The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) commends the federal government for its clear and open process, and for encouraging a dialogue in areas of tax policy and economics. Canadians from all walks of life look to the government for strong and constructive leadership in this area. The CMA therefore appreciates the opportunity to present its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance as it considers Bill C-70 "An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Income Tax Act, the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account Act and related Acts."
The CMA has appeared before the Committee on several occasions when it has considered matters pertaining to federal tax policy in Canada. In addition to our submissions, as part of the government's pre-budget consultation process, the CMA appeared before the Committee when it examined a number of tax policy alternatives to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 1994. 1
At that time, the CMA clearly articulated the medical profession's concerns about the need to implement a federal sales tax system that is simplified, fair and equitable for all. The CMA remains strongly committed to the principles that underpin an efficient and effective sales tax system. However, it is of the strong view that there is, on the one hand, a need to review the relationship between sales tax policy and health care policy in Canada, and between the sales tax policy and the physicians as providers of services, on the other.
Canada's health care system is a defining characteristic of what makes Canada special. It is no secret that funding for the health care system is under stress and all providers, including physicians, are being asked to shoulder their responsibility in controlling costs and responding to this fiscal challenge. However, physicians have had their costs of providing medical services increased by the federal government through the introduction of the GST.
Specifically, the introduction of the GST as it applies to physicians serves as a constant reminder that there still remain some tax policy anomalies - that, without amendment, their consequences will be significantly magnified with the introduction of a proposed harmonized sales tax (HST) on April 1, 1997, as was the case with the introduction of the Quebec Sales Tax (QST) on July 1, 1992.
The tax anomaly is a result of the current categorization of medical services as "tax exempt" under the Excise Tax Act. As a consequence, physicians are, on the one hand, in the unenviable position of being denied the ability to claim a GST tax refund (that is, denied the ability to claim input tax credits - ITCs), on the medical supplies (such as medical equipment, medical supplies, rent, utilities) necessary to deliver quality health care, and on the other, cannot pass the tax onto those who purchase such services (i.e., the provincial and territorial governments). Physicians, from coast to coast, are understandably angry that they have been singled out for unfair treatment under the GST, QST and the soon to be implemented HST.
The GST was designed to be a " consumer-based tax" where the tax charged for purchases during the "production process" would be refunded - with the consumer, not producer of a good or a service, bearing the full burden of the tax. As a result, self-employed individuals and small businesses are eligible to claim a tax refund of the GST from the federal government on purchases that are required in most commercial activities. It is important to understand that those who can claim a tax refund under the GST in most commercial activities will still be able to do so with the proposed introduction of a harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada. The rate is proposed to be set at 15% (7% federal tax, 8% provincial tax).
In the case of medical services, the consumer (i.e., the one who purchases such services) is almost always the provincial and territorial governments. Since the provincial and territorial governments do not pay GST (due to their Constitutional exemption), one would have expected the cost of providing medical services to be free of GST. However, this is not the case. It is difficult to reconcile federal health care policies to preserve and protect publicly funded health care with tax policy which singles out and taxes the costs of medical services.
Regrettably, physicians find themselves in an untenable situation of "double jeopardy". This is patently unfair and on the basis of the fundamental principles of administering a fair and equitable tax system should be amended accordingly.
In an effort to document the impact of the federal government's decision to designate medical services as tax exempt, an independent study by the accounting firm KPMG estimated that physicians' costs increased by $60 million of GST per year. 2 Since 1991, this total is now in excess of $360 million.
The recent agreement between the federal government and Atlantic provinces (except Prince Edward Island) to harmonize their sales taxes will make matters significantly worse for physicians as the HST broadens the provincial tax base to essentially that of the GST in those provinces. With no ability to claim a tax refund on the GST they currently pay (and the proposed HST effective April 1, 1997), physicians once again will have to absorb the additional costs associated with the practice of medicine.
In assessing the impact of the proposed HST, KPMG has estimated that physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland will be out-of-pocket an additional $4.7 million each year because they are not eligible for a tax refund for their purchases. 3
The medical profession, is not looking for special treatment. What we are asking for is to be treated no differently than other self-employed Canadians and small businesses who have the opportunity to claim ITCs, and to be placed on the same footing with other health care providers who have the ability to recoup GST costs.
Physicians, as self-employed individuals are considered small businesses for tax purposes, therefore, it seems entirely reasonable that they should have the same tax rules that apply to other small businesses. This is a question of fundamental fairness.
III. POLICY CONTEXT
Prior to the introduction of the GST, the federal sales tax (FST) was included in the price of most goods (not services) that were produced in, or imported to, Canada. Therefore, when goods were purchased by consumers, the FST was built into the price. At that time, physicians, and other self-employed Canadians and small businesses, were essentially on a level sales tax playing field. Since 1991, however, the introduction of the GST has tilted the table against physicians.
Unless this situation is rectified, with the introduction of the HST, physicians in Atlantic Canada will join those in Quebec who experience additional costs due to the GST and their provincial sales tax using the same rules.
(i). The Impact of the GST on Good Tax Policy and Good Health Care Policy
When it reviews Bill C-70, the Standing Committee on Finance should look for opportunities where tax policy and health care policy go hand-in-hand. The principle of aligning good health policy with sound tax policy is critical to managing change while serving to lay down a strong foundation for future growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the current GST policy introduces a series of distortions that have tax policy and health policy working against one another. Tax policies that do not reinforce health policy are bad tax policies. Consider, for example:
1. Under the current system, hospitals (under the "MUSH" formula - Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals) have been afforded an 83% rebate on GST paid for purchases made while physicians must absorb the full GST cost on their supplies. At a time when health policy initiatives across Canada are attempting to expand community-based practices, the current GST policy (and now harmonized sales tax policy) which taxes supplies in a private clinic setting while rebating much of the tax in a hospital setting acts to discourage the shift in emphasis;
2. Prescription drugs are zero-rated. The objective was to ensure that pharmaceutical firms are no worse off than under the previous federal sales tax regime. Recognizing that medical services can play an equally important role as drugs, it appears inconsistent that the government would choose to have drugs as tax free, and medical services absorbing GST;
3. In the current fiscal climate, the current GST policy, and now the proposed harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada, is threatening to harm the important role when it comes to recruitment and retention of physicians across Canada, and in particular, the Atlantic provinces - where they are already experiencing difficulty; and,
4. It is estimated that the 55,000 physicians employ up to 100,000 Canadians. Physicians play an important role in job creation. The disproportionate effects of the GST policy could have an adverse effect on the number of individuals employed by physicians.
With these issues at hand, it is apparent that good tax policy and good health policy are themselves not synchronized and are working at cross purposes. At this point, when the Standing Committee is reviewing Bill C-70, it is the time to address this situation based on the fundamental principle of fairness in the tax system, while ensuring that good tax policy reinforces good health care policy.
(ii). Not All Health Care Services Are Created Equal under the GST/HST
Physicians are not the only group of health care providers whose services are placed under the category of "tax exempt", with the result that they incur increased GST costs. For example, the services of dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists and chiropractors are categorized as "tax exempt".
However, there is an important distinction between whether the services are government funded or not. Health care providers who deliver services privately and which are not publicly funded do have the opportunity to pass along the GST in their costs through their fee structures.
For these services that are government funded there are no opportunities for physicians to recover the tax paid for purchases unless a specific rebate has been provided (e.g., hospitals). To date, in negotiations with the medical profession, no provincial/territorial government has agreed to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the introduction of the GST. Their position has been that this is a "federal" matter. This becomes important when one considers that under the Canadian Constitution one level of government cannot tax another, and the provincial governments are not prepared to absorb the cost of the GST.
It is critical to point out that since doctors receive 99% of their professional earnings from the government health insurance plans, 4 they have absolutely no other option when it comes to recovering the GST - they must absorb it!
In summary, while a number of health care services are categorized as tax exempt, it must be emphasized that some providers "are more equal than others" under the GST - contrary to other health care providers, physicians do not have the ability to claim ITCs. This distinction becomes readily apparent when one considers the sources of (private and/or public) funding for such services.
IV. THE SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION
Like many others in Canadian society, physicians work hard to provide quality health care to their patients within what is almost exclusively a publicly-financed system for medical services. Physicians are no different from Canadians in that they, too, are consumers (and purchasers).
As consumers, physicians pay their fair share of taxes to support the wide range of valued government services. By the same token, as providers of health care, physicians have not accepted, nor should they accept, a perpetuation of the fundamental injustices built into the current GST, QST and proposed HST arrangements.
To date, the CMA has made representations to two Ministers of Finance and their Department Officials. We have discussed several ways to address a situation that is not sustainable, with no resolution to date. We look to this Committee and the federal government for a fair solution to this unresolved issue.
This unfair and discriminatory situation can be resolved. There is a solution that can serve to reinforce good economic policy with good health care policy in Canada. An amendment to the Excise Tax Act, the legislation which governs the GST (and proposed HST) can make an unfair situation fair to all Canadian physicians.
In its recent submission to the Standing Committee as part of the 1997 pre-budget consultation process, the CMA recommended "that medical services be zero-rated, in order to achieve a fair and equitable GST policy for physicians." In order to achieve this objective all health care services, including medical services, funded by the provinces could be zero-rated.
This recommendation serves to place physicians on a level playing field with other self-employed Canadians and small businesses. In addition, from a health care perspective, this would treat medical services in the same manner as that of prescription drugs. This is a reasonable proposition, as in many instances, medical treatments and drug regimens go hand-in-hand.
Furthermore, this recommendation would ensure that medical services under the GST and proposed HST would be no worse off than other goods or services that provincial governments' purchase and where suppliers can claim a tax refund (i.e., ITCs).
While the recommendation is an important statement in principle of what is required to address the current inequities under the GST, and soon to be HST, the CMA offers a more specific recommendation to the Standing Committee as to how the principles can be operationalized within the context of Bill C-70 and the Excise Tax Act.
The CMA respectfully recommends the following:
1. "THAT HEALTH CARE SERVICES FUNDED BY THE PROVINCES BE ZERO-RATED."
CMA has been advised that this would be accomplished by amending Bill C-70 as follows:
(1). Section 5 of 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 of 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.
By adopting the recommendation above, the federal government would fulfil, at least two over-arching policy objectives, they are:
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.
1 the Goods and Services Tax: Fairness for Physicians, Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Ottawa, Ontario, March 15, 1994. The Canadian Medical Association.
2 Review of the Impact of the Goods and Services Tax on Canadian Physicians, KPMG, June, 1992.
3 Review of the Impact of a Provincial Value Added Tax on Physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, KPMG, August, 1996.
4 National Health Expenditures, 1975-1994, Health Canada, January 1996.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submits this response to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as part of its public consultation on the Disability Tax Credit.
The CMA has long-standing and significant concerns pertaining to the Disability Tax Credit. Most notable is the recent legislative development that resulted in physicians being captured in the definition of “promoter”. In light of the significant concern with physicians being captured in the definition of “promoter”, this submission will focus exclusively on the regulatory development following the enactment of the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act. However, the CMA will follow up at a later date with feedback and recommendations to CRA on how the Disability Tax Credit form and process can be improved.
Prior to providing the CMA’s position for consideration as part of the regulatory consultation, relevant background respecting the CMA’s participation and recommendations during the legislative process is reviewed.
2. Background: CMA’s Recommendations during the Legislative Process
The CMA actively monitored and participated in the consultation process during the legislative development of Bill C-462, Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act. During its consideration by the House of Commons, the CMA appeared before the House of Commons Finance Committee and formally submitted its recommendations.1 The CMA’s submission to the Finance Committee is attached as an appendix for reference. Throughout this process, the CMA consistently raised its concern that the bill proposed to include
physicians in the definition of “promoter”, to which the response was consistently that physicians would not be captured. The Member of Parliament sponsoring the bill conveyed this message at the second reading stage in the House of Commons:
1 Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Standing Committee on Finance (2013). Evidence, May 7, 2013. 41st Parliament, 1st Session. Retrieved from www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6138958&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1
“Mr. Massimo Pacetti: Mr. Speaker…[in] her bill, she says that the definition of a promoter means a person who directly or indirectly accepts or charges a fee in respect to a disability tax credit. Who is a promoter exactly? Is a doctor, or a lawyer or an accountant considered a promoter?
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant: Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from my colleague opposite. We are looking at third party promoters quite apart from the regular tax preparers and accountants. It is a new cottage industry that sprung up once the 10- year retroactive provision was made. It recognizes that there are volunteer organizations and even constituency offices that do this type of work. They help constituents fill out applications for tax credits. There is a provision for exemptions so people who volunteer their time at no charge or doctors do not fall into this.”2
In contradiction to this statement, during the Senate National Finance Committee’s study of Bill C-462, CRA Assistant Commissioner Brian McCauley confirmed the CMA’s concerns,
stating explicitly that physicians would be captured in the definition of “promoter” and explained “they have to be captured because, if they weren't, you leave a significant compliance loophole”.3
As will be explained further below in this submission, this statement reveals a lack of
understanding of the implications of capturing physicians in the definition of “promoter”, in that it has established duplicative regulatory oversight of physicians, specific to the Disability Tax Credit form.
3. Priority Issue: Identify Physicians as an Exempt Profession in Regulation
The CMA has been consistent in our opposition to the approach that resulted in physicians being included in the definition of “promoters”. The definition of “promoter” captures physicians who may charge a fee to complete the disability tax credit form, a typical practice
2 C. Gallant. (2013 Feb. 5) Parliament of Canada. Debates of House of Commons (Hansard). 41st Parliament, 1st Session. Retrieved at www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=5962192#Int-7872066
3 Canada. Parliament. Senate. Standing Committee on National Finance (2014). Evidence, April 2, 2014. 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. Retrieved at www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/412/nffn/09ev-51313-e.htm?Language=E&Parl=41&Ses=2&comm_id=13.
for uninsured physician services.
As indicated on page 4 of the CRA’s consultation document, the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act includes the authority to “identify the type of promoter, if any, who is exempt from the reporting requirements under the Act.” Two questions are included on page 7 of the consultation document in relation to this regulatory authority.
It is the CMA’s recommendation in response to Question 12 (“Are there any groups or professions that should be exempt from the reporting requirements of the new Act?”) that physicians licensed to practice are identified in regulation as an exempt profession.
Specifically, the CMA recommends that CRA include an exemption in the regulations for “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment” from the reporting requirements of the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
As explained below, this exemption will not introduce a potential loophole that may be exploited by third party companies to circumvent the new restrictions and will mitigate the legislative development that has introduced duplicative regulatory oversight of physicians.
4. Exemption Required to Avoid Duplicative Regulatory Regime; Not a Loophole
By capturing physicians in the definition of promoters, the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act has introduced a duplicative regulatory body for physicians: a development which the CMA has fundamentally opposed.
As CMA understands it, the CRA’s key concern in capturing physicians in the definition of promoter is with respect to the possibility that third party companies may circumvent these limitations by employing a physician. As previously noted, this issue was raised by CRA’s Assistant Commissioner Brian McCauley in his appearance before the Senate National Finance Committee during its study of Bill C-462.
A) CMA’s Recommendation Respects Existing Regulatory Oversight Regime of Physicians
The CMA’s recommendation and regulatory proposal limits the exemption of physicians as a profession to those currently licensed under the regulatory authority of provincial/territorial medical regulatory colleges. In Canada, medical practice is the regulatory purview of provinces and territories.
Charging a fee for the completion of a form is a typical practice for uninsured services – these are services that fall outside of provincial/territorial health insurance coverage. The practice of charging a fee for an uninsured service by a licensed physician is an activity that is part of medical practice. Such fees are subject to guidelines by provincial and territorial medical associations and oversight by provincial/territorial medical regulatory colleges.
The regulatory oversight, including licensing, of physicians falls under the statutory authority of medical regulatory colleges, as legislated and regulated by provincial and territorial governments. For example, in the Province of Saskatchewan, the Medical Profession Act, 1981 establishes the regulatory authority of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. This regulatory authority is comprehensive and captures: medical licensure, governing standards of practice, professional oversight, disciplinary proceedings, and offences. In Ontario, this authority is established by the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991; in British Columbia, by the Health Professions Act, 1996, and so on.
B) CMA’s Recommendation Does Not Introduce a Loophole
The exemption of physicians as a profession that is “duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment” would not constitute a loophole. Firstly, any concerns regarding the practices of a physician that is exempted based on this definition could be advanced to the applicable regulatory college for regulatory oversight and if appropriate, discipline.
The CMA’s proposed regulatory exemption would not be applicable in the case of a physician not licensed to practice; in this case, the individual would not be under the regulatory authority of a medical regulatory college and would fall under the CRA’s regulatory purview,
as established by the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act. With regard to the example raised by CRA’s Assistant Commissioner Brian McCauley in his remarks before the Senate Committee of a retired doctor hired by promoter, retired physicians can retain their licence. If this was the case for this particular physician, as noted above, when CRA had concerns regarding this physician’s actions, his or her regulatory college could have taken appropriate disciplinary action. If, on the other hand, this retired physician’s licence had lapsed, both the individual and the promoter who hired him or her would be potentially liable for fraud (assuming that the term “medical doctor” used in Form T2201 refers to an actively licensed physician) which would convey more serious consequences than those proposed by the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The CMA strongly encourages the CRA to identify physicians as a profession that is exempt from the reporting requirements of the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act. This exemption is critical to ensure that possible unintended consequences, specifically duplicative regulatory oversight of physicians, are avoided.