalent limits already set for defined-benefit arrangements, such as employer pension plans. Changes to RRSPs alone will discriminate against the self-employed and against employees without employer pension plans. These Canadians form the majority of the workforce now and in the future. Arguments in favour of changes to the current system are based on two assumptions: firstly, that Canadians are saving sufficient income for their retirement and will continue to do so regardless of tax increases; and secondly, that the cost to the Government in lost tax revenues is enormous. Neither of these assumptions is valid. Background The fiscal theory underlying retirement savings is decades old. Contributions to registered plans are deductible and all earnings are exempt from tax until benefits are paid out from those plans. In essence the retirement savings system consists of a deferral of tax on contributions and earnings. The pension tax reform of 1989-1990 does not change the underlying fiscal theory. It aims to achieve equity between the employed and the self-employed and between defined benefit arrangements and money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs). That equity was achieved by phasing in a higher contribution limit for money-purchase arrangements so that they could, in the future, provide a retirement income comparable to that furnished by a defined benefit arrangement. This objective of achieving equivalence permeates the Act and the Regulations and has resulted in a substantial and continuing realignment of retirement savings arrangements in Canada. That realignment, with its attendant compliance costs, borne by employers and employees, was based on the acceptance of the premises behind pension tax reform, which acceptance Canadians have demonstrated. This realignment had a gestation period of over 5 years. 1 From the 1984 federal budget, which sought complete equity but with massive compliance costs, to the 1985 federal budget, which sought lesser compliance costs but with diminished equity, there issued pension tax reform, which yields substantial equity with substantial compliance costs. The Auditor General, in his 1988 report, estimated that pension tax reform would necessitate $330 million in start-up costs and $15 million in annual reporting costs. The Department of Finance disagreed and estimated that start-up costs would be from $60 to $70 million and that the annual reporting costs would be between $10 and $15 million. The independent consultant's report, upon which the Auditor General's report was based, had said that the start-up costs would be $395 million. Accordingly, Canadians have already borne many of the costs of retooling the retirement savings system and will continue to do so. Having paid those costs, surely Canadians are entitled to the measure of equity that the system promises. Governing Principles There are disquieting rumours about possible changes to the current retirement savings system. As yet, the government has said little on this issue, other than to say that the retirement system is not inviolable. The Alliance seeks to maintain the status quo. We should, therefore, deal with the principles that underlie the current system, and which continue to hold true: internal fairness and the accumulation of sufficient retirement income. Internal Fairness The current system was reformed to deliver internal fairness - if not quite yet, by 1996. It allows individuals to accumulate a pre-determined amount of private retirement savings. Taxpayers may, on a tax-assisted basis, earn a lifetime pension at the rate of $1,722 per year. In other words, an employee with 35 years of service may be entitled, on retirement, to an annual lifetime pension of $60,270. That level of tax assistance has been available to members of defined benefit plans since 1977. It has been frozen at that level since that time and will remain frozen until 1996. The money purchase limits, including RRSP limits, have been phased in to eventually provide equivalent benefits. Accordingly, the annual RRSP limits, when fully instituted in 1996, will allow the self-employed to accumulate retirement savings equivalent to those of members of defined benefit plans. Thus, one of the rationales underlying the current retirement savings structure is to eliminate the earlier discrimination against the self-employed. The self-employed will now be allowed to achieve retirement savings equivalent to those available to employees. RRSPs are not an isolated program under the Act, but rather an integral component of an indissoluble whole. Accumulation of Sufficient Retirement Income The limits set by pension tax reform are intended to provide a level of retirement income that will allow retired individuals to maintain their standard of living. It is generally felt that a retirement income equal to about 60-70 percent of pre-retirement income should not result in a marked change in one's standard of living. Increasingly, it appears that individual taxpayers will need to rely more on private retirement savings and less on public programmes. It is important, therefore, that the tax system permit the accumulation of retirement savings sufficient to allow taxpayers to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living. Indeed, it does not appear possible for money-purchase arrangements to reach, in most cases, the replacement ratio of 60 to 70 percent. Consider the following example. 2 Let us consider two taxpayers earning $50,000 and $100,000 respectively, in 1993 who maximize their contributions to RRSPs. What replacement income ratio can these taxpayers attain? Assume that the taxpayers are married and that the annuity to be purchased from the RRSP, at retirement, has the following characteristics: post-retirement indexation at 3% per annum with a spousal survivor benefit of two-thirds. 3 The results of this hypothetical are: [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] RRSP as a percentage of final year's salary at a 1993 salary of $50,000 ($100,000) Retirement Age Savings Start Age 25 35 45 55 41.0% (31.6%) 24.7% (19.0%) 11.2% (8.6%) 60 54.4% (41.9%) 35.1% (26.7%) 19.0% (14.6%) 65 72.2% (55.7%) 48.8% (37.6%) 29.4% (22.6%) [TABLE END] The above table indicates, for example, that a 35-year old earning $50,000 in 1993 can, at most, earn a pension from an RRSP equal to 48.8% of his final year's income, if his retirement commences at age 65. In other words, after 30 years of working and saving, that individual will have a retirement income of less than half of his pre-retirement income. This is below the income replacement threshold assumed by pension tax reform itself. For the taxpayer earning $100,000 in 1993, his RRSP pension will be 37.6% of this pre-retirement income. The only individual who attains an adequate replacement ratio, on these assumptions, is the 25-year old who saves for 40 years. It follows that, although the pension tax system espouses equivalence with the defined benefit pension plan, it does not attain it in practice. Inequities in the Current System In the current North American context, the limits of Canadian tax assistance for retirement savings are not generous. The equivalent money purchase and defined benefit limits for the United States, for example, are more than twice as generous as the Canadian limits. In addition, the Canadian system does not provide for deferrals of salary, as does the United States system. Furthermore, inequities exist in the provision of supplementary retirement benefits. Supplementary benefits are those in excess of the $60,270 benchmark pension discussed above. They also include benefits that the Regulations, and the Department of National Revenue, do not allow to be paid from a registered pension plan. Servants of the people, such as Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Legislatures, benefit from the privileged status of the payor of the pension, in that security of the pension promise is not an issue. Self-employed individuals and ordinary employees, on the other hand, must be concerned with the funding of their pension promise. Requirement for Informed and Thoughtful Debate In the early 1990s, annual contributions to RRSPs and RPPs exceeded $33 billion. Trusteed pensions, not including consolidated revenue fund plans, held $235 billion in assets at the end of 1992. The book value of the assets of such plans stood at $268 billion at the end of the first quarter of 1994. RRSP assets, not including self-directed plans, totalled $147 billion at the end of 1992. In his discussion paper entitled Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate: The Economic and Fiscal Update, released October 18, 1994, the Minister of Finance has indicated that the tax expenditure associated with all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Department of Finance should cast a covetous eye at the retirement savings system. We are concerned that a search for easy sources of revenue might prompt the government to change the existing rules in the Act governing retirement savings. It is submitted, however, that changes to the system, although fiscally attractive in the short term, would be detrimental to Canadian taxpayers in the long run. Deficit reduction should not be the sole motivating factor for change to the retirement savings system. The existing complex web of rules governing retirement savings should only be touched if there are compelling reasons, unrelated to immediate deficit reduction, to effect change. This is particularly so given the recent and unfinished reform of retirement savings arrangements in this country. It is clear that this debate has not yet begun and cannot be completed before the next federal budget. The prudent approach, therefore, is to defer any change to the retirement savings system until that debate has taken its course. A Framework for the Debate The following parameters should govern any consideration of the changes to the retirement savings system. 1. The Principle of Even-Handedness It is clear that all components of the retirement savings structure are interrelated. As a result, it would be unfair to single out RRSPs for detrimental treatment. RRSP savings are no different from other forms of retirement savings. 2. A Tax Increase According to a recent study of the Canada Tax Foundation, 3.7 million Canadians contributed to RPPs, and 4.8 million Canadians contributed to RRSPs, in the 1992 taxation year. 4 In that year, 69.7 percent of contributors to RPPs and 60.5 percent of contributors to RRSPs were in the middle income range ($25,000 to $60,000). Obviously, the participation rate by Canadians in retirement savings arrangements is quite high. A change to the retirement savings regime, by limiting deductibility of contributions for example, would be viewed as a tax increase by users of these arrangements. Indeed, for those individuals, any negative change to the retirement savings arrangement will have the same effect as a tax increase. 3. Job Creation The quest for deficit reduction should not obscure the important role that government can play in creating an environment conducive to increasing employment opportunities. As the government has previously stated, the bulk of job creation must come from small and medium-sized businesses. As a result, the current retirement savings regime, and in particular RRSP investments, should be viewed as an asset, and not a liability. The ability to deduct savings for retirement has the effect of increasing aggregate private savings as a source of funds for capital investment. 5 Reducing the tax incentive for retirement savings could have the effect of reducing the amount of "pooled" capital funds that could be made available for entrepreneurial activities. It would also add to the cost of doing business in Canada and stifle future employment opportunities. The rules in the Income Tax Act that permit RRSP contributors to put investments in small businesses are insufficient at present and must be strenghtened if the government wants to encourage job creation. Canada's Economic Challenges 6 shows that small business is playing an increasing role in the economy. Any reduction in the existing schedule of limits will hurt the ability of small business to create jobs. Indeed, the government should consider measures to increase the access by small and medium businesses to the retirement savings capital pool. The latest report of the House of Commons Industry Committee makes the point well: Ottawa should use tax incentives to help improve the competitiveness of the Canadian small business sector...One way the government can increase small business access to capital would be to permit owners, operators and other major shareholders to use funds from their registered retirement savings plans to buy equity in their business...that would increase the availability of such "love capital". 7 4. The Tax Expenditure Calculation As indicated earlier, it is said that the tax expenditure for all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion. That number suggests that the Government of Canada bears a high cost for its retirement savings system. However, it is our view that the calculation of that cost is not correct, with the result that the number is inflated. The Department of Finance's calculation of the tax expenditure cost is arrived at by adding the value of deductions associated with contributions and the value of the tax shelter on earnings. From that result is subtracted the revenue generated from withdrawals. For example, for the 1991 taxation year, the $14.9 billion number noted above is calculated as follows: Tax expenditure (RRSP) = value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals = $3.310 billion + $2.960 billion - .735 million = $5.535 billion Tax expenditure (RPP) = value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals = $4.460 billion + $8.950 billion - 4.030 billion = $9.38 billion Tax expenditure (RRSP + RPP) = $5.535 billion + $9.38 billion = $14.915 billion. The Government of Canada has itself admitted that its calculation of tax expenditures is subjective. In the case of tax deferrals, it has further stated that: Estimating the cost of tax deferrals presents a number of methodological difficulties since, even though the tax is not currently received, it may be collected at some point in the future. 8 The government has also specifically commented on tax expenditures associated with retirement savings: It should be noted that the RRSP/RPP tax expenditure estimates do not reflect a mature system because contributions currently exceed withdrawals. Assuming a constant tax rate, if contributions equalled withdrawals, only the non-taxation of investment would contribute to the net tax expenditure. As time goes by and more retired individuals have had the opportunity to contribute to RRSPs throughout their lifetime, the gap between contributions and withdrawals will shrink and possibly even become negative. An upward bias in the current estimates can therefore be expected to decline. 9 The method used to calculate the tax expenditure costs associated with retirement savings is based on the "current cash-flow" model. In effect, the calculation takes a snapshot of a given year and does not take into account future income flows. As indicated above, the calculation adds the value in a year of tax deductions to the lost tax on earnings, and subtracts the tax generated from withdrawals. We argue that that model is flawed. Current demographics show that the system is not yet mature since contributions will exceed withdrawals for some time. Once the baby boom generation begins to retire, withdrawals will exceed contributions. Substantial revenues will be generated for the fisc, revenues necessary to support government programs of the day. The value of the tax on those withdrawals is totally ignored in the static model adopted by the Department of Finance. Statistics Canada projects that the proportion of the Canadian population aged 70 and over will increase from 7.84% in 1991 to 10.6% in 2010. The numbers of such individuals will increase from 2.102 million in 1991, to 3.355 million in 2010, a 59.6 percent increase. Those individuals will be drawing pensions, both from RRSPs and RPPs. Those pensions will be taxed and will benefit the fisc. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the calculation adopted by the Government greatly over-values the cost to the fisc. A US commentator has suggested that government also gains "additional corporate tax revenue on the extra capital stock that results from higher savings. The government's official revenue estimates ignore this increase in corporate tax receipts." 10 To restate the position, the tax expenditure calculation adopts a static approach, both by considering only the current year's cash flows and by ignoring any secondary effects of the retirement savings pool. Until the true cost of the retirement savings system can be ascertained, the current estimates cannot be relied upon to justify change to the tax rules governing retirement savings. Trade-Offs While the Alliance recognizes the need for the Government to get its fiscal house in order, with a particular emphasis on the expenditure side of the equation, a proper balance must be struck between short-term solutions and longer-term consequences. One important consideration is the long-term pain that would result from Canadians having less financial flexibility to properly plan for their retirement. This long-term consequence must be measured against the short-term gain in revenues that would result from a freeze or reduction in the contributions to RRSPs and RPPs. At a time when the Government is encouraging greater self-reliance in matters of finance, further limiting Canadians' ability to adequately plan for their retirement would serve to aggravate the public future dependence on government programs. Looking at current demographic trends, it is important to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to set aside necessary financial resources that will be drawn upon (and taxed) at the time of retirement. If the government is looking to become more efficient in its delivery of public sector programs, it should also ensure that the private sector is allowed sufficient flexibility to meet its needs. In this context, the current retirement savings plans should be considered an investment in the future and should not be tampered with or diminished. Recommendations I THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT. II THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM SHOULD INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE. III THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES. _______________________ 1 Appendix A to this submission details the historical development of pension tax reform. 2 Taken from Sylvain Parent, FSA, FCIA, RRSP income replacement levels: a case study, 1993 Pension & Tax Reports; 4:93-94. 3 Further assumptions are as follows: rate of return is 7.5% per annum; yearly salary increases are 5.5% per annum; mortality is 80% of the average of the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality rates for males and females. 4 Perry, David B, Everyone's Tax Shelter At Risk, Canadian Tax Highlights, Volume 2, number 10, October 19, 1994; p. 75. 5 Andrews and Bradford, Savings Incentives in a Hybrid Income Tax, Studies of Government and Finance, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC; February, 1988. 6 Department of Finance, January, 1994, p. 30. 7 Special Report, The Public Sector, October 24, 1994. 8 Government of Canada, Personal and corporate income tax expenditures, December 1993, p.4. 9 Ibid., p.53. 10 Feldstein, Martin. The Effects of Tax-Based Incentives on Government Revenue and National Saving, NBER Working Paper #4021, March 1992. This position has been dismissed, out of hand and with no reasons, by two Canadian commentators: Ingerman, Sid and Rowley, Robin, Tax Losses and Retirement Savings, Canadian Business Economics, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1994, pp. 46-54.
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