The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to confirm its strong support for the federal government's health and social policy commitments, as identified in the ministerial mandate letters.
In this brief, the CMA outlines seven recommendations for meaningful and essential federal action to ensure Canada is prepared to meet the health care needs of its aging population. The CMA's recommendations are designed to be implemented in the 2016-17 fiscal year in order to deliver immediate support to the provinces and territories and directly to Canadians.
Immediate implementation of these recommendations is essential given the current and increasing shortages being experienced across the continuum of care in jurisdictions across Canada. In 2014, the CMA initiated a broad consultative initiative on the challenges in seniors care, as summarized in the report A Policy Framework to Guide a National Seniors Strategy for Canada. This report highlights the significant challenges currently being experienced in seniors care and emphasizes the need for increased federal engagement.
Finally, if implemented, the CMA's recommendations will contribute to the federal government's strategic commitments in health, notably the commitment to the development of a new Health Accord.
1) Demographic Imperative for Increased Federal Engagement in Health
Canada is a nation on the threshold of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In 2015, for the first time in Canada's history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumbered those under the age of 15 years.1 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.2
It is increasingly being recognized that the projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments.3 Today, while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest National Health Expenditures report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) projects that health spending in 2015 was to exceed $219 billion, or 10.9% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).6 To better understand the significance of health spending in the national context, consider that total federal program spending is 13.4% of GDP.7 Finally, health budgets are now averaging 38% of provincial and territorial global budgets.8 Alarmingly, the latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories, who "cannot meet the challenges of population aging under current policy."9
Taken together, the indicators summarized above establish a clear imperative and national interest for greater federal engagement, leadership and support for the provision of health care in Canada.
2) Responses to Pre-Budget Consultation Questions
Question 1: How can we better support our middle class?
A) Federal Action to Help Reduce the Cost of Prescription Medication
The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to support measures aimed at reducing the cost of prescription medication in Canada. A key initiative underway is the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance led by the provinces and territories. The CMA supports the federal government's recent announcement that it will partner with the provinces and territories as part of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. In light of the fact that the majority of working age Canadians have coverage for prescription medication through private insurers10, the CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
Prescription medication has a critical role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.11 It is an unfortunate reality that the affordability of prescription medication has emerged as a key barrier to access to care for many Canadians.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.12 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.13 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.14
The CMA has long called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial harm and to reduce the cost barriers of treatment. As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.57 billion in 2016-17 (Table 1).
Table 1: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)15
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
B) Deliver Immediate Federal Support to Canada's Unpaid Caregivers
There are approximately 8.1 million Canadians serving as informal, unpaid caregivers with a critical role in Canada's health and social sector.16 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007, informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.17 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.18 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent receive any form of government support.19 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance, while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.20
It is clear that Canadian caregivers require more support. As a first step, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure would cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.21
C) Implement a new Home Care Innovation Fund
The CMA strongly supports the federal government's significant commitment to deliver more and better home care services, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Health.
Accessible, integrated home care has an important role in Canada's health sector, including addressing alternate level of care (ALC) patients waiting in hospital for home care or long-term care. As highlighted by CIHI, the majority of the almost 1 million Canadians receiving home care are aged 65 or older.22 As population aging progresses, demand for home care can be expected to increase.
Despite its importance, it is widely recognized that there are shortages across the home care sector.23 While there are innovations occurring in the sector, financing is a key barrier to scaling up and expanding services. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund. As outlined in the Liberal Party of Canada's election platform, the CMA recommends that the fund deliver $3 billion over four years, including $400 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Question 2: What infrastructure needs can best help grow the economy...and meet your priorities locally?
Deliver Federal Investment to the Long-term Care Sector as part of Social Infrastructure
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.24
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. More than 50% of ALC patients are in these hospital beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care beds25. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an inefficiency cost to the health care system of $2.3 billion a year.26
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been unduly excluded from federal investment in infrastructure, namely the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 2), if implemented on a cost-share basis.
Table 2: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)27
Forecasted shortage in long term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
In addition to improved delivery of health care resources, capital investment in the long-term care sector would provide an important contribution to economic growth. According to previous estimates by the Conference Board of Canada, the capital investment needed to meet the gaps from 2013 to 2047 would yield direct economic benefits on an annual basis that include $1.23 billion contribution to GDP and 14,141 high value jobs during the capital investment phase and $637 million contribution to GDP and 11,604 high value jobs during the facility operation phase (based on an average annual capital investment).
Question 3: How can we create economic growth, protect the environment, and meet local priorities while ensuring that the most vulnerable don't get left behind?
Deliver new Funding to Support the Provinces and Territories in Meeting Seniors Care Needs
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are struggling to meet health care needs in light of the demographic shift. This past July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
It is recognized that as an equal per-capita based transfer, the CHT does not currently account for population segments with increased health needs, specifically seniors. The CMA was pleased that this issue was recognized by the Prime Minister in his letter last spring to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
However, the CMA is concerned that an approach to modify the transfer formula would potentially delay the delivery of federal support to meet the needs of an aging population. As such, rather than the transfer formula, the CMA has developed an approach that delivers support to jurisdictions endeavoring to meet the needs of their aging populations while respecting the transfer arrangement already in place.
The CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to calculate the amount for the top-up to the CHT using a needs-based projection. The amount of the top-up for each jurisdiction is based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address the health needs of the aging population, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 3). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 3: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)28
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Question 4: Are the Government's new priorities and initiatives realistic; will they help grow the economy?
Ensure Tax Equity for Canada's Medical Professionals is Maintained
Among the federal government's commitments is the objective to decrease the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%. The CMA supports this commitment to support small businesses, such as medical practices, in recognition of the significant challenges facing this sector. However, it is not clear whether as part of this commitment the federal government intends to alter the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework. The federal government's framing of this commitment, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, has led to confusion and concern.
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country's knowledge economy. Canadian physicians are directly or indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities, ensuring that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible.
In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners. As self-employed small business owners, they typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, they are responsible for these benefits for their employees.
In addition to managing the many costs associated with running a medical practice, Canadian physicians must manage challenges not faced by many other small businesses. As highly-skilled professionals, physicians typically enter the workforce with significant debt levels and at a later stage in life. For some, entering practice after training requires significant investment in a clinic or a practice.
Finally, it is important to recognize that physicians cannot pass on the increased costs introduced by governments, such as changes to the CCPC framework, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
For a significant proportion of Canada's physicians, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for individuals taking on significant personal financial burden and liability as part of our public health care system. As well, in many cases, practices would not make economic sense if the provisions of the CCPC regime were not in place. Given the importance of the CCPC framework to medical practice, changes to this framework have the potential to yield unintended consequences in health resources, including the possibility of reduced access to much needed care.
The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The CMA recognizes that the federal government must grapple with an uncertain economic forecast and is prioritizing measures that will support economic growth. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the seven recommendations outlined in this submission as part of these efforts. In addition to making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada's aging population, these recommendations will mitigate the impacts of economic pressures on individuals as well as jurisdictions. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication; this would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication.
2. The CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
3. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable.
4. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund.
5. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
6. The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
7. The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily, Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.htm
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Conference Board of Canada. A difficult road ahead: Canada's economic and fiscal prospects. Available: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/conf_bd_difficultroadahead_aug_2014.pdf.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
7 Finance Canada. Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections 2015. http://www.budget.gc.ca/efp-peb/2015/pub/efp-peb-15-en.pdf.
8 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
9 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
10 IBM for the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. Pan Canadian Drugs Negotiations Report. Available at: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/pcpa/pan_canadian_drugs_negotiations_report_march22_2014.pdf .
11 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
12 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
13 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
14 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
15 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
16 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
17 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
18 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
19 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
21 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
22 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf.
23 CMA. A policy framework to guide a national seniors strategy for Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/gc2015/policy-framework-to-guide-seniors_en.pdf.
24 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
25 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf
26 CMA. CMA Submission: The need for health infrastructure in Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Health-Infrastructure_en.pdf.
28 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
On behalf of 83,000 physician members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce study on internal barriers to trade. For the purposes of this brief, an internal barrier to trade is any regulation or policy that restricts mobility or otherwise creates a perverse incentive for mobility.
Basic Facts on the Canadian Physician Workforce
The physician workforce in Canada has always been a mobile one. As of January 2016, just over one in four (26%) licensed physicians who graduated from one of Canada’s 17 medical schools was practising in a different province from the one where they obtained their medical degree.1 It might be added that only 8 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have medical schools. Another important dimension of mobility is the fact that Canada continues to rely to a significant degree on the medical services provided by International Medical Graduates (IMGs). Presently, IMGs represent 24% of practising physicians in Canada, and this figure has remained steady over the past two decades (and previously) despite significant increases in medical enrolment.1 A key reason for this dependence is that Canada trains fewer physicians relative to population than other developed countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2013, Canada ranked 28th out of 34 member countries in terms of medical graduates per 100,000 population; at 7.5 graduates per 100,000, Canada was one-third below the OECD average of 11.1.2 Another key consideration of the physician workforce in Canada is that beyond the tuition that medical students pay at the undergraduate level, it is virtually exclusively publicly funded. By way of illustration, in 2012, 99% of physician professional incomes came from the public purse in Canada, compared to an average of 72% for the 22 OECD countries for which data were available.3
1 Canadian Medical Association Physician Masterfile, January 2016.
2 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD Health Statistics, 2015. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=HEALTH_REAC. Accessed 05/05/16.
3 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD. Stat. Accessed 05/05/16.
4 Internal Trade Secretariat. Agreement on Internal Trade. http://www.ait-aci.ca/agreement-on-internal-trade/. Accessed 05/05/16.
5 Federation of Medical Licensing Authorities of Canada, Association of Canadian Medical Colleges, Medical Council of Canada. Licensure, postgraduate training and the Qualifying Examination. Can Med Assoc J 1992;146(3):345.
6 Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada. Model standards for medical registration in Canada. Ottawa, 2016.
7 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources. Report of the Canadian Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates. Ottawa, 2004.
8 Medical Council of Canada. Practice-ready assessment. http://mcc.ca/about/collaborations-and-special-projects/practice-ready-assessment/. Accessed 05/08/16.
9 Canadian Heritage. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/CH37-4-3-2002E.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
10 Canada. Canada Health Act R.S.C., 1985, c. C-6. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-6.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
11 Canadian Institute for Health Informaiton. Prescribed drug spending in Canada, 2013: a focus on public drug programs. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Prescribed%20Drug%20Spending%20in%20Canada_2014_EN.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
National Standards for Eligibility for Licensure
The medical profession was well out in front of the 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and its objective in Chapter Seven of eliminating or reducing measures maintained by the provinces and territories that restrict or impair labour mobility in Canada.4 In 1992, the Federation of
Medical Licensing Authorities of Canada, the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges and the Medical Council of Canada adopted a standard for portable eligibility of licensure in all provinces except Quebec.5 When the AIT was revisited in the late 2000s, the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) worked on the development of an agreement on national standards that was endorsed in all jurisdictions in 2009. This has continued to evolve, and presently, the Model Standards for Medical Registration in Canada set out the:
. Canadian standard for full licensure;
. route from a provisional license to a full license (which would apply to most IMGs that do not come through the post-MD system in Canada); and
. requirements for provisional licensure.6
The result of this effort is that the number of different medical licences in Canada has been reduced from more than 140 to fewer than 5.
Since the early 2000s the federal government has played a strong leadership role in assisting the professions to come into compliance with the labour mobility provisions of the AIT. In the case of the medical profession, the key issue has been the mobility of IMGs. In 2002, the federally funded Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources established the Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates, which brought together representatives from national and provincial/territorial health ministries, medical regulatory and certifying bodies and medical schools with a mandate to aid in the integration of IMGs into the Canadian medical workforce. The recommendations in the 2004 final report of the Task Force essentially set out a workplan that has resulted in considerable progress on several initiatives.7
Federal funding through programs such as Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) Foreign Credential Recognition Program and Health Canada’s Internationally Educated Health Care Professional Program, in addition to significant investments by the medical bodies themselves, has contributed to several successful initiatives on the part of the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) and FMRAC and its provincial/territorial members. These have included:
. $3.5 million from Health Canada to MCC to develop programs to facilitate the integration of IMGs into the physician workforce such as the National Assessment Collaboration examination, a standardized examination that assesses the readiness of an IMG for entrance into the Canadian post-MD training system;
. $8.4 million from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/ESDC to MCC to streamline and standardize the processes of application for medical licensure and to
develop physiciansapply.ca, a single electronic web-based application process for registration with each of the 13 medical regulatory authorities; and
. $6.7 million from ESDC to MCC to develop a more flexible MCC Qualifying Examination Part I that can be administered internationally, which will enable IMGs thinking of immigrating to Canada to assess whether they have one of the requirements for full licensure.
The work to date has contributed significantly to the integration of IMGs but much remains to be done. Many IMGs enter practice in Canada without entering the post-MD system through a process of provisional licensure. One process that jurisdictions have developed over the past decade to facilitate this route to practice is called Practice Ready Assessment (PRA). PRA is an assessment process to determine if an IMG is able to provide safe medical care to the Canadian public under provisional licensure. This consists of a period of practice under supervised direct observation of a licensed physician in a clinical setting with patients. This has the advantage of expediting the process of assessment to approximately 12 weeks versus 2+ years in a residency program. To the present, PRA programs have been developing in a non-standardized way across jurisdictions. With support from Health Canada, an initiative is underway at the MCC with collaboration from FMRAC, the regulatory bodies, the certifying colleges and provincial IMG assessment programs to develop a pan-Canadian PRA program.8 The goal of this program is to address pan-Canadian specialty areas of need, including family medicine, psychiatry and internal medicine. The elements of this program will include:
. IMG candidate orientation to the Canadian health care context;
. identification of core competency for each specialty;
. clinical assessor training;
. standardized assessment tools; and
This initiative is presently in the implementation phase, and the plan includes development of additional work-based assessment tools.i
i For further information contact MCC – www.mcc.ca or FMRAC – www.fmrac.ca
Recommendation one: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government continue to support the Medical Council of Canada and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada in the implementation of a pan-Canadian Practice Ready Assessment Program for International Medical Graduates and the development of work-based assessment tools.
Mobility and Medicare
The right of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to move freely and pursue a livelihood in any jurisdiction is set out in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.9 This is supported in the objectives of the AIT that refer to an “open domestic market” and “free movement of persons”. 4
This is certainly the spirit in which Canada’s Medicare program was established, beginning in the 1950s, and which has now come to be regarded as a much-cherished basic right by Canadians. The preamble of the 1984 Canada Health Act (CHA) includes the objective “to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers”, and portability of health insurance from one jurisdiction to another is one of five criteria for eligibility for federal funding (subject to a three month waiting period in which benefits are paid for by the originating jurisdiction).10 However, the letter of the CHA defines insured health services as “hospital services, physician services and surgical-dental services provided to insured services”10 and that is how it continues to be interpreted by the provinces and territories. An issue that has been identified in many recent reports is the uneven access to prescription drugs. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has estimated that in 2014, the federal and provincial governments accounted for 42% of prescription drug spending, with the majority accounted for by private insurance (36%) or out-of-pocket (22%) spending.11
There is wide variation in public per capita spending on prescription drugs across the provinces. In 2015, CIHI has estimated that expenditure ranged from $219 in British Columbia and $256 in Prince Edward Island (PEI) to $369 in Saskatchewan and $441 in Quebec.12 Even more striking variation is evident when looking at household out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs by income quintile. Statistics Canada’s 2014 Survey of Household Spending shows that the poorest one-fifth (lowest income quintile) of PEI households spent more than twice as much ($645) on prescription drugs than the poorest one-fifth in Ontario ($300).13 Aside from overall differences in public spending, there are also differences in which drugs are covered, particularly in the case of cancer drugs. For example, the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada reported in 2014 that in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, cancer drugs that must be taken in a hospital setting and are on the provincial formulary are fully funded by the provincial government; if the drug is taken outside of hospital (oral or injectable), however, the patient and family may have to pay significant costs out-of-pocket.14 More generally, the Canadian Cancer Society has reported that persons moving from one province to another may find that a drug covered in their former province may not be covered in the new one. 15
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Database 1975 to 2015. Table A.3.1.1. https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/08/14.
13 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 2013-0026 Survey of household spending (SHS), household spending, by age of reference person. Accessed 03/27/16.
14 Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada. 2014-15 Report Card on Cancer in Canada. http://www.canceradvocacy.ca/reportcard/2014/Report%20Card%20on%20Cancer%20in%20Canada%202014-2015.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
15 Canadian Cancer society. Cancer drug access for Canadians. http://www.colorectal-cancer.ca/IMG/pdf/cancer_drug_access_report_en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
16 Ipsos Reid. Supplementary health benefits research. Final report, 2012.
17 Conference Board of Canada. Federal policy action to support the health care needs of Canada’s aging population. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/conference-board-rep-sept-2015-embargo-en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
18 Hall E. Canada’s national-provincial health program for the 1980’s ‘A commitment for renewal’. 1980.
19 Canada. Statutes of Canada 2012 Chapter 19. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/2012_19.pdf.
20 Canadian Medical Association. Submission to the Minister of Finance: Small Business Perspectives of Medical Practice in Canada. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/cma-brief-medical-practice-as-small-business-march-17-2016.pdf
Another consequence of the “patchwork quilt” of prescription drug coverage in Canada is the potential for “job lock” among those with employer sponsored benefits. Research carried out by Ipsos Reid for the CMA in 2012 among Canadian adults found that 51% of respondents had employer-sponsored supplementary benefits, with almost all of them reporting prescription drug coverage. Among those with employer benefits, just over four in 10 (42%) indicated that their employer benefits program would be a factor in whether or not they would switch jobs.16
Uneven access to and coverage of prescription drugs across Canada raises two concerns with respect to population mobility. On one hand, there could be a temptation to move to another jurisdiction with better access and coverage, and on the other, there could be a reluctance to move to another jurisdiction for fear of lesser access and coverage. Uncertainty about health care coverage should not be a factor in Canadians’ decisions about where they choose to live and work.
One concrete step that the federal government could take to mitigate these concerns would be to introduce a program of drug coverage that would cap high out-of-pocket drug costs for individual Canadians. In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada conducted research for the CMA to estimate the cost of a drug program that would cover prescription drug costs that are greater than either $1,500 per year or 3% of household income (so-called catastrophic costs). They estimated that this would cost the federal government $1.6 billion in 2016.17
Recommendation two: As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government establish a new program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication.
The Canada Health Act and Physician Mobility
In his 1979 review of the Medicare program that led to the CHA, Justice Emmett Hall clearly recognized the power imbalance of the shift to an exclusive public payer for physician services, stating “I reject totally the idea that physicians must accept what any given Province may decide unilaterally to pay. I reject too, as I did in the report of the Royal Commission, the concept of extra-billing.”
Justice Hall’s recommended solution to this imbalance was provision for that “when negotiations fail and an impasse occurs, the issues in dispute must be sent to binding arbitration, to an arbitration board consisting of three persons, with an independent chairperson to be named by the chief justice of the relevant Province and one nominee from the profession and one from the Government”.18
Provision for reasonable compensation was built into the CHA in sections 12 (1) and (2). In most jurisdictions, bargaining disputes between the government and the medical association over
the amounts that physicians should be paid are subject to a binding dispute resolution mechanism that includes some form of arbitration, as Justice Hall envisioned. However, in Ontario, the physicians have been without a contract since March 31, 2014, and Nova Scotia has given Royal Assent to, but not yet proclaimed the Public Services Sustainability (2015) Act, which suspends the right of the medical association (Doctors Nova Scotia) to arbitration.
As noted in the basic facts enumerated above, Canadian physicians are highly mobile, but they should not be motivated to move on the basis of unfair treatment by the government, as is currently the case in Ontario. There is recent precedent for amending the CHA. In 2012, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act amended the CHA to remove members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the list of exclusions of insured persons.19
Recommendation three: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that Section 12(2) of the Canada Health Act be amended to require:
(a) Provincial and territorial governments to enter into an agreement with the provincial/territorial organization(s) that represent(s) practising medical practitioners in the province; and
(b) The settlement of disputes relating to compensation through, at the option of the provincial/territorial organization(s) referred to in paragraph (a), conciliation or binding arbitration that is equally representative of the provincial/territorial organization(s) and the province/territory and that has an independent chairperson, to satisfy the “reasonable compensation” criterion in s. 12(1)(c) of the Act for full federal funding.
Incorporation Eligibility and Access to the Small Business Deduction
A significant proportion of Canada’s physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). The ability to incorporate and access to the small business taxation rate play an important role in the allocation of resources in Canada’s health care system.
As explained in the CMA’s recent submission to the Minister of Finance20, incorporation eligibility for medical professionals has been advanced by provincial governments to support the achievement of health policy objectives and, in part, to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals.
The CMA strongly welcomed the federal government’s recognition in the budget of the contribution of health care practitioners as small businesses. However, the CMA has significant concerns with the proposed amendments (clause 54 of the Notice of Ways and Means Motion
to Amend the Income Tax Act and Other Tax Legislation) to alter eligibility to the small business deduction. It is not clear whether these measures will impact group medical structures.
The results of a recent survey by the CMA of its membership confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and is critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada’s public health care system. Of significance to the committee’s study on internal trade, approximately 26% of survey respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to relocate to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%) if they were no longer able to incorporate under the CCPC framework.
Recommendation four: Given the potential for negative unintended consequences, such as rendering group medical structures economically unviable or introducing perverse incentives for mobility, particularly out of country, the Canadian Medical Association strongly encourages the federal government to provide clarification regarding the 2016 budget measures with regard to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation framework.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors, representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in the country. With this brief, the CMA provides a portrait of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. A significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs).
Reflecting the significance of the CCPC framework to medical practice in Canada, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. However, the CMA has been concerned with some statements regarding the incorporation of professionals. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
Presented within this brief are the results of a survey undertaken by the CMA to explore physician incorporation. The survey was distributed to a sample of 25,000 physicians on Dec. 21, 2015 and closed on Jan. 8, 2016 with a response rate of 9%.
Among the key findings of the CMA's survey on incorporation was that more than 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they were incorporated and reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. Survey respondents confirmed that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary; where overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.
The results of the CMA's survey confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada's public health care system.
When asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework, a large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
This brief also highlights the policy imperative for extending incorporation to medical professionals. As captured in Ontario's 2000 budget document, it is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".1
Finally, the CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors. The CMA is the voluntary professional organization representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in Canada and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and more than 60 national medical organizations. The CMA's mission is helping physicians care for patients.
The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. As is discussed herein, a significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). As such, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%, as outlined in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.2
1) Most Physicians are Small Business Owners
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents to the CMA's survey indicated that they were incorporated; 81% indicated that they were incorporated individually while 4% indicated they were incorporated in a group. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 60% of physicians are incorporated.3
Physician-owned and run medical practices ensure that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible. In doing so, Canadian physicians are directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities.
Respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. In operating their medical practices, Canada's physicians rent, lease or own office space and further contribute to local economies through municipal taxes on these properties.
Like other self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, physicians are responsible for the provision of payroll taxes and benefits for their employees.
2) Increased Cost-Burden for Canada's Doctors
Canada's physicians face unique, additional financial and personal burdens in owning and operating medical practices in comparison with other small businesses. First, amongst Canada's small business owners4, Canada's physicians are highly skilled and trained professionals. On average, physicians enter the workforce at a later age with significant debt from education. The average age that family physicians enter practice is over 30 years and over 33 years for specialists.5
The 2013 National Physician Survey explored the issue of debt levels. It found that the proportion of medical students expecting debt of $100,000 or more doubled from 15% in 2004 to 30% in 2012.6 Further, a third of medical residents expect debt to be over $100,000 and 19% expect debt to exceed $160,000 before entering practice.7
For Canada's doctors, the high level of education-related debt and the later age they are able to initiate professional earnings represents a significant challenge for personal financial planning, notably retirement planning.
Second, it is not well known that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary. In addition to the expenses of running a medical practice, such as salaries and rent, physicians have a range of professional fees that are required by regulation to be submitted. According to the respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation, these overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.8
Finally, unlike most small business owners, as providers within a public health care systems, Canada's physicians cannot pass on any cost increases associated with operating their medical practice. The majority of physician remuneration in Canada is through "fee-for-service" systems9 whereby fees for insured physician services10 are set by the province following negotiations with the provincial medical association. Any increases in the cost of operating a medical practice, including changes in taxation, would be borne by the physician directly, as would the potential additional resource burden incurred in responding to a change to the CCPC regulatory framework. It is not surprising then that one study found that "high-income, self-employed physicians are much more sensitive to the marginal tax rate than would be suggested by previous labor-supply studies".11
The results of the CMA's survey on incorporation with respect to personal financial planning highlight the concerns associated with the unique burdens facing physicians in operating a medical practice. A strong majority (92%) of respondents rated the ability to save for retirement as very important for personal financial planning. A majority (61%) of respondents indicated the ability to pay off debt and half (50%) indicated the ability to manage practice overhead costs as very important for personal financial planning.
3) Role of Incorporation for Ensuring Tax Equity for Medical Professional
As reviewed above, in light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and small business owners. Like other small business owners, physicians do not have access to pension and health benefits, despite investing in local communities and providing employment. Unlike other small business owners, physicians commence professional income later in life and carry high debt levels associated with education and training. In light of these significant considerations, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for Canada's physicians.
In Canada, the 12 jurisdictions have extended the ability to incorporate to medical professionals. As stated in Ontario's 2000 budget document, the underlying policy purpose of extending incorporation to medical professionals is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".12
For self-employed professionals, incorporation offers many well recognized benefits. As highlighted by most taxation guidance, the application to the small business deduction and the ability to retain income in the corporation are significant benefits of incorporation for small businesses.13 For self-employed medical professionals without access to an employer pension or benefits, the ability to retain income in the corporation contributes to retirement and pension planning capabilities. Finally, the CCPC framework allows for income splitting with family members in almost all jurisdictions.
The CMA's survey on incorporation explored the benefits of the CCPC framework. The top rated benefit of incorporation was the ability for professional income to be taxed at the small business taxation rate, with 85% rating it as very important. In comparison, 60% of respondents indicated that income splitting with a family member was very important.
4) Changes to the CCPC Framework and Potential Unintended Consequences
As noted above, the federal government has committed to reducing the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. In recognition of the significant financial pressures managed by physicians owning and operating medical practices, the CMA strongly supports this commitment.
However, along with this commitment, the federal government has made concerning statements regarding professionals and the CCPC framework. While the federal government has not indicated a specific measure or timeline, the statements on their own have yielded significant uncertainty and concern. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
The CMA cannot emphasize enough the need for caution in considering changes to the CCPC framework. The CCPC framework and the ability of incorporated physicians to maintain access to the small business rate is fundamental to the business model for these medical practices. Changes to the framework could have real and far-reaching impacts. Beyond the immediate impact to a physician, employees of a medical practice, and the region the medical practice serves, depending on the scope of changes to the CCPC framework, impacts could be at the health-sector level, particularly in terms of shifting the delivery of care away from institutionalized care toward community-based care.
The physicians surveyed by the CMA were asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework. A large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
The responses to the CMA's survey on incorporation align with the limited research available on this issue. In a study that explored the interprovincial migration of physicians confirmed that "the differences in real income have a positive and significant effect on a physician's decision to migrate from one province to another".14 Another study that explored the impacts of taxation on physicians, noted that "it has been demonstrated in the literature that physicians in higher-tax states work less on average".15 These studies emphasize the potential for unintended consequences should changes to the CCPC framework impact physician medical practice.
As outlined in this brief, the majority of Canada's doctors are self-employed, highly skilled professionals providing a critical health care contribution in communities across the country. For these physicians, the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners. For the vast majority of incorporated physicians, the benefits of the CCPC framework are critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework.
In light of the intrinsic role of the CCPC framework to medical practice, and therefore the provision of medical care in Canada, the CMA encourages significant caution in considering any potential changes to this framework. The CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
2 Mandate Letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-small-business-and-tourism-mandate-letter
3 CMA. 2014. Environmental Scan.
4 Industry Canada. Key Small Business Statistics 2013 https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02814.html
5 Canadian Post M.D. Registry.
6 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
7 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
8 Alberta Medical Association. Setting the record straight on physician compensation. https://www.albertadoctors.org/Media%20PLs%202013/Feb1_2013_PL_Backgrounder.pdf and Ontario Medical Association. Payments to physicians and practice overhead expenses: separating facts from fiction in Ontario. https://www.oma.org/resources/documents/paymentsphysicians_pp18-19.pdf. and R.K. House & Associates Ltd. Executive Summary for the British Columbia Medical Association: 2005 Overhead Cost Study.
9 CIHI. Physicians in Canada, 2014: Summary Report. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Summary-PhysiciansInCanadaReport2014_EN-web.pdf
10 Health Canada. Canada Health Act Annual Report 2014-15. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/cha-lcs/2015-cha-lcs-ar-ra/index-eng.php
11 Mark H. Showalter and Norman K. Thurston. Taxes and labor supply of high-income physicians. Journal of Public Economics 66 (1997) 73-97.
12 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
13 Manulife. The Professional's Option - Professional Incorporation. https://repsourcepublic.manulife.com/wps/wcm/connect/02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575/ins_tepg_taxtopicproopt.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575
14 Michael Benarroch and Hugh Grant. The interprovincial migration of Canadian physicians: does income matter? Applied Economics, 2004, 36, 2335-2345.
15 Norman K. Thurston and Anne M. Libby. Taxes and Physicians Use of Ancillary Health Labor. The Journal of Human Resources, XXXV 2.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.