On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am pleased to present you with our pre-budget submission for your government's consideration. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into this government's first budget and to identify strategic investment opportunities for the long term health of Canadians.
While Canada's health system faces many challenges, we believe that immediate action by the federal government in four key areas will offer both short term and long term benefits. They are:
(1) the establishment of a Canada Health Access Strategy to support a patient wait-times guarantee; (2) a proposed Visa position buyback program and a repatriation program to immediately address shortfalls in health human resources; (3) a strengthening of Canada's public health infrastructure; and (4) a remedy for GST-induced distortions in the health care system.We believe these proposals fit well with the government's stated priorities. While information on each of these recommendations is attached for your information and consideration, I would like to provide you with an overview of each.
1. CANADA HEALTH ACCESS STRATEGY
The CMA has been advocating for the implementation of maximum wait time thresholds or care guarantees for a number of years and is pleased that the government has included this as one of its top five priorities. As a first step, the CMA worked with six other specialty societies as part of the Wait Times Alliance (WTA) to develop a set of pan-Canadian wait-time benchmarks or performance goals released last August. We believe this work served as a catalyst for the provincial and territorial governments to move some way toward meeting their commitment in announcing pan-Canadian wait-time benchmarks last December. We must continue to work with governments and the academic community to improve access to medical care beyond the five priority health issues identified in the First Ministers' 2004 10-year health care plan.
The second step in implementing patient wait-time guarantees is the issue of honouring the commitment and providing for patient recourse. As a member of the WTA, the CMA strongly supports accelerating the timetable to reduce wait times nationwide. However, the federal government needs to do its part to assist provinces in advancing the timetable by stepping up the flow of funds earmarked for the last four years of the accord. Our proposed Canada Health Access Strategy is comprised of three components directed at making this happen: supporting provinces to expand capacity and to handle surges in demand; supporting the creation of regional and/or national referral networks; and establishing a Canada Health Access Fund for a "safety valve" to help Canadians access care elsewhere when necessary. Details on how this Strategy would work are attached. The point is that this Strategy is necessary to assure Canadians that they get the care they need when they need it.
1. The federal government advance the remaining $1 billion from the 2004 First Ministers Accord that was originally intended to augment the Wait Times Reduction Fund (2010-2014) to support a Canada Health Access Strategy by:
(a) expanding provincial surge capacity : $500 million to be flowed immediately to provinces on a per capita basis in return for agreement to accelerate the timetable for bringing down wait times, as was promised in the recent federal election campaign;
(b) improving national coordination of wait time management: $250 million to support creation of regional and/or national referral networks, a more coordinated approach to health human resource planning, expansion of information technology solutions to wait time management and facilitation of out-of-country referrals; and
(c) establishing a Canada Health Access Fund: $250 million initial investment in an alternative patient recourse system or "safety valve" when and if clinically-indicated maximum wait time benchmarks as agreed to by provinces/territories last December are exceeded.
Addressing Shortfalls in Health Human Resources
As identified by Minister Clement in a recent speech at the "Taming of the Queue III" wait-time conference, addressing shortages in health human resources is a key element of any strategy for reducing lengthy wait-times. Unfortunately, we face serious physician shortages, starting with family physicians. The bad news is that it can take several years to educate and train the necessary professionals. The good news is that there are some strategies that can be undertaken to address the situation in the short term.
2. VISA POSITION BUYBACK FUND
One such strategy is our Visa Position Buyback proposal that would eliminate the backlog of 1,200 qualified international medical graduates (IMGs) over the next five to seven years. Currently, these qualified IMGs, who are either Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, are unable to access the necessary residency training. One existing source for training capacity exists with the positions purchased by foreign governments for visa trainees. We estimate that there are over 900 current visa trainees at all rank levels. By implementing the Visa Position Buyback program, the government is able to take an immediate step that will produce tangible results as soon as a two to four years from now. This initiative would be part of a longer term plan to fully address the shortages in health human resources and help the government meet its commitment to implement a properly functioning patient wait-time guarantee.
2a. The federal government allocate $381.6 million toward the training of up to 1,200 IMGs through to practice over the 2007/08 to 2015/16 period. Funding would be made available in two installments: an immediate investment of $240 million and the remaining $140 million subject to a satisfactory progress report at the end of five years.
Repatriate Health Professionals Working in the United States
Fortunately, another short-term source of health professionals exists that Canada should pursue. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working in the United States including approximately 9,000 Canadian trained physicians. We know that many of the physicians who do come back to Canada are of relatively young age meaning that they have significant practice life left. While a minority of these physicians do come back on their own, many more can be repatriated in the short-term through a relatively small but focussed effort by the federal government led by a secretariat within Health Canada.
2b. The federal government should establish a secretariat within Health Canada that would provide funding to national professional associations to conduct targeted campaigns to encourage the repatriation of Canadian health professionals working in the United States, and act as a clearinghouse on issues associated with returning to Canada (e.g., citizenship, taxation, etc.).
3. PUBLIC HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE RENEWAL
The CMA remains concerned about the state of Canada's public health system. Public health, including the professionals providing public health services, constitutes our front line against a wide range of threats to the health of Canadians. While there is much talk about the arrival of possible pandemics, Canada's public health system must be ready to take on a broad range of public health issues.
The CMA has been supportive of the Naylor report which provides a blue print for action and reinvestment in the public health system for the 21st century. While this will take several years to achieve, there are some immediate steps that can be taken which will lessen the burden of disease on Canadians and our health care system. These steps include establishing a Public Health Partnership Program with provincial and territorial governments to build capacity at the local level and to advance pandemic planning. In addition, we call on the government to continue its funding of immunization programs under its National Immunization Strategy.
3a. The federal government should establish a Public Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund in the amount of $350 million annually to establish a Public Health Partnership Program with the provincial/territorial governments for the purposes of building capacity at the local level and advancing pandemic planning. In addition, the $100 million per year for immunization programs under the National Immunization Strategy should be continued.
4. A REMEDY FOR GST-RELATED DISTORTIONS IN THE HEALTH SYSTEM
The CMA and many other national health organizations are concerned about the increasing, unintended and negative consequences the GST is having on health care. For example, the 83% rebate originally provided for under the so-called "MUSH" formula is no longer tax neutral and is acting as a deterrent in some cases toward increased use of ambulatory care services such as day surgeries. Over the past 15 years the physicians of Canada have faced a large and growing unfair tax burden due to the GST. Since physicians' services are tax exempt under the law, physicians are unable to either claim input tax credits or pass on the tax because of the prohibition under the Canada Health Act of billing patients directly. This puts physicians in a unique and patently unfair catch 22 that now amounts to over $65 million per year, which further acts as a deterrent to repatriating or retaining Canadian physicians.
4a. That the federal government, in the course of reducing the GST from 7% to 5% further to its campaign commitments, remove the large and growing deterrent effects of the GST on the efficient and effective delivery of health care in Canada.
In summary, the CMA is providing you with recommendations on strategic investments to help your government honour its commitment to timely access to care and to improve the health of Canadians. Our recommendations are financially reasonable, making good use of Canadians' tax dollars.
We look forward to meeting with you on April 19 to discuss our proposals with you.
Ruth L. Collins-Nakai, MD, MBA, FRCPC, MACC
c.c. The Honourable Tony Clement, Health Minister
Notes for an address by Dr. Peter Barrett, Past-President, Canadian Medical Association : Public hearings on primary care reform : Presentation to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
On behalf of the 53,000 physician members of the CMA, we appreciate the opportunity to offer our thoughts on the issue of primary care reform and the recommendations made recently in your April 2002 report. I am very pleased to be presenting today with my CMA colleague, Dr. Susan Hutchison, Chair of our GP Forum along with Dr. Elliot Halparin and Dr. Kenneth Sky from the Ontario Medical Association.
Before I begin presenting the CMA’s recommendations, I believe it’s important to make a few points clear in regard to primary care:
* First, is that Canada has one of the best primary care systems in the world. (Just ask Canadians, we have. Our 2001 Report Card showed that 60% of Canadians believe that we have one of the best health care systems in the world and gave high marks for both quality of service and system access).
* Second, is that primary care reform is not the panacea for all that ails Medicare.
* And finally, primary care and specialty care are inextricably linked.
I like to expand a bit on the last point because I think it’s an important consideration. There is a tendency to separate medical care into two areas; primary care and specialty care. However, we need to recognize that medical and health care encompasses a broad spectrum of services ranging from primary prevention to highly specialized quaternary care. Primary care and specialty care are so critically interdependent that we need to adapt an integrated approach to patient care.
Now, in respect to the CMA’s recommendations on implementing changes for the delivery of primary care, we believe that government must respect the following four policy premises:
1. All Canadians should have access to a family physician.
2. To ensure comprehensive and integrated care, family physicians should remain as the central provider and coordinator of timely access to publicly-funded medical services.
3. There is no single model that will meet the primary care needs of all communities in all regions of the country.
4. Scopes of practice should be determined in a manner that serves the interests of patients and the public safely, efficiently, and competently.
Access to Family Physicians
A successful renewal of primary health care delivery cannot be accomplished without addressing the shortage of family physicians and general practitioners. The effects of an aging practitioners population, changes in lifestyle and productivity, along with the declining popularity of this field as the career choice of medical school graduates are all having an impact on the supply of family physician.
Physician as Central Coordinator
While multistakeholder teams offer the potential for providing a broader array of services to meet patients’ health care needs, it is also clear that for most Canadians, having a family doctor as the central provider for all primary medical care services is a core value. As the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) indicated in its submission to the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, research shows that over 90% of Canadians seek advice from a family physician as their first resource in the health care system. The CFPC also noted that a recent Ontario College of Family Physicians Decima public opinion survey found that 94% agree that it is important to have a family physician who provides the majority of care and co-ordinates the care delivered by others. i
A family physician as the central coordinator of medical services ensures efficient and effective use of system resources as it allows for only one entry point into the health care system. This facilitates a continuity of care, as the family physician generally has developed an ongoing relationship with his or her patients and as a result is able to direct the patient through the system such that the patient receives the appropriate care from the appropriate provider.
No Single Model for Reform
In recent years, several government task force and commission reports, including the report of this Committee, have called for primary care reform. Common themes that have emerged include; 24/7 coverage; alternatives to fee-for-service payment of physicians; nurse practitioners and health promotion and disease prevention. Governments across the country have launched pilot projects of various models of primary care delivery. It is critical that these projects are evaluated before they are adopted on a grander scale. Moreover, we must take into account the range of geographical settings across the country, from isolated rural communities to the highly urbanized communities with advanced medical science centres.
Scopes of Practice
There is a prevailing myth that physicians are a barrier to change when in fact the progressive changes in the health care system have been more often than not physician lead. Canadian physicians are willing to work in teams and the CMA has developed a “Scopes of Practice” policy that clearly supports a collaborative and cooperative approach. A policy that has been supported in principle by the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association.
Because of the growing complexity of care, the exponential growth of knowledge, and an increased emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention, primary care delivery will increasingly rely on multi-stakeholder teams. This is a positive development. However, expanding the primary care team to include nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, and others, while desirable, will cost the system more, not less. Therefore, we need to change our way of thinking about primary care reform. We need to think of it as an investment. We need to think of it not in terms of cost savings but as a cost-effective way to meet the emerging unmet needs of Canadians.
To conclude, there is no question that primary care delivery needs to evolve to ensure it continues to meet the needs of Canadians. But we see this as making a good system better, not fundamental reform.
i College of Family Physicians of Canada. Shaping The Future of Health Care: Submission to the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Ottawa: CFPC; Oct 25, 2001.