For the past several years, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been delivering two overall messages to the Standing Committee on Finance. First, we believe that Canadians’ health and their health care system must be recognized as ongoing priorities. Second, we have been making the case that economic policy, including tax policy, must be better aligned with national health policy.
This year’s brief provides specific examples of how the federal government can take action to address both of these issues. We begin with an assessment or a “check up” of the health of our health system. We then provide constructive suggestions on how to successfully implement the health agreement reached at the September 13-15, 2004 meeting of First Ministers. Finally, we draw attention to the need for continued investments in public health and healthy public policy.
Canadians remain increasingly concerned about the future state of their health care system, particularly in terms of accessing essential care. While their health status has improved over the past decades, international comparisons suggest there is considerable room for improvement. The significant announcements made over the past year related to reinvestments in health care and public health are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges. The next steps must build on this progress.
INVESTING IN HEALTH CARE
Build on The First Ministers Meeting Agreement
In terms of health care, we must begin by noting that the First Ministers Meeting Agreement (FMM Agreement) was a significant achievement. It represents a positive policy framework to run with, but it must now receive the necessary fiscal, political and legislative follow-through. Legislation should be enacted that specifies the accountability framework for the Agreement. The Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times. Critical to future success is the need for health care stakeholders to be actively involved with all facets of the Agreement, particularly in developing clinically derived wait time benchmarks.
Make Health Human Resources a Priority
At the same time, the federal government can do more to address accessibility to health care services by making a stronger commitment to increasing Canada’s health human resources capacity. Several strategies are outlined in this brief, beginning with the need to ensure that the Wait Times Reduction Fund in the FMM Agreement is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected.
One specific health human resources strategy that the federal government should pursue is providing greater support for the training of students in health care professions as part of an overall health human resources strategy. High student debt is a key health human resource issue. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 or more. This high debt load is affecting both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice. As a result, the CMA calls upon the federal government to implement a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training. Such action would provide a fairer approach and would alleviate some of the problems associated with our current training system of health professionals.
ALIGNING TAX POLICY WITH HEALTH POLICY
The CMA has highlighted the need to better align tax policy with national health policy goals for some time and we believe this challenge remains a priority. One example of where tax policy and health policy can be better aligned is how the GST is currently applied to the health care sector and to physicians—something the Finance Committee has acknowledged in previous reports.
Hospitals in Canada must still pay a portion of the GST on their purchase of goods and services siphoning away millions of dollars that would otherwise be used for patient care. The federal government recognized in the 2004 budget the need to provide a full GST rebate to municipalities, one of the four sectors covered by the so-called “MUSH” formula (Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals). We call on the government to apply the same logic and provide a full GST rebate to the health care sector.
Another problem exists with how the GST is applied to independent health professionals, such as physicians, providing care to Canada’s publicly funded system. By virtue of being “tax exempt” under The Excise Act, physicians cannot claim any input tax credits to offset the GST costs they pay on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. Unlike other self-employed people, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs. This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. It can be resolved by zero rating the GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health providers thereby making them eligible to receive input tax credits.
INVESTING IN HEALTH
This past year saw many positive developments made to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health. We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
However, the government must continue to reinvest in public health to ensure that the country has a system that earns the trust of Canadians. Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy.
Close the Naylor Gap in Public Health
The National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report) estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding is required to implement and sustain the public health programming that Canada requires. While representing an important reinvestment in this country’s public health system, the funding announced in the 2004 Budget falls well short of this basic requirement. Accordingly, the CMA calls on the federal government to address the $450 million “Naylor Gap” as soon as possible.
Establish National Health Goals
Guiding this country’s efforts to improve the health of Canadians should be the establishment and monitoring of national health goals. Thus, the CMA fully supports the First Ministers’ call to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy that includes the setting of health goals that are independently monitored. These goals should also cover environmental health goals given their direct implication on Canadians’ health status.
Invest in Health Not Tobacco
Another key area for the CMA where current economic policy is not aligned with national health policy is the Canada Pension Plan’s investment in tobacco stocks. Despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, the Canada Pension Plan continues to invest millions ($94 million) in the tobacco industry. We strongly believe that the CPP Investment Board should be prohibited from investing in the tobacco industry and that it divest its current tobacco holdings. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully executed this policy including the MD Funds held for Canada’s physicians at MD Management Ltd. a wholly-owned subsidiary of CMA. Accordingly, we call on the Standing Committee on Finance along with the Standing Committee on Health to jointly review the CPP investment policy as it relates to investments in tobacco.
The FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health infrastructure. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure that these financial investments lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
II. CMA’S ANNUAL CHECKUP
Much has happened over the past year in regards to Canada’s health and health care systems. First, we witnessed the creation of the Health Council of Canada, an institution that can play a significant role in improving the accountability of Canada’s health system. Second, we saw several announcements aimed at rebuilding Canada’s public health system including the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the subsequent appointment of Canada’s first Chief Public Health Officer. And in September, federal, provincial and territorial First Ministers reached a historic agreement on a 10-year plan to strengthen health care.
Canadians no doubt welcome these developments. They have made it known to governments and health care providers alike that access to health care has become their top public policy issue. Not surprisingly, health was the top issue during the recent federal election campaign.
For four years, the CMA has been tracking Canadians’ assessment of our health care system through our National Report Card on the Sustainability of Health Care. We are sad to report that the number of Canadians giving the nation's health care system a grade of C or F this year increased by a dramatic 9% over last year. While Canadians still give the system an overall B grade, the percentage of C and F grades was the highest since Ipsos-Reid began conducting the survey on behalf of the CMA in 2001. Moreover, our survey results found that 97% agreed that any discussion to make the system more sustainable needs to guarantee timely access for essential health services.
As our fact sheet on Canadians’ health and their health care system illustrates (see Appendix A), improving access remains a major challenge for our health care system. Canada has one of the poorest physician-to-population ratios among all OECD countries. It is therefore not surprising that in 2003, 14% of Canadians reported not having a regular family physician (25% in Quebec). A recent Statistics Canada survey on wait times found that the proportion of patients who considered their wait time unacceptable was 17% for non-emergency surgery, 21% for diagnostic tests and 29% for specialist visits. 1
Over the past year, CMA has been very active in bringing attention to the issue of access and wait times. The CMA co-sponsored a colloquium on managing wait times last April that culminated in the recently released report, The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. 2
But what about the state of Canadians’ health itself? Certainly our health status has improved greatly over the past decades. However, while Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world, citizens in several industrialized countries are enjoying better health status. For example, disability-free life expectancy, that is quality of life years lived, for Canadian males is 18th among the 30 OECD countries and 16th for Canadian females. Canada’s rate of infant mortality—deaths during the first year of life—is among the highest in the OECD.
But we need not compare ourselves to other countries to find differences in levels of health status. Significant discrepancies in health status also exist among Canadians, be it between provinces, between regions, between communities or between neighbourhoods. For example, there remain significant inequities in health status between Aboriginal Canadians and non-Aboriginal Canadians—the incidence of hepatitis and tuberculosis among Aboriginal Canadians are five and ten times higher respectively than for other Canadians.
It has now been over a year since the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health or the “Naylor Report” was released. The report has lead to some positive developments in rebuilding Canada’s public health system. It will be needed as some serious public health issues continue to face the country including:
* the spread of infectious diseases (e.g., C. difficile bacterium);
* the rise in the number of Canadians with unhealthy body weights including rising levels of obesity;
* high levels of physical inactivity;
* smoking, particularly among youth;
* relatively low rates of immunization; and
* threats to environmental health including those that threaten our clean air, and safe food and drinking water.
In summary, notwithstanding all that has transpired this year, Canadians’ health and their health care system remain high public priorities. While their health status has improved over the past decades, there is considerable room for improvement, some of which can be addressed through public health measures and better access to care. The significant announcements made over the past year related to health system and public health financing are a welcomed start to support health stakeholders in facing these challenges.
III. THE FIRST MINISTERS’ MEETING AGREEMENT
The CMA closely followed the September 13-15, 2004 First Ministers Meeting on the Future of Health Care. In fact, we worked with our health care colleagues leading up to the meeting to identify possible strategies for improving the system. 3 For instance, we recommended the development and adoption of pan-Canadian benchmarks for wait times based on clinical evidence and the creation of a special Canada Health Access Fund to support Canadians’ access to medically necessary care in other regions.
While not all of our proposals were accepted, the September First Ministers’ Meeting Agreement (herein referred to as the FMM Agreement) features many aspects that the CMA has been championing for some time and is certainly a positive achievement. In particular, we are happy to see a desire “to make timely access to quality care a reality for all Canadians.” We applaud the leadership shown by the government in this regard.
We also believe that the Agreement provides an opportunity for a new era of cooperative medicare by engaging physicians and other providers meaningfully. Contrary to belief, health care providers have not been offered many opportunities to participate at federal, provincial and territorial planning tables. We therefore welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively on identifying clinically derived wait time benchmarks. Canada’s physicians can and desire to play a significant role in this regard.
We therefore believe the FMM Agreement is a necessary first step or “a framework to go with” towards strengthening our health care system. But as we said in September following the release of the Agreement, “the real heavy lifting begins now.” Accordingly, we believe that a number of requirements are necessary to ensure this Agreement fulfills its objectives. We see these requirements as putting words to actions for realizing the full potential of the FMM Agreement.
Enact Legislation to Confirm Financial Support and Accountability Provisions
The CMA supports enacting federal legislation to confirm the budgetary allocations in the Agreement ($18 billion over 6 years and $41 billion over 10 years). This includes a 6% escalator to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) that will provide predictable funding for provincial and territorial health care systems. This is a provision that we have been recommending for many years.
While $41 billion is a lot of money, we must remind ourselves that this amounts to little more than a 3% increase over 10 years of provincial government health expenditures based on projections of current government spending. Moreover, we estimate that the Agreement will add only .2% to Canada’s spending levels per GDP during this period. In other words, the FMM Agreement, while necessary and appreciated, will not propel Canada into the top echelon of health care spenders among the leading industrialized countries. As health care has become a dominant public policy issue, we expect to see future high level discussions in coming years on both future funding levels and on the direction of health care reform efforts.
We are also pleased to see a new Equalization agreement that will complement the FMM Agreement. The Equalization program plays a key role in ensuring that all provinces have adequate and comparable levels of health care and other social services. The issue of Equalization payments to the provinces was identified in discussions leading up to the September First Ministers Meeting over concern that increased federal transfers to health care could be offset by decreases in Equalization payments. The subsequent agreement on Equalization will therefore serve to support the FMM Agreement given that increases in health care transfers to provinces will not be offset by decreases in equalization payments while providing predictable multi-year funding.
A strong accountability framework also needs to be included in the legislation. The FMM Agreement specifies several process accountabilities such as a commitment by governments to report on access indicators and establish wait time benchmarks by December 31, 2005. The CMA believes that the Wait Times Reduction Fund should be subject to contribution agreements that specify how provinces and territories will use their share of this fund to reduce wait times.
For the Agreement to mean something commitments have to backed up—financial and/or political consequences must follow if commitments are not met.
It will be important to have an independent, third party organization assess progress in an open and transparent manner. The Health Council of Canada, identified in the FMM Agreement, could be the body to undertake an annual independent assessment, providing it receives the necessary resources to do so. The Canadian Institute for health Information also has an important role to play in ensuring comparable indicators are used to measure progress.
It is essential to involve practicing physicians throughout the implementation of the FMM Agreement, particularly in the development of clinically derived wait time benchmarks. The determination of clinically derived wait time benchmarks means just that—they must be clinically derived and must not be based on political or financial considerations. To this end, the CMA will play a leadership role in developing consensus with physicians and other expert organizations on acceptable wait-time standards and protocols based on the best available clinical evidence.
The federal government move quickly to enact legislation to implement the funding and accountability provisions of the First Ministers’ Agreement. The legislation should specify that the $4.5 billion Wait Times Reduction Fund be subject to contribution agreements with the provinces and territories.
Improve Access by Addressing Health Human Resources
The CMA is pleased to see the First Ministers acknowledge for the first time the current and worsening shortage of health human resources (HHR) in this country. However, the FMM Agreement does not adequately provide a strategy for addressing this crisis beyond the development of health human resources action plans and support for an Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative.
The CMA believes that the lack of immediate action on HHR is one area where the Agreement falls short. As noted in our fact sheet, Canada is currently experiencing a shortage in health human resources. Canada’s ratio of 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population remains one of the lowest among OECD countries and below the OECD average of 2.9. Initial results from the 2004 National Physician Survey—the largest census survey of physicians ever conducted in Canada—find that up to 3,800 physicians will retire in the next two years, more than double the existing rate. Furthermore, 26% of physicians intend to reduce the number of hours they work. 4 One must remember that timely access to health care services is first and foremost about the people who provide quality care and the tools and infrastructure they need to meet the growing demand for medical services in Canada.
In order for the FMM Agreement to be successful in improving access to care, governments must make health human resources a major priority beginning by ensuring that the Wait Times Reduction Fund is used immediately to address the crisis in health human resources rather than in the last four years of the ten-year Agreement as currently projected. 5 Given the current shortages in health human resources, action on HHR must begin now—not in 2010.
In addition, the CMA calls upon the federal government to play a key role in improving the availability of health human resources by developing a pan-Canadian HHR strategy that includes the involvement of health care providers. Specifically, we need a three pronged pan-Canadian HHR strategy that would address: (1) HHR planning; (2) increasing the supply of health professionals; and, (3) retention issues.
Despite the large sum of funding that governments invest in health care, they do so without having the benefit of a national long-term health human resources strategy. Canada has 14 provincial/territorial and federal health care systems in operation. Yet, our immigration policies are largely conducted on a national basis and there is a high degree of labour mobility between provinces.
Presently, there is no overall national coordinating committee to assist provinces and territories in the planning of health human resources, particularly one that includes all pertinent stakeholders including physicians and other health care professionals. We believe a National Coordinating Committee for Health Human Resources involving representation from health care professions should be established for such purposes—something both the Romanow and Senator Kirby reports recommended.
Research is required to support long-term planning in HHR. The CMA has previously proposed the creation of an arm’s length Health Institute for Human Resources (HIHuR) that would promote collaboration and the sharing of HHR research among the well-known university-based centres of excellence as well as research communities within professional associations and governments.
Canada’s HHR policy goal should be to ensure Canada is self-sufficient in the supply of physicians and other health care professionals. Several strategies are required to fulfill this goal. They include:
* Dedicating a specific fund to increase enrollment in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education (especially re-entry positions). Medical school enrollment should be increased to a minimum of 2,500 positions by 2007.
* Expanding the post-MD system to accommodate the increase in graduates for training including the several hundred international medical graduates (IMGs) in Canada who have been deemed eligible for post-MD training here. The goal should be to increase the number of first-year residency training positions to a level of 120% of the graduates produced annually by Canadian medical schools. See Appendix B for how this can be implemented. The estimated cost of adding 500 positions is $75 million over five years. In fact, this government’s election platform included a commitment to provide funding to top-up training for 1,000 foreign trained medical professionals.
* Expediting the integration of international medical graduates by funding a fast-track on-line assessment program administered by the Medical Council of Canada. It would determine the suitability and eligibility of IMGs for completion of post-MD training (estimated cost $20 million over 5 years).
* Implementing a national strategy to extend the Canada Student Loans interest payment benefit to postgraduate trainees in medicine. High student debt impacts both the kind of specialty that physicians-in-training choose, and ultimately where they decide to practice—making it a key health human resource issue (see box below). The Canadian Medical Association commends the federal government for its commitment to reduce the financial burden on students in health care professions, as announced in the FMM Agreement.
Did you know?
Becoming a full-fledged, practicing physician is an arduous and expensive endeavor. It requires a minimum of 9 years (6) of post-secondary education and training that is often financed through sizeable government and private loan debt, such as lines of credit. It is estimated that, by the time medical students enter their pre-practice postgraduate training period, many are doing so with a debt of at least $120,000 (7) or more.
The federal government work with relevant stakeholders to extend interest free status on Canada Student Loans for all eligible health professional students pursuing postgraduate training.
Retention remains a major concern for the health care workforce including physicians. We speak not only in terms of losing physicians to other countries but to other professional pursuits as well (i.e., opportunities away from the front line delivery of care). There is little point in recruiting new physicians at the front end if we lose sight of how to keep them once they are highly skilled and are in their most productive years.
Retention issues are crosscutting. Indeed, a major frustration for physicians today are the difficulties faced trying to access other types of care for their patients such as diagnostic testing, specialty care or community services. Thus, improving access to a comprehensive range of health care providers and services and reducing wait times—as previously addressed—can help.
We also believe that investments in information technologies (IT) can help improve the coordination of health care and allow physicians to spend more time with their patients to provide quality care. There is currently limited connectivity among community-based physicians, community based services, specialists, hospitals and diagnostic facilities. IT investments can improve the integration of care, improve patient safety and improve the management of wait times. They can link regional and provincial wait time management systems while supporting more comprehensive scheduling systems. Prescriptions can be sent electronically to the local pharmacist while public health warnings can be sent electronically to physicians’ offices.
We recognize that investments in IT are already occurring and systems will be put in place over the next decade. However, we believe that by accelerating IT investments today, system efficiencies and savings can be achieved sooner along with improvements to health care delivery and coordination.
The application of tax policy to the health care sector is another retention issue that greatly frustrates physicians. This issue is discussed in the next section.
Align Tax Policy With Health Policy
The CMA continues to advocate for a review of the relationship between federal tax policy and health care policy in Canada. Taxation is a powerful instrument of public policy. Good tax policy should reinforce and support good health care policy. Yet, it has been 40 years since the federal government last undertook an overarching review of Canada’s tax system (the 1962-1966 Royal Commission on Taxation -the Carter Commission).
Standard public finance theory suggests that two objectives of effective tax policy are distributive equity and correcting inefficiencies in the private sector. 8 For some time, the CMA has expressed concern over inequities in tax policy and inconsistencies between national health policy goals and tax policy.
We are aware that the committee is looking for ideas on tax changes that can lead to a more productive economy. At the same time, we recognize that the government is committed to improving Canadians’ access to health care. Ensuring this country’s tax policy is supporting our health care system is a good way to achieve both objectives.
Specifically, the CMA calls on the federal government to remove the application of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to the health care sector. Currently, not-for-profit hospital services receive an 83% rebate on the GST they pay on goods and services, while not-for-profit health organizations receive a rebate of 50%. Health care professionals working in free-standing clinics do not qualify for any GST relief (discussed below). The estimated portion of funding paid by hospitals alone back to the federal government in the form of GST revenue is estimated to be $90 million per year. That is the equivalent of the purchase cost of almost 40 MRI machines! The CMA believes that all publicly funded health care services should be spared from having to use scarce health care resources to remit GST and should receive the full GST rebate.
Would this be setting a precedent? The answer is “no”. Prescription drugs, a significant proportion of total health care costs, have been zero-rated since 1996. Furthermore, the 2004 federal budget confirmed that municipalities would be able to recover 100% of the GST and the federal component of the harmonized sales tax (HST) immediately. As part of the “MUSH” sector (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals), we believe the time has come to extend the full rebate to the health care sector. The federal government must stop taxing publicly funded health care.
The uneven application of the GST rebate to different health services is also impeding efforts to renew and reorient the delivery of health services. Currently, community-based services such as clinics and nursing homes receive a GST rebate of only 50% while hospitals receive a rebate of 83%. Does it make sense that a nursing home or a home care service should pay more for GST than a hospital, particularly when trying to move to a more accessible community-based system? The variability of GST rebates makes no sense for organizations such as regional health authorities that oversee a range of health services but which pay differing rates. The government acknowledged in its 2003 Budget that there was a need to review how the GST is applied to care settings outside of hospitals. We await this review. Such inconsistencies distort the efficiency of the health care sector yet are relatively simple to address. 9
Physician services, on the other hand, are deemed “tax exempt” under The Excise Act. This means that physicians cannot claim any input tax credits despite the fact they must pay GST on their purchases of equipment, rent and utilities. And unlike other self-employed individuals or small businesses, physicians cannot pass on any of these additional costs as approximately 98% of physician compensation is from government health insurance plans. To date, provincial governments have been unwilling to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the GST (insisting that it is a federal matter).
Physicians are not asking for special treatment. They are looking for fairness within the tax system. If physicians, as self-employed individuals, are considered small businesses for tax purposes, then it only seems reasonable that they should have the same tax rules extended to them that apply to other small businesses (i.e., eligibility to receive input tax credits). This is a fundamental issue of tax fairness. In fact, this committee has twice before acknowledged the need to reassess the application of the GST on physician services. 10
The unfair manner in which the GST is applied to the health care sector has been an on-going source of major frustration to the physician community and remains unresolved. We believe that addressing this matter would be helpful in the country’s efforts to retain its physicians. Other self-employed health care providers that provide publicly funded services face a similar problem.
As part of an effort to ensure that its tax policy is consistent with the goals of its health policy and the sustainability of Canada’s health care system, the federal government should:
- increase the GST rebate for publicly funded health care institutions and clinics to 100% ($90 million annually for hospitals)
- zero rate GST on publicly funded health services provided by independent health care providers ($75 million annually for medical services).
IV PUBLIC HEALTH: HEALTHY PUBLIC
As previously noted, much has happened over the past year with respect to Canada’s public health system. The CMA was pleased to see the creation of the position of Minister of State, Public Health.
We commend the Government of Canada for its establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and for its selection of Dr. David Butler-Jones as the new Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. The 2004 Budget’s commitment to approximately $665 million for investments for public health over the next 3 years was also a welcomed announcement.
The CMA will provide its full support to work with Dr. Butler-Jones and the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ministers Bennett and Dosanjh to develop a coordinated and integrated plan to manage and improve public health in Canada. These developments certainly represent a good step towards rebuilding the country’s public health system.
Address the “Naylor Gap”
In spite of these initiatives, it remains essential to remind this government and Canadians that further attention to public health is necessary. As a member of the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century (CCPH21), the CMA calls on the federal government to enhance its financial commitment to the renewal of Canada’s public health system
The public health system is a vital component of a sustainable health system by reducing pressures on the health care system and providing a net benefit to society. 11
Two thirds of total deaths in Canada are due to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes (Type II melitus)—many of which are preventable.
Investing in public health also makes good economic policy. We have seen in recent years the incredible economic impact that public health outbreaks can have on a country’s economy. For instance, it has been estimated that the SARS outbreak cost the Canadian economy over $1.5 billion in 2003 alone with its impact still being felt. 12 As stated in the Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Naylor Report), “we are constantly a short flight away from serious epidemics.” 13
Accordingly, we were pleased to hear the government’s Speech from the Throne state that the government will proceed with the development of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network.
But we have to overcome several years of inattention to public health issues and the public health infrastructure—something that cannot be rectified in a year. Spending levels on public health in Canada are meager. International comparisons are difficult to find and to compare, but it appears that this is one instance where Canada could learn from its neighbour to the south with its higher level of spending on public health (see Box comparing public health spending between Canada and the United States). 14 While the role of public health was referred to in the FMM Agreement, no additional funding for public health was included.
Comparing Levels of Public Health Spending: Canada vs. the United States
Using data from CIHI and the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the CMA has developed the following comparative estimates of spending on public health in Canada versus the United States in 2002.
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Canada United States
1. Per capita spending on public health
services ($CDN, PPP adjusted) $138 $207
2. Share of spending on public health as
a % of public health care spending 5.5% 7.2%
3. Share of spending on public health as
a % of total health care spending 3.9% 3.3%
The United States spends approximately 50% more on public health than Canada when comparing per capita payments. The United States also spends more on public health when considering public health spending as a percentage of all publicly funded services (due in part to a proportionately smaller publicly funded sector). Conversely, Canada spends more on public health if looking at the percentage of spending on public health as a percentage of total health care spending. This is due in part to a proportionately larger privately funded sector in the United States. Since public health is predominately a public good paid by governments, we believe it is most appropriate to compare the results from the first two indicators.
The Naylor Report estimated that public health in Canada accounted for 2.6% to 3.5% of total publicly funded health expenditures in Canada and 1.8% to 2.5% of total health expenditures. While these estimates are lower than those provided above, they still support our observation that public health spending in Canada is lower than in the United States.
The Naylor report provided a blue print for action and reinvestment in the public health system for the 21st century. It estimated that approximately $1 billion in annual funding would be required to implement and sustain the public health programs that Canada requires. In its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, the CMA also identified an essential range of comprehensive public health programming and initiatives totaling an estimated $1.5 billion over 5 years. 15
The federal government has thus far committed approximately $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, and over 3 years), well short of Dr. Naylor’s $1 billion per year. This “Naylor Gap” of approximately $450 million per year is identified below in Table A.
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Table A: Estimating “The Naylor Gap”
Naylor Funding Recommendations
Public Health Agency of Canada Related Funding
- $300 million per year core budget of PPHB and other related federal services to be transferred to new agency
- core functions to be expanded by $200 million per year within 3-5 years
- $404 million transferred from Health Canada to Agency
- $165 million over 2 years to assist in setting up new agency, increase emergency response capacity, enhance surveillance, establish regional centres of excellence, expand laboratory capacity, strengthen international coordination and collaboration
$117.5 million per year
($200 million by Naylor minus $82.5 million per year committed by the federal government averaged out). Moreover, nothing earmarked beyond 2005-06.
3 programs of transfers at a cost of $500 million per year:
- $300 million for Public Health Partnerships Program to build capacity at local level
- $100 million for communicable disease surveillance
- $100 million to bolster national immunization strategy
- $100 million (one-time) to Canada Health Infoway to pay for real-time public health surveillance system
- $400 million over three years for:
- $300 million for national immunization strategy
- $100 million for provinces to address immediate gaps in capacity
Approximately $333 million per year
($500 million per year request by Naylor less Budget 2004 commitments of $500 million over 3 years or $167 million per year averaged out.)
Total: $1 billion per year
$404 million annually plus $665 million in new programming (one-time funding, over 2 years, or over 3 years)
Total “Naylor Gap”:
$450.5 million per year
We acknowledge that the Public Health Agency of Canada is just being created. We also recognize that Budget 2004 noted that: “The Government of Canada expects to make further investments once the new Canada Public Health Agency is operational, the Chief Public Health Officer has developed a comprehensive public health plan, and the Government has had the opportunity to evaluate the need for additional resources.” 16 Nevertheless, it is critical that reinvestment in Canada’s public health system continue as soon as possible to protect and promote the health of Canadians.
These additional investments are needed to fully implement Dr. Naylor’s recommendations. This includes operating costs for a real time communication system for front line public health providers during health emergencies. It would ensure a two-way flow of information between front-line health care providers and public health professionals at the local public health unit, the provincial public health department and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The CMA has recently submitted a proposal to Canada Health Infoway to develop a system (the Health Emergency Communication and Co-ordination Initiative) that would link Canada’s physicians with governmental authorities. The additional investments should also be used to help address the recruitment and retention of public health practitioners. 17
In contrast with other areas of health expenditures, we know very little about how public health dollars are allocated and with what results. Presently, public health expenditures are lumped together with some health system administration costs. We believe there is a need for a better tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures.
Set and Meet National Health Goals
The CMA was pleased to see support by First Ministers in the FMM Agreement to establish a Pan-Canadian Public Health Strategy and health goals that are independently monitored. We believe health goals are a key component in addressing the serious public health challenges that lie ahead. Goals stimulate action and improve system accountability. Unlike Canada, many other countries—including the United States, the UK and Australia—have set health goals for their populations at the national level.
At the CMA’s August 2004 General Council meeting, physicians agreed on health goals for physical activity, healthy body weights and obesity (see box below). These goals are already having an effect. Recently, the BC Minister of Health, Colin Hansen, accepted the challenge from the President of the British Columbia Medical Association, Dr. Jack Burak, to increase fitness levels by 10 per cent by 2010.
We also need to be more preoccupied with setting, meeting and monitoring environmental health goals. Let us look at drinking water for example. As hard as it may be for Canadians to believe, a safe supply of water is a key health concern for Canadians today just as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The polluting of our water supply—including the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the use of antibiotics in human and animal health—and a lack of adequate water treatment infrastructure systems have contributed to the problem. Above all, we as Canadians need to recognize that a large natural supply of water and other natural resources do not eliminate the need for strong environmental governance. Public health officials play an important role in this respect.
But it is pointless to set goals without any intention of meeting them. Resources will be necessary to meet the selected health goals such as the training and hiring of public health workers, as well as funding to support public advertising and marketing campaigns.
Physical Activity and Healthy Body Weight Goals for Canada
(Endorsed at CMA General Council, August 2004, Toronto)
The Canadian Medical Association urges all levels of government to commit to a comprehensive, integrated and collaborative national strategy for increasing the physical activity levels of all Canadians, with a target of a 10% increase in each province and territory by the year 2010.
The Canadian Medical Association calls on all stakeholders to develop, as an urgent priority, an action plan to address the obesity epidemic in Canada, with a goal of increasing by 15% within ten years the proportion of Canadians who are at a healthy weight.
Invest in Health Not in Tobacco
Improving health status is more than promoting healthy lifestyle behaviour. A healthy society also requires public policy that supports health (e.g. adequate income and education, proper housing, adequate nutrition, a clean and safe environment.)
Tobacco use is a good example of a health risk that has been significantly reduced with the help of public policy measures, such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, and restrictions on smoking in public places. But there remains inconsistency in Canada's public policies—in this case between the investment policies of the CPP Investment Board and Canada's health policy goals.
Canadians are very proud of their public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). It is a well-supported social program that has been viewed as a best practice model by several countries. Yet, despite the fact that tobacco continues to kill approximately 45,000 Canadians a year and costs Canadian society approximately $11 billion per year in net cost, (18) the Canada Pension Plan holds $94 million worth of tobacco investments.
Canada’s physicians see the toll that tobacco consumption creates. We see the physical and mental suffering that tobacco-caused diseases bring to patients and their families. Accordingly, the CMA has consistently recommended a wide range of measures to control tobacco use such as higher tobacco taxes, continued restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion, restrictions on smoking in public places, enforcement of bans on sales to minors, reduction of the level of toxic ingredients in tobacco and the provision of smoking cessation programs. We are pleased with the efforts to date but we are by no means finished in our battle. As our fact sheet shows, there are still segments of the population, particularly among our youth, that have high rates of smoking.
The federal government in recent years has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a tobacco reduction strategy that, when combined with efforts being taken by the provinces and municipalities, is making a difference for Canadians. However, the CPP Investment Board is investing and voting as shareholders in a pattern that is inconsistent with both public health policy, and the tobacco reduction measures being implemented across Canada. It is inconsistent and illogical for one arm of government to expend many millions of dollars of public money in
an effort to reduce tobacco use, while another arm invests many millions of dollars of money in tobacco companies and supports these companies in their drive to be profitable.
Resolution of the Canadian Medical Association General Council, August 2004:
…the government amend the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act so that CPP investments in the tobacco industry are prohibited and the CPP Investment Board divests itself of existing tobacco holdings.
The CMA is prepared to back up what it is prescribing—MD Management Ltd’s “MD Funds” which are managed for Canada’s physicians has followed this policy for almost ten years. Other major pension and investment plans have successfully followed this policy as well including several US State retirement and pension funds and the American Medical Association Pension Fund.
While the CMA clearly believes that the CPP Investment Board should not invest in the tobacco industry and that existing tobacco holdings should be divested, we recognize that this committee might want to look at the matter in greater context to assess its full impact. We suggest that this be done in conjunction with the Standing Committee on Health.
The Standing Committees on Finance and Health hold a joint review of the CPP policy as it relates to investments in tobacco (both current and potential) by the CPP Investment Board.
The Finance Committee’s last report on the pre-budget hearings noted that the CMA’s submission identified relatively small, one-time investments that can support the health care system. 19 This year’s submission once again puts forward strategic investments that we believe support Canada’s health policy goals and which serve to effectively implement the FMM Agreement. Our recommendations are also directed at improving the alignment of Canada’s economic policy with its health policy.
It is natural to think of an agreement as an end point. But in reality, the FMM Agreement and last year’s funding announcements for public health must be seen as for what they are—first steps to sustaining Canada’s health care system and its public health system. Canada’s physicians and the CMA are committed to working with governments and other health care stakeholders to ensure the financial investments announced over the past year lead to positive and enduring change, and ultimately improved health for all Canadians.
1 Claudia Sanmartin et al. Access to Health Care Services in Canada, 2003. Statistics Canada, 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. The Taming of the Queue: Toward a Cure for Health Care Wait Times. Discussion Paper. July 2004. Ottawa.
3 CMA, Better Access for Better Health, September 2004; Canadian Healthcare Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association. “Common Vision for the Canadian Health System,” September, 2004.
4 National Physician Survey, “Initial Data Release of the 2004 Physician Survey”, October 2004.
5 A note listed under the funding schedule indicates that moneys flowing to the Wait Times Reduction Fund for health human resources ($250 million for four years) will come only during the final four years of the Agreement.
6 Average duration. Only 2/16 medical schools have a 3 (versus 4) year program.
7 This estimate is based on federal government actual and estimated costs as well as current actual national average tuition fees in undergraduate programs in medicine. Data sources: (1) Statistics Canada, The Daily, April 26, 2004, National Graduates Survey: Student Debt, p. 3. (2) Government of Canada, Canlearn. Saving for your child's education, The projected cost of your child's education. University Tuition. Typical 1996 university cost living away from home: $13,000 - $3,500 tuition = $9,500 x 24% (8 years x 3% inflation cited in reference above) = $11 780. see: http://www.canlearn.ca/financing/saving/guaranteefuture/clcos.cfm?langcanlearn=en (3) Association of Canadian Medical Colleges for tuition
8 For a further discussion of the role of taxation in public policy, refer to Musgrave, Richard A. and Peggy B. Musgrave’s Public Finance in Theory and Practices. 1973. New York: McGraw-Hill.
9 Canadian Medical Association, Tax and Health—Taking Another Look. Discussion Paper, May 2002.
10See Keeping the Balance, 1997 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance; Facing the Future: Challenges and Choices for a New Era, 1998 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
11 See for example, Laurie J. Goldsmith, Brian Hutchinson and Jeremiah Hurley, Economic Evaluation Across the Four Faces of Prevention: A Canadian Perspective. (Hamilton: Centre for Health Econoimcs and Policy Analysis, McMaster University), May 2004.
12 The Conference Board of Canada, “The Economic Impact of SARS”, Ottawa, May 2003.
13 Report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, Learning From SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada, October 2003.
14 Based on data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (http://www.cms.hhs.gov/statistics/nhe/).
15 Canadian Medical Association, Answering the Wake Up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan. Submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, June 2003.
16Government of Canada, Department of Finance Canada, The Budget Plan 2004, p. 101. 2004.
17 See Answering the Wake-up Call: CMA’s Public Health Action Plan for other initiatives that should be funded to rebuild Canada’s public health system.
18 Adapted from estimates provided by Murray J. Kaiserman, “The Cost of Smoking in Canada, 1991”, Chronic Diseases in Canada, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1997. Available at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/cdic-mcc/18-1/c_e.html.
19 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, Canada: People, Places and Priorities, November 2002.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to provide our observations concerning Bill C-12, an Act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease, which will repeal and replace the current Quarantine Act.
Since our founding in 1867, the CMA has had a long tradition in the field of public health and infectious diseases. For example, in 1885 we worked with the federal government to prevent an outbreak of cholera in Canada, while in 1891 we began a long campaign to encourage governments to deal with tuberculosis. And fast forward to 2003 and SARS, CMA worked along with many levels of government to deal with this public health crisis.
While the CMA is particularly interested in how the proposed legislation will impact the practices of our more than 58,000 members across the country, we have reviewed this legislation through the lens of what is in the best interest of patients and the public.
1) Comprehensive Approach to Public Health
Our comments call for and are embedded in the broader context of a comprehensive approach to public health. They are also based on previous recommendations CMA has made to the federal government including:
a) Response to the Health Protection Legislative Renewal initiative carried out by Health Canada (2004). In this submission, CMA identified the Quarantine Act as a piece of legislation the CMA believed merited urgent updating;
b) Review of the World Health Organizations’ draft revised International Health Regulations (IHR), (2004);
c) Submission to the Naylor Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (2003);
d) Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of public health issues (2003); and
e) Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance following September 11, 2001.
These submissions are all available on request, or at www.cma.ca.
The CMA is pleased that Parliament has identified revision of the Quarantine Act as a priority. The Act is more than a century old and the medical community and others have long called for it to be updated. Bill C-12 is an excellent start to modernizing the previous Act; however, we believe the proposed legislation does not go far enough in remedying its deficiencies.
In this submission we present eight key recommendations for your consideration, along with questions about particulars in the implementation process, which we suggest Parliament address in subsequent review of the Act and its regulations.
2) Recommendations for Consideration in Review of Bill C-12
Recommendation 1: The Act should be part of a larger, comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Plan.
In our brief to the Naylor Advisory Committee, CMA recommended the enactment of a comprehensive Emergency Health Measures Act, administered by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. This Act would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response to health emergencies, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach. We also recommended that the Emergency Health Measures Act be part of a strong commitment, by all levels of government, to a public health strategy that also included a 5-year capacity enhancement program, development of research and surveillance capability; and funding for a communications initiative to improve technical capacity for real-time communication with front-line health providers during public health emergencies.
Recommendation 2: The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada must have authority to enforce the Act
The proposed legislation designates the Minister of Health as the person with ultimate responsibility for enforcing the Act; it grants the Minister sweeping powers including the power to overrule a health official’s quarantine. As medical professionals we believe that public health decisions should be made primarily on the basis of the best available medical and scientific evidence, and should be independent to the greatest extent possible of other considerations.
Therefore we believe that responsibility for the implementation of the Act should rest with the Public Health Agency of Canada, and with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, not with the Minister of Health. In the provinces and territories, Medical Officers of Health do not require approvals from their Ministers to exercise their functions as health professionals; the same should hold true at the federal level.
We understand that responsibility has been placed with the Minister of Health due to a lack of existing legislation setting out the mandate, roles, responsibilities and powers of the recently created Public Health Agency of Canada, and the newly appointed Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. We are also aware that enabling legislation is currently being prepared; we urge that this legislation be enacted as soon as possible. On enactment of this enabling legislation, the powers now vested in the Minister should be ceded to the Chief Public Health Officer.
Locating responsibility for administration of the Act within the Public Health Agency of Canada will also combine enforcement with other needed functions of surveillance, monitoring and linkage with international monitoring agencies. As we stressed in our previous recommendation, these must all be part of a comprehensive Canadian emergency response strategy.
Recommendation 3: The Act must address interprovincial as well as international traffic.
We are happy that the provisions of Bill C-12 apply to goods and travellers leaving as well as entering Canada. This was a deficiency identified in the previous Quarantine Act. However, the Act must also expressly address goods and travellers crossing provincial or territorial boundaries.
Currently, there is tremendous variation in public health system capacity among provinces and territories and, more particularly, among municipalities and local authorities. Inconsistencies in provincial approaches to public health matters have resulted in significant weaknesses in the “emergency shield” between and across provinces. Unless the potential consequences of these disparities are remedied through federal legislation they must, as a priority, be remedied through federal/provincial/territorial agreements.
The role of the Public Health Agency of Canada in facilitating, equalizing and monitoring the management of public health emergencies nationwide must be enshrined in the legislation that establishes the Agency. CMA also hopes that the development of a pan-Canadian Public Health Network, acknowledged in the 2004 Throne Speech, will facilitate the nationwide collaboration essential for adequate and appropriate response to health emergencies.
The CMA supports those provisions in Bill C-12 that give the Minister (preferably the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada) the power to establish quarantine centres anywhere in the country. In times of threat to national health security, such bold leadership would be both warranted and expected.
Recommendation 4: “Public Health Emergency” must be adequately defined.
Bill C-12 contains no definition of “public health emergency” or “public health emergency of international concern.” We believe these should be defined.1
Bill C-12 includes a schedule of specific communicable diseases to which its provisions would apply. We are concerned that this Schedule may limit Canada’s capacity to respond to emergencies. The next public health emergency may be a disease we have not heard of yet; or it may be a bio-terrorist attack, or a chemical or nuclear event. The Act must enable Canada to respond to new and emerging, as well as existing, threats to health.
The World Health Organizations’ draft International Health Regulations (IHR) has proposed a set of criteria for assessing emergencies; these include:
* Is the event serious?
* Is the event unexpected?
* Is there a significant risk of international spread?
The CMA urges the Canadian government to consider a hybrid approach incorporating both known disease states and criteria such as the ones used by the IHR, for assessing new diseases or other public health emergencies.
Recommendation 5: The Act, or its regulations, must clarify the roles, responsibilities and training requirements of emergency response personnel.
Some provisions of Bill C-12 have raised questions in our minds about the scope of practice of personnel involved in disease screening, and we would appreciate clarification on these points. For example:
Screening officers, the first point of contact for travelers entering or leaving Canada, are customs officers and others designated by the Minister. Their primary role under Section 14 of the Act is to use “non-invasive” screening technology to detect travelers entering and exiting Canada with communicable disease vectors, etc. According to Section 15 (3) screening officers, who are not health professionals, will have the power to “order any reasonable measure to prevent spread of a communicable disease”. Of what might these “reasonable measures” consist?
Quarantine officers, by definition in Section 5(2) are medical practitioners or other health professionals or anyone else in this “class of persons”. Since the quarantine officer’s job description includes physical assessment of travellers to determine whether they should be detained – a function that requires the expertise of a health professional - we would appreciate clarification of the phrase “in this class”. Similarly, under Section 26, the quarantine officer has the power to order the traveler “to comply with treatment”. Which officer—screening/quarantine or medical—might actually prescribe the course of treatment? This function must be specifically delegated to medical officers.
Bill C-12 gives authorities the powers to restrict personal movement and temporarily impound or seize property. The CMA believes that the government should also provide adequate resources and powers to allow for tracking down apparently well people who cross borders and are subsequently diagnosed with infectious diseases.
The Act or its regulations should also address factors that hinder deployment of qualified health professionals, such as portability of licensure and coverage for malpractice and disability insurance. CMA has previously called for the establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service that would maintain a “reserve” of public health professionals who could be deployed to areas of need during times of crisis, and which would co-ordinate the logistics of the issues above mentioned. This would improve the capacity of health professionals to be deployed quickly in times of health emergency, to locations where they are most needed.
Finally, CMA suggests that the Act or its regulations provide greater detail on training requirements for screening officers, to guarantee that they are appropriately trained.
Recommendation 6: Privacy and confidentiality must be respected and safeguarded.
Bill C-12 grants quarantine officers and the Minister some sweeping powers to arrest and detain people without warrants, including people who have refused to comply with testing. Though on rare occasions such measures may be required to protect the public, it is recognized that potential for their abuse may exist.
In addition, Bill C-12 raises questions about the degree to which personal health information might be exposed to scrutiny. We note that Section 51 authorizes a quarantine officer to “order any person to provide any information or record…the officer might reasonably require.” This provision could include patient medical records in a doctor’s office, particularly if the Bill guarantees travellers the right to request a “second opinion” which we assume could be obtained from any practicing physician in Canada. Similarly, Sections 55 and 56 appear to give the Minister authority to “collect medical information in order to carry out the purposes of this Act” and to “disclose personal information obtained under the Act” to a host of entities.
The CMA believes that the power to obtain and disclose information should be explicitly constrained and circumstances under which this power could be exercised must be outlined in the Act.
Recommendation 7: The role of physicians and other health care workers must be respected.
The health professional sector is on the front lines of response to health emergencies, as they were during the SARS outbreak. Therefore as a first principle the new Act should recognize the importance of health professionals having the power, subject to appropriate constraints, to make vital decisions in response to health emergencies. This is a legitimate delegation of power, because of the competencies of health professionals.
During the SARS outbreak of 2003, physicians and other health care providers were not only partners in containing infection; many became ill or died as well. Since health care workers expose themselves to infection as they respond to health emergencies, protocols should ensure that care and attention is paid to their safety, through measures such as ensuring ready availability of proper masks
The Act or regulations should address precautions required to protect quarantine officers and other health care workers from transmission of disease or the effects of becoming ill. For example, it should address compensation for quarantine officers who lose work because they become infected in the course of their duty.
We would be remiss in our review of this act if we did not pursue with this Committee the issue of compensation and indemnification programs for physicians and trainees requiring quarantine because of exposure to a communicable disease while providing medical service, or who are required to close their offices for other public health reasons, or who cannot practice in hospitals because of closure of hospitals for public health reasons.
Indeed, delegates to our annual general council meeting called on the CMA to do so. A number of these physicians were caught in such situations during the turmoil of the SARS outbreak.
Recommendation 8: Decision-making should be evidence-based.
At times, public perception and political considerations may widely influence the assessment and management of risk. While this is probably unavoidable, CMA believes that public policy should be founded first and foremost on the highest possible quality of scientific evidence. The Act should provide the requisite mechanisms to ensure that reviews of risk are independent and unbiased. We acknowledge, however, that this principle should not be rigidly applied; “we’re waiting for the evidence” must not be used as an excuse for inaction when action is urgently required.
3) Additional Comments
In addition to the above recommendations, additional concerns remain regarding implementation of the Act. In particular we note that many crucial components, such as how physical examinations are to be carried out (section 62(1), medical practitioner’s review process (section 62(d), and the protection of personal information (62(g) are left to regulations. These regulations must be developed as soon as possible.
We understand that the current Act constitutes “Phase I” of a longer-term strategy to enhance Canada’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies. Though we believe that the Quarantine Act merits attention at this time, we also believe that it should be looked at with a longer-term view. For instance, as we have already recommended, it should be incorporated into the broader legislative renewal of public health in Canada, with a view to enhancing this country’s ability to respond swiftly and effectively to public health emergencies, locally and nationwide.
Above all, Canada must ensure a sustained and substantial commitment of resources to its public health emergency response program. Without this, the best-written laws will be inadequate.
The Canadian Medical Association commends the Government of Canada for bringing this bill forward, and looks forward to working with the Government, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, to help keep Canadians safe in the event of a public health emergency.
1 A public health emergency has been defined by the US Model State Emergency Powers Act (http://www.publichealthlaw.net accessed July 7, 2003) as an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition of a temporary nature that is believed to be caused by:
* the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious agent or biological toxin;
* a bioterrorist event;
* a natural disaster
* a chemical event or accidental release; or
* a nuclear event or accident
and that poses a high probability of any of the following harms:
* a large number of deaths in the affected population;
* a large number of serious or long-term disabilities in the affected population; or
* widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent that poses a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people in the affected population.
The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. In fulfillment of this mission, the CMA’s role is focused on national, pan-Canadian health advocacy and policy priorities.
As detailed in this brief, the CMA is gravely concerned that by capturing group medical structures in the application of Section 44 of Bill C-29, the federal government will inadvertently negatively affect medical research, medical training and education as well as access to care.
To ensure that the unintended consequences of this federal tax policy change do not occur, the CMA is strongly recommending that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction in Section 44 of Bill C-29.
Relevance of the Canadian Controlled Private Corporation Framework to Medical Practice
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country’s knowledge economy. Due to the design of Canada’s health care system, a large majority of physicians – more than 90% – are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners.
As self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits, although they are responsible for these benefits for their employees. Access to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework and the Small Business Deduction (SBD) are integral to managing a medical practice in Canada. It is imperative to recognize that physicians cannot pass on any increased costs, such as changes to CCPC framework and access to the SBD, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
In light of the unique business perspectives of medical practice, the CMA strongly welcomed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to maintain the existing small business framework and the subsequent federal recognition in the 2016 budget of the value that health care professionals deliver to communities across Canada as small business operators. Contrary to this recognition, the 2016 budget also introduced a proposal to alter eligibility to the small business deduction that will impact physicians incorporated in group medical structures.
What’s at risk: Contribution of group medical structures to health care delivery
The CMA estimates that approximately 10,000 to 15,000 physicians will be affected by this federal taxation proposal. If implemented, this federal taxation measure will negatively affect group medical structures in communities across Canada. By capturing group medical structures, this proposal also introduces an inequity amongst incorporated physicians, and incentivizes solo practice, which counters provincial and territorial health delivery priorities.
Group medical structures are prevalent within academic health science centres and amongst certain specialties, notably oncology, anaesthesiology, radiology, and cardiology. Specialist care has become increasingly sub-specialized. For many specialties, it is now standard practice for this care to be provided by teams composed of numerous specialists, sub-specialists and allied health care providers. Team-based care is essential for educating and training medical students and residents in teaching hospitals, and for conducting medical research.
Put simply, group medical structures have not been formed for taxation or commercial purposes. Rather, group medical structures were formed to deliver provincial and territorial health priorities, primarily in the academic health setting, such as teaching, medical research as well as optimizing the delivery of patient care. Over many years, and even decades, provincial and territorial governments have been supporting and encouraging the delivery of care through team-based models.
To be clear, group medical structures were formed to meet health sector priorities; they were not formed for business purposes. It is equally important to recognize that group medical structures differ in purpose and function from similar corporate or partnership structures seen in other professions. Unlike most other professionals, physicians do not form these structures for the purpose of enhancing their ability to earn profit.
It is critical that the federal government acknowledge that altering eligibility to the small business deduction will have more significant taxation implication than simply the 4.5% difference in the small business versus general rate at the federal level. It would be disingenuous to argue that removing full access to the small business deduction for incorporated physicians in group medical structures will be a minor taxation increase. As demonstrated below in Table 1, the effect of this federal taxation change will vary by province.
Table 1: Taxation impacts by province, if the federal taxation proposal is implemented
In Nova Scotia, for example, approximately 60% of specialist physicians practice in group medical structures. If the federal government applies this taxation proposal to group medical structures, these physicians will face an immediate 17.5% increase in taxation. In doing so, the federal government will establish a strong incentive for these physicians to move away from team-based practice to solo practice. If this comes to pass, the federal government may be responsible for triggering a reorganization of medical practice in Nova Scotia.
Finance Canada Grossly Underestimating the Net Impact
The CMA is aware that Finance Canada has developed theoretical scenarios that demonstrate a minimal impact to incorporated physicians within group medical structures. Working closely with our subsidiary, MD Financial Management, the CMA submitted real financial scenarios from real financial information provided to the CMA from incorporated physicians in group medical structures. These real examples demonstrate that there will be a significant impact to incorporated physicians in group medical structures, if this federal tax proposal will apply to them.
The theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada conclude the net financial impact to an incorporated physician in a group medical structure would be in the magnitude of hundreds of dollars. In stark contrast to the theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada, the CMA submitted financial scenarios of two incorporated physicians in group medical structures. The financial calculations undertaken by the CMA is based on the real financial information of these two physicians. The examples revealed yearly net reduction of funds of $32,510 and $18,065 for each of these physicians respectively.
Projecting forward, for the first physician, this would represent a negative impact of $402,330 based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return1. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $39.4 million.2
1 Source: MD Financial Management
2 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
3 Source: MD Financial Management
4 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
For the second physician, projecting forward, this would represent a negative impact of $223,565, based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return3. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $13.4 million.4
Unprecedented Level of Concern Expressed by Physicians
Following the publication of the 2016 federal budget, the CMA received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership expressing deep concern with the proposal to alter access to the small business deduction for group medical structures. The level of correspondence from our membership is quite simply unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
As part of the CMA’s due diligence as the national professional organization representing physicians, we informed our membership of Finance Canada’s consultation process on the draft legislative measures. In response, the CMA was copied on submissions by over 1,300 physicians to Finance Canada’s pre-legislative consultation.
In follow up, the CMA surveyed these physicians to better understand the impacts of the budget proposal. Here’s what we heard:
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group structure would dissolve;
. Most respondents (54%) said they would stop practicing in their group structure and that other partners would leave (76%);
. A large majority (78%) indicated that the tax proposal would lead to reduced investments in medical research by their group;
. Almost 70% indicated that the tax proposal would limit their ability to provide medical training spots; and,
. Another 70% indicated that the tax proposal will mean reduced specialty care by their group.
The full summary of the survey is provided as an appendix to this brief.
To further illustrate the risks of this proposal to health care, below are excerpts from some of the communiques received by the CMA from its membership:
. “Our Partnership was formed in the 1970s…The mission of the Partnership is to achieve excellence in patient care, education and research activities….there would be a serious adverse effect on retention and recruitment if members do not have access to the full small business deduction…The changes will likely result in pressure to dissolve the partnership and revert to the era of departments services by independent contractors with competing individual financial interests.” Submitted to the CMA April 15, 2016 from a member of the Anesthesia Associates of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus
. “The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is an academic health care institution dedicated to patient care, research and medical education…To support what we call our “academic mission,” cardiologists at the institute have formed an academic partnership…If these [taxation] changes go forward they will crippled the ability of groups such as ours to continue to function and will have a dramatic negative impact on medical education, innovative health care research, and the provision of high-quality patient care to our sickest patients.” Submitted to the CMA April 19, 2016 from a member of the Associates in Cardiology
. “We are a general partnership consisting of 93 partners all of whom are academic anesthesiologists with appointments to the Faculty of the University of Toronto and with clinical appointments at the University Health Network, Sinai Health System or Women’s College Hospital…In contrast to traditional business partnerships, we glean no business advantage whatsoever from being in a partnership…the proposed legislation in Budget 2016 seems unfair in that it will add another financial hardship to our partners – in our view, this is a regressive tax on research, teaching and innovation.” Submitted to the CMA April 14, 2016 from members of the UHN-MSH Anesthesia Associates
The CMA recommends that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction, as proposed in Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2.
Below is a proposed legislative amendment to ensure group medical structures are exempted from Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2:
Section 125 of the Act is amended by adding the following after proposed subsection 125(9):
125(10) Interpretation of designated member – [group medical partnership] – For purposes of this section, in determining whether a Canadian-controlled private corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician is a designated member of a particular partnership in a taxation year, the term "particular partnership" shall not include any partnership that is a group medical partnership.
125(11) Interpretation of specified corporate income – [group medical corporation] – For purposes of this section, in determining the specified corporate income for a taxation year of a corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician, the term "private corporation" shall not include a group medical corporation.
Subsection 125(7) of the Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:
"group medical partnership" means a partnership that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice;
"group medical corporation" means a corporation that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice.
"medical practice" means any practice and authorized acts of a physician as defined in provincial or territorial legislation or regulations and any activities in relation to, or incidental to, such practice and authorized acts;
"physician" means a health care practitioner duly licensed with a provincial or territorial medical regulatory authority and actively engaged in practice;
Incorporation Survey, October 2016
*Totals may exceed 100% as respondents were allowed to select more than one response
% Distribution by Province of Practice
Academic health sciences centre
Private office / clinic
Emergency department (in community hospital or AHSC)
Community clinic/Community health centre
Non-AHSC teaching hospital
Free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic
Free-standing walk-in clinic
Nursing home/ Long term care facility / Seniors' residence
Administrative office / Corporate office
% Distribution by Work Setting
Most frequently mentioned hospitals where respondents work in group medical structures
Group medical structure will dissolve
Stop practice in your group medical structure
Partnering members leave the group medical
Reduced investments in medical research
Reduced medical training spots
Reduced provision of specialized care
Physicians perceptions about the likelihood of the following outcomes
Likely or very likely
Unlikely or very unlikely
The federal government is advancing a tax proposal that will alter access to the small business deduction. If implemented, this proposal will affect incorporated physicians practicing in partnership group medical structures. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is actively advocating for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the application of this tax proposal.
Importance of Exempting Group Medical Structures from the Tax Proposal
Important or very important
Unimportant or very unimportant
To support the effectiveness of its advocacy efforts, the CMA conducted an online survey seeking input from members who had voiced their concerns about this issue directly with the Department of Finance and who had copied the CMA on their submissions.
Sample: physician type, province, and work setting
The survey was sent to 1089 CMA members, of which 174 responded (15.9% response rate). All sample respondents were incorporated and practiced in a group medical structure; 26% were family physicians (N=45) and 74% were specialists (N=129). Most respondents indicated practicing primarily in Ontario (65%) and Alberta (13%).
With respect to practice settings, the majority reported working in an academic health sciences centre (65%), followed by a private office/clinic (28%), university (22%), community hospital (15%), emergency department (9%), community clinic/community
health centre (8%), non-AHSC teaching hospital (8%), research unit (6%), and free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic (6%).
In total, respondents worked in 79 hospitals spread around 36 cities.
Likelihood of outcomes resulting from the federal tax proposal
When asked about the possible consequences of the proposed changes, the largest share of respondents (78%) felt a reduction in investments in medical research was likely or very likely. Almost as many (76%) also felt that partnering members would likely leave the group medical structure.
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group medical structure would be likely or very likely to dissolve if the federal tax proposal to change access to the small business deduction was implemented. Less than one-third (30%) felt unsure while only a few (9%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than half of respondents (54%) indicated that they would be likely or very likely to stop practicing in their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. More than one-third (36%) were unsure while only a few (10%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) indicated that other partnering members would be likely or very likely to leave their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. About 20% remained unsure while only 5% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 8 in 10 respondents (78%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce investments in medical research for their group medical structure. 16% remained unsure while 6% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Approximately two-thirds of respondents (67%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce the ability of the group medical structure to provide medical training spots. About a quarter (23%) remained unsure and 1 in 10 reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 7 in 10 respondents (68%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce provision of specialized care by their group medical structure. Almost a quarter (24%) remained unsure while 8% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
Importance of exempting group medical structures from the tax proposal
More than 9 in 10 respondents (94%) felt that it is important or very important for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the tax proposal to avoid negatively affecting health care delivery in their province. The remaining respondents were unsure (2%) or considered it unimportant or very unimportant (4%).
Other Impacts – Write-in Question
Before submitting the survey, respondents were given the chance to provide additional comments about other potential impacts that the proposed changes might produce. Most responses touched upon a few and inter-related themes, including:
1. Impact on education and research will be detrimental and will eventually affect patient care:
o “Without the group medical structure, we cannot adequately support teaching education and research activities. Physicians in academic health sciences centres will be forced to use their time to see patients, in order to bill fee-for-service to make a living. Very little time will be left over to
spend doing the research that is critical to advancing medical science, to supporting our university, and our nation’s prominent place in the world of medicine”
o “Support is given to the academic health sciences centres by the provincial government in order to facilitate research and education. The federal government's changes will penalize physicians who already dedicate much of their time to providing the stepping stones to advance medicine forward. These physicians generally make less income than physicians working in private practice. They are willing to take this monetary hit because they love what they do. However we all need to support our families and put food on the table. With the government's changes, this may not be possible in the current system, and these group medical structures will need to be dissolved and the physicians working will have much less time to dedicate to research and education.”
o “Less education, research activity to focus on fee-for-service procedures to compensate for higher taxes.”
o Our ability to provide teaching for medical education and research, which are currently not remunerated, would be curtailed. There would be no incentive but rather a significant disincentive to provide these activities because we would be financially penalized compared to physicians in the same specialty that are not in group medical structures.”
o “As the main teaching practice structure, we will lose full time faculty who provide the backbone to the program. They currently earn much below the average for Family Physicians in the province and our ability to support education and research will be compromised.”
2. Discourages practice in academic centres:
o “Working in an academic center as a general pediatrician means that we already make substantially less money than our community colleagues. There is very little incentive to remain in academic practice if we not only earn less, but are then not entitled to the same tax savings. I would leave academic practice and I suspect many of my colleagues would as well. I think we could see the end of the current group medical structure, as it would no longer support a financially viable model for academic practice.”
o “Creates a further divide between working in an academic centre and in the community. It will continue to be more advantageous to work in a smaller community - more money, less cost of living, less administrative and academic hassles, less research funding. Why bother working at an academic centre with such disadvantages.”
o “This policy seems to target academic physicians in groups disproportionately. These physicians currently support research and education by reallocating our own funds generated from clinical care. It is puzzling as to why the Federal Government is waging this war on the academic physician workforce.”
3. Physician retention and recruitment will be challenging:
o “I will retire sooner than otherwise.”
o “At the present time it is very difficult to recruit family doctors who are interested in teaching, research and administration of academic family medicine. This tax change will make it increasingly more difficult to recruit such individuals.”
o “I'm concerned that the proposed changes erase any benefits from a corporation structure and leave me with a loss. Work is so stressful and demanding that if I find myself in a disadvantaged situation financially as well, this would be another factor encouraging me either to retire or move outside of Canada. If I'm going to be faced with losses and more stress, why not instead focus on my quality of life instead?”
o “It would severely restrict our ability to recruit research and specialty physicians. We would not be able to compete with community centres and would see a dramatic decline in our ability to provide for teaching and research activities now funded through the group structure.”
o “I am a dual citizen and would seriously entertain moving to the USA.”
o “It will basically force me to go to a free standing walk in clinic.”
o “It would be less likely to recruit the best quality of medical staff to academic practice as there will be a significant financial disincentive, especially compared to what that same individual could earn on their own
in a community practice. This is on top of the fact that academic practitioners tend to earn less to start with.”
4. Discourages team-based collaborative care:
o “The bill sets up an unfair system where it is more attractive to be a solo MD rather than to collaborate and be part of a team.”
o “This creates an every person for themselves philosophy.”
o “The provision of our group services is required to ensure best patient care. It is wrong to penalize this model of comprehensive care.”
5. Practice will close and services will be limited in certain areas:
o “Any reduction in research, administration, academic activity, and members would affect patient care at our facility and therefore be a threat to patient safety. e.g., if multiple physicians leave, then we won't have enough physicians to cover the emergency department appropriately, wait times will increase, and serious patient safety concerns will arise.”
o “Reduces productivity of the doctors concerned and hence quality of service provided. Access will also be affected!”
o This would be unattractive for some, and they may leave (or others may not join.) If partners leave, the overhead will go up and we would likely close. Because our overhead is already borderline unacceptable. Shared between fewer docs would make it economically impossible. And this could easily happen if docs leave.
o “Reduced physician coverage if members opt out of group medical structure, which would have an impact on greater access and the quality of care.”
o “Our ability to have a large interdisciplinary team to assist in serving our patients could not continue to exist. Our ability to continue to provide 24/7 on-call and after hours clinics would decrease due to a change in the structure leading to less practitioners.”
The method a country chooses to fund and deliver health care demonstrates the values of its citizens and the type of nation that they wish to live in. Canadians, through their elected representatives, have placed a high value on a single-payer, tax-financed health care system with a delivery system that is essentially private and not-for-profit. The principles providing the underpinnings of the system are embodied in the Canada Health Act (CHA) and include the following: universality, comprehensiveness, access, portability and public administration.
Since the passing of the CHA, Canadians have grown increasingly passionate about these principles and have demonstrated time and again that these principles are in close alignment with their values.
Canadians have chosen tax-based financing for their health care system as it relates to hospital and physician services. The provincial and federal governments, through federal government transfers such as equalization payments and the Canada Health and Social Transfer and through provincial taxation, fund the various organizations and health care providers that deliver health care. Therefore the financing of the health care system has been socialized and publicly administered as opposed to privatized through compulsory private insurance. This indicates that Canadians view health care as not just an ordinary good, such as an automobile or a house that they pay for based on their own financial resources, but as a good whose cost should be shared by the community on the basis of the ability to pay of individuals. For those two components that are most likely to create true financial hardship for families and individuals, hospital services and physician services, the overwhelming majority of the funding is from public sources as opposed to private sources.
When it comes to the health services that are subject to the provisions of the CHA, namely hospital services and physicians' services, Canada has chosen a predominantly private delivery approach. Physicians are largely self-employed and operate within a private sector solo or group practice while community and teaching hospitals are largely private not-for-profit organizations. Most Canadian hospitals are governed by voluntary boards of trustees and are owned by voluntary organizations, municipal or provincial authorities or religious orders.
2.0 CANADIAN VALUES
The evolution of Canada's health care system has been profoundly influenced by Canadian values and as a result so will its future. The Prime Minister's National Forum on Health produced a series of documents on Canada's health care system including analyses that delved into Canadian values regarding health care and Canada's health care system in particular.
The following quotes are from Graves, Frank L. Beauchamp, Patrick, Herle, David, "Research on Canadian Values in Relation to Health and the Health Care System" Canada Health Action: Building on the Legacy, Papers Commissioned by the National Forum on Health, "Volume 5 - Making Decisions, Evidence and Information". These quotes exemplify the importance of health and the health care system in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
"There is a broad consensus that the Canadian health care system is a collective accomplishment, a source of pride, and a symbol of core Canadian values. The values of equality, access, and compassion are salient to perceptions of the system and often held in contradistinction to perceptions of the American system. Moreover, the system is seen as relatively effective and sound. It may be the only area of current public endeavour which is seen as a clear success story." p. 352
"The public perceptions of problems in the health care system reflect many of the themes evident in broader concerns about government. One of these themes is a growing wariness of "expert" prescriptions for the health care system." p. 353
"This finding reconfirms a consistent conclusion of other research in this area - the gap between expert rationality and public values. It would be prudent to acknowledge the public's entrenched resistance to a purely economic mode on health care." p. 354
"A number of key conclusions are evident. First, people were generally loath to trade-off elements of the current system against the promise of better or fairer future performance." p. 355
"The public will be resistant to a rational discourse on these cost issues because they are more likely to see these issues in terms of higher-order values. The evidence suggests that further dialogue will tilt the debate more to values than economics. The public will insist on inclusion and influence in this crucial debate and they will reject elite and expert authority." p. 356
"In response to a question on how health care was different from other commodities and services sold in the marketplace, participants agreed that its main difference lies in the fact that it was directly related to "life and death"." p. 370
"Most simply did not want efficiency to be the driving force in health policy." p. 378
"The focus group discussions augmented the belief that health care is more about values than economics." p. 389
"Although other competing priorities emerged over the period of the discussion, it is equality of access that serves as the primary source of this pride. The "Canadian" values are wrapped up in equality of access - everybody gets relatively equal care when they are sick and nobody has to lose their house to pay their hospital or doctor bill. It is this feature of the system which is seen to most distinguish it from the American model (which is the point of comparison)." p. 393
"Many people readily acknowledge that their belief in egalitarianism is restricted to health care and that they are not troubled by wide discrepancies based on ability to pay or status in other areas of society. They have no trouble isolating health care in this way because they see health care as something of a completely different character than housing or automobiles or vacations." p. 393
"There is an overwhelming consensus among Canadians about the importance of equality of access as the defining characteristic of our system. That consensus is premised upon the assumption that quality is a given, as they have perceived it to be in the past." p. 395
"It is also true that, since Canadians recognize that a truly private system like the U.S. version might provide even greater levels or quality of freedom of choice to at least some citizens, they are choosing to sacrifice some of that from the system in order to provide equality of access to a universal system." p. 396
Clearly, Canadians value their health care system and the principles that it is based on.
3.0 IMPLICATIONS FOR TRADE LIBERALIZATION
The core values that Canadians have expressed in relation to the health care system raise certain issues as to the impact of trade liberalization on those core values. Following is an analysis based on an examination of the various modes of trade.
3.1 Modes of Trade in Services
The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations leading to the World Trade Organization's creation in 1995 classified services into 160 sectors. Health services are classified as a sector. In addition, trade in insurance services may affect health services where a market for health insurance exists.
The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) distinguishes among four modes of trade in services. Each is briefly described below, together with examples, (involving the mythic countries 'A' and 'B') from the health sector.
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- provision of diagnosis or treatment planning services in country A by suppliers in country B, via telecommunications ('telemedicine')
- movement of patients from country A to country B for treatment
- establishment of hospitals in country A whose owners are from country B, i.e. foreign direct investment
Presence of natural persons1
- service provision in country A by health professionals who have emigrated from country B
To date, Canada has made no commitments in the health services sector. Commitments in general have been shallow in the health sector in comparison to the most liberalized sectors, telecommunications and financial services, reflecting in part the substantial uncertainty about how such commitments will affect health care systems. Many of the countries that have undertaken health sector commitments have opted for enshrining the status quo, or even the status quo with commitments that include language proficiency requirements for health care professionals.
Some WTO Members, however, have made more extensive commitments, driven in part by the hope that this will facilitate development of export opportunities and importation of foreign capital and know-how. Where developing countries have made such commitments, the general lack of resources appears to be a far more potent barrier to trade than the presence or absence of such commitments.
3.2 GATS and the Health System: Role of Insurance and Health System Structure
To understand trade implications for the health sector, it may be helpful to distinguish between three functions that undergird all health systems: regulation/stewardship, financing, and service provision. Since the inception of Medicare, Canadians have received their health care through a system of private providers regulated under statutes. This links them closely to a financing system comprised largely of public funds in the form of general taxation revenues disbursed to health care providers by provincial and territorial governments and drawn from provincial and federal revenues through the progressive income tax system.
The regulatory/stewardship established by the Canada Health Act and provincial regulation is pivotal to the system's structure. For example, building private hospitals need not be explicitly banned because funding levers make this a difficult business proposition as services provided there would not be automatically covered by provincially managed insurance schemes. A further useful distinction arises between input goods and services (drugs, devices, health care personnel, cleaning, laundry etc.) and the output of health care services. It is difficult to argue that the cleaning of hospitals is fundamentally part of the output of health services, rather it is similar to cleaning of other facilities and is increasingly performed by commercial entities in contractual relationships with health care facilities. These commercial entities include firms with foreign ownership or shareholders. Similarly many of the drugs and devices used in Canadian health care facilities are traded goods, moving in international trade from foreign-based suppliers and being accompanied by Canadian goods exported to other health care systems.
Another input into the health care system is medical education. Physicians have to be trained so that Canadians have access to appropriate physician resources. There is some concern about the effects of GATS on the medical education enterprise and the quality of medical education currently delivered in Canada. As well, there is international recognition of Canada's expertise in medical education and evaluation and that this is a part of the health care system that Canada should be exporting.
4.0 RESPONDING TO GATS: POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS
In responding to GATS, it is helpful to consider each of the four modes of trade in health services, current levels of trade, and how GATS liberalization, (i.e. commitments by the government of Canada) could impact Canada's health care system.
Mode 1 - Cross-border supply
Cross border supply of health services, where the provider (health care professional) and consumer (patient) are in different jurisdictions has recently moved from the realm of science fiction to reality with advances in telemedicine. However, certain services, particularly those involving direct patient contact (nursing, rehabilitation professionals) are unlikely to be provided, regardless of advances in telemedicine. Cross-border supply appears most relevant to services involving diagnosis and treatment planning.
For example, a physician in Canada may digitize radiology films and send them for interpretation to a radiologist in the Caribbean or South Asia. Similarly, several experiments within Canada have attempted to use telediagnosis to spare families long trips from remote communities to consult with highly specialized paediatricians. If this were to occur across national borders with exchange of payment for services, it would constitute a form of international services trade.
Current limits on telemedicine's growth are essentially no longer technological but rather the regulatory/stewardship issues of professional certification and payment systems for services rendered. A commitment under mode 1 would do nothing to address either of these questions, particularly the first as governments retain full authority to establish licensing and certification regimes for professionals. Within Canada, payment has been hampered by provincial insurance plan insistence that the doctor-patient encounter must occur in such a way that both are in the same physical space.
At present, efforts have been directed to establishing cross-border recognition of professional accounting certification, fueled in large part by the concentration of accounting services work within a handful of multinational firms on behalf of their increasingly globalized clients. By contrast, similar efforts directed to social sector professions are unlikely given the atomistic nature of the professionals and the institutions and organizations where they work. The absence of a concerted desire for such cross-border recognition, coupled with the powerful role of governments in regulating not only certification but also numbers of health care professionals, suggests cross-border recognition will remain unlikely for the foreseeable future.
That having been said, a commitment by Canada and other countries to mode 1 liberalization could increase pressure on licensing authorities to develop programs of cross-border recognition. If this were to happen the export of telemedicine services outside of Canada would represent physician resources that would not be available to Canadians. Given the physician workforce issues that Canada is presently facing such a commitment could exacerbate an already difficult position. In addition, there are other implications that would have to be determined through stakeholder consultation, for example: provider legal liability and malpractice insurance, patient privacy and confidentiality of medical records to name a few.
Mode 2 - Consumption abroad
Individual Canadians have long sought care in other jurisdictions, most notably the United States. This is typically paid for from private health insurance or out of pocket funds. Changes to provincial insurance reimbursement for out-of-country care have dramatically limited publicly funded consumption abroad by Canadians. Two exceptions to this are treatment for specific rare conditions and, in several provinces, contracting for radiation therapy services with American institutions. Liberalization under mode 2 would do little for Canada in affecting the outward flow of Canadian patients to the US given the ease with which Canadians can cross the Canada-US border to purchase medical care. Similarly, opportunities for Canadian professionals and facilities to attract additional foreign patients are unlikely to grow substantially should a mode 2 commitment be made.
The obvious growth potential for Canadian physicians and facilities lies in the USA but has been substantially limited by two synergistic factors. First is the non-portability of insurance coverage, both publicly financed Medicare/Medicaid benefits and most market-purchased insurance. Exclusion from health maintenance organizations' (HMOs) networks of providers are a further impediment for Canadian providers seeking to attract American consumers. Should the United States be willing to commit to the generalized portability of Medicare benefits, Canada would be a logical destination for American consumers seeking care, but that would be contingent on a commitment from the United States or other action regarding portability, rather than a specific mode 2 commitment by Canada. Commitments in this direction may, however, only be made if similar commitments are made by potential trading partners for health services, notably Canada and Mexico.
A commitment by Canada and other countries, especially the United States, to mode 2 liberalization could change the business plans or strategies to attract foreign patients by some physicians especially certain niche subspecialists. Such a change could result in access difficulties for Canadian patients as providers substitute higher-paying foreign patients for Canadian ones for which payment is fixed by provincial insurance plans.
Mode 3 - Commercial presence
Commercial presence, usually through foreign direct investment (FDI), is often necessary for providing services such as banking or supply chain management. FDI in Canada's health service sector is relatively insignificant and that would appear unlikely to change with a mode 3 commitment. As with several of the other modes of trade, the regulatory and stewardship environment creates structural impediments to FDI, specifically concerning which services will be paid for in which facilities, that a mode 3 commitment is unlikely to remove.
A related area for the health system is that of consulting services, where multinational, foreign-origin firms already play a substantial role in providing various forms of management consulting services. While some hospital boards are reported to have been approached regarding the outsourcing of their management to foreign management services firms, the extent of implementation to date has been minimal. Should hospital management be outsourced in this way or hospital facilities networked through supra-facility organizations, American based firms are logical candidates for such work and can be expected to bring with them substantial experience in shaping and constraining physician decision-making, particularly around access to expensive procedures.
Mode 3 commitments are arguably neither necessary nor sufficient for such a change in hospital governance and management when compared to the power of provincial government regulation and financing mechanisms. If Canada made a mode 3 commitment, provincial governments would still have substantial latitude to regulate financing and provision of services, so long as these regulations applied to all potential suppliers, regardless of country of origin, thus ensuring national treatment.
However, the full ramifications of such a commitment remain largely unknown and there appears little to be gained by Canada in making such commitments.
Mode 4 - Presence of natural persons
Presence of natural persons, specifically physicians and other health professionals, is one of the most pressing issues in health systems around the world. For countries like South Africa, emigration of physicians hamstrings efforts to deliver health services. For parts of Canada, immigration of those physicians has been essential to providing Canadians with health care, particularly in rural and remote areas.
Nevertheless, mode 4 commitments are unlikely to be particularly useful for health human resource planning. For destination countries like Canada, a mode 4 commitment to liberalize immigration of natural persons, specifically health sector professionals, does not bind that country to forego national systems of certification and licensure. Moreover, existing systems of visas and work authorizations offer far more effective control over inflows than would a mode 4 commitment. Similarly, Canadian physicians who wish to emigrate, typically to the US, do so in the absence of a Mode 4 commitment by either country. Of concern to Canadians is the increased recognition of physician shortages as demonstrated by the fact that several provinces have increased medical school enrolment. Therefore any measures that would make it easier for physicians and other health care professionals to leave Canada and to practice elsewhere, especially the United States, could exacerbate an already tight supply of human health resources in several provinces.
After a decade of efforts to reduce the number of physicians in Canada, assessments of Canadian physician supply are increasingly identifying shortages or, at the very least, chronic undersupply, in rural areas. Substantial numbers of foreign-trained physicians already reside in Canada but are unable to practice due to some combination of limited language skills, insufficient training, or 'queuing' for the various transition requirements imposed on international medical graduates (IMGs) by provincial licensing authorities.
Commitments by Canada in this area however could result in pressure on licensing authorities to modify their requirements with potential implications on quality of care. Again, there is little to be gained for Canada to pursue commitments in this area until the ramifications are fully explored.
Two areas that are to be explored are: 1) cross-sectoral horse trading, and 2) equity perceptions.
'Cross-sectional horse trading' refers to countries offering commitments in one sector in return for commitments in other, unrelated sectors. As an example, Canada may wish to increase its access to foreign markets for financial or telecommunications services and face the choice of putting the health services sector 'into play' as part of negotiating on matters unrelated to health services. This would be potentially disastrous if Canada were to undertake specific health services commitments in the rush to secure benefits in other sectors without attention to the federal-provincial cooperation and coordination to ensure that such commitments did not undermine the foundations of Canada's health system.
Such cooperation and coordination appears to be becoming increasingly difficult and the pressure of a GATS commitment perceived to be negotiated by persons outside the health sector and health ministry would seem a surefire way to increase that difficulty.
The second issue, equity perceptions, arises from the confluence of increasing concern among Canadians about access to their health care system and the likely additional concern that would arise if Canadian physicians were perceived to be favouring foreign patients over Canadian patients. The clearest example of access concerns to date is likely that of ophthalmology services where the opportunities for these specialists to provide non-insured laser treatment to American citizens may have reduced the services available to provincially insured Canadians. Non-insured care, whether for Canadians or foreign patients is a growing part of physician revenues, but pushing for its expansion through a mode 2 commitment under GATS appears unlikely to generate benefits sufficient to offset the potential negatives when compared with other methods of expanding revenue from non-insured services.
The Government of Canada's bargaining position regarding health services in relation to the ongoing liberalization of trade in health services through the GATS will evolve from an assessment of the opportunities and costs associated with various levels of commitment. A major factor in the equation are the values of Canadians and their affinity for the publicly funded health care system.
"The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recognizes that trade liberalization can have positive economic impacts on the Canadian economy, however the type of healthcare system that Canadians and health care providers want is of primary concern whereas the goals of trade liberalization in health services is of a secondary nature. Recognizing that the GATS process is an on-going and long-term approach to trade liberalization, the CMA recommends that the Federal government undertake extensive consultative sessions with the Canadian public and healthcare providers. Such a consultation process would help answer questions as to the implications of trade liberalization and would provide feedback as to what level of trade liberalization in health care services is consistent with Canadian values."
1 Mode 4: "Presence of 1Natural Persons" - this covers the conditions under which a service supplier can travel in person to a country in order to supply a service. Source: http://gats-info.eu.int/gats-info/gatscomm.pl?MENU=hhh
This submission is the response of the Canadian Medical Association to Health Canada's request for feedback on its detailed "Health Protection Legislative Renewal" legislative proposal released in June 2003. Our submission calls for and is embedded in the broader context of a comprehensive approach to public health.
The Canadian Medical Association is committed to working with others to realize the vision of a comprehensive, robust public health strategy as a vital component of Canada's health care system. This strategy should rest upon three pillars:
* Emergency Response Empowering rapid and effective response to health emergencies, e.g. communicable disease outbreaks, water contamination, bio-terrorist attacks.
* Health Protection: Ensuring that Canadians are protected from health risks in their daily environment; for example, risks associated with the use of health or consumer products, or with the potential spread of infectious disease.
* Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Instituting programs to encourage healthy behaviour and advocating for public policy and fiscal policy that supports health.
Though these three pillars have different foci and different legislative instruments, they must all be part of a strategy to enhance public health and public health service delivery in Canada.
With specific reference to health protection, CMA believes that legislation should rest on the following principles:
a) Commitment to the primacy of health and safety.
b) Commitment to evidence-based decision making.
c) A thorough risk-analysis procedure based on the relative risk of products or services.
d) Support for informed patient decision-making.
e) Accountability vested in the Government of Canada.
f) A comprehensive, effective post-marketing surveillance system.
g) Enforcement through effective, meaningful penalties for noncompliance.
h) Flexibility to quickly and efficiently accommodate new technologies.
i) Openness and transparency.
j) Encouragement of collaboration and co-operation with other stakeholders, while respecting existing jurisdictions and legislative mechanisms.
A Canadian Public Health Strategy
1) That the federal government ensure that legislative and administrative measures related to public health complement one another in function and are connected through communications and co-ordination mechanisms.
The Drug Review Process
2) That the federal government implement a timely and efficient drug review process to reduce review times to the fastest level consistent with ensuring improved health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
3) That the federal government consider co-operative agreements for drug review with comparable agencies in Europe, the United States and Australia, while retaining final authority as to whether a new product should be allowed on the Canadian market.
4) That the drug review and approval process be open and transparent, providing updates on review status and the opportunity for stakeholder input.
5) That Health Canada apply a priority review process to "breakthrough" drugs, i.e. those that demonstrate a substantial improvement over products already on the market.
Patient Safety and Post-Marketing Surveillance
6) That Health Canada work in partnership with stakeholders including CMA and other national medical and health professional associations, to develop a rigourous post-marketing surveillance system to monitor the ongoing safety of marketed drugs.
7) That government accelerate activities to establish the Patient Safety Institute using a systems approach to support a culture of safety.
8) That all stakeholders join in supporting and encouraging outcome-based research to ascertain best practices in prescribing.
9) That the federal government invest in measures such as electronic communications networks, to increase physicians' capacity to report medication incidents and to improve the timeliness of adverse event reporting.
Drug Information and Advertising
10) That all stakeholders work to ensure that Canadians have ready access to a source of comprehensive, reliable information on health products and their uses, and that governments fund development and dissemination of validated information to physicians and to the public.
11) That the legislation define "promotion" and "advertising" so as to clearly distinguish them from unbiased health information, and from counselling by health professionals.
12) That the current safeguards against deception be strengthened in order to
* Forbid fraudulent or misleading health claims in advertisements, on labels or in any other promotional or descriptive material pertaining to the product;
* ensure pre-clearance and ongoing review of all health claims by an objective agency;
* provide meaningful penalties for infraction.
13) That Health Canada maintain the current ban on advertising health products for treatment, prevention and cure of conditions or disease states to be identified in a regulatory schedule or administrative list; the inclusion of conditions in this list should be determined through a set of criteria that are written into the Act or regulations.
14) That the existing ban on direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs be maintained and enforced to the full extent of the law, and that the loophole that currently permits advertising the name, price and quantity of a prescription drug be closed.
15) That all stakeholders, including medical associations and industry groups, work together toward effective regulation of drug promotion to health practitioners.
Safeguarding the Privacy of Health Information
16) That the Health Protection Act respect the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Federal Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
17) That the privacy provisions in the Health Protection Act meet the legislative test outlined in Section 3.6 of CMA's Health Information Privacy Code.
18) That the Health Protection Act give Health Canada a clear mandate to develop guidance documents to address health and safety issues raised by new technologies.
19) That Natural Health Products be regulated on a strict framework that ensures their safety, quality and efficacy as well as the provision of complete and unbiased information to the public.
20) That the Act provide Health Canada with a clear mandate to collaborate with provincial/territorial and local governments across Canada in reviewing legislation governing all aspects of drinking water from source to consumption to ensure that comprehensive programs are in place and being properly implemented.
21) That Health Canada urgently review the Quarantine Act and modernize its provisions.
This submission is the response of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) to Health Canada's request for feedback on its detailed "Health Protection Legislative Renewal" legislative proposal released in June 2003. Our submission calls for and is embedded in the broader context of a comprehensive approach to public health. It also includes recommendations dealing with selected specific issues raised in the proposal, particularly those that have a potential major impact on physicians and other health professionals, and on the practice of medicine.
The Canadian Medical Association supports the government's efforts to update and revitalize health protection legislation. Physicians are committed to working with others to realize the vision of a comprehensive, robust public health strategy as a vital component of Canada's health care system, in order to realize Canada's potential as a healthy nation.
Recent headlines illustrate the diversity of public health challenges facing Canadians:
* The spread of avian flu across Asia, and the reappearance of SARS in China;
* Reports linking the use of Selective Serotonin Reutake Inhibitor antidepressants to increased suicide and other behavioural disorders in children and adolescents, which led to a public warning against their use in this population;
* The rapidly rising rates of obesity in Canada and other developed countries.
To deal with these problems and others, a comprehensive public health strategy is required. This strategy should rest upon three pillars: emergency response, health protection and health promotion (Figure 1). Each of these pillars is discussed in greater detail in the following section.
2. Three Pillars of a Canadian Public Health Strategy
a) Pillar #1: Emergency Response
The 2003 SARS outbreak shone a merciless light on the difficulties that Canada's stretched public health system can encounter when it needs to respond to health emergencies. The 21st century has brought a disturbing array of new public health risks (such as avian flu) and old risks revisited (such as contamination of water supplies). A comprehensive public health strategy should be able address these risks by:
* Empowering rapid and effective response to health emergencies, e.g. communicable disease outbreaks, water contamination, bio-terrorist attacks.
* Supporting health surveillance, screening and research, to identify potential health risks.
[FIGURE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY]
Figure 1. The Three Pillars of Public Health
CMA Position: CMA's 2003 submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (the Executive Summary is attached as Appendix I) recommended a number of measures to strengthen Canada's capacity to respond to health emergencies. These included:
* The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act to allow for a more rapid national response to emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety in Canada.
* The creation of an independent Canada Public Health Agency, headed by a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada who would work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
* Enhancements to the current system of disease surveillance and response, so that it remains privacy sensitive and ensures a two-way flow of information between public health experts and front-line clinicians.
In 2004 CMA reiterated these recommendations to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of State for Public Health, in response to her request for consultation on a Canada Public Health Agency.
b) Pillar #2: Health Protection
The Health Protection function ensures that Canadians are protected from health risks in their daily environment; for example, risks associated with the use of health or consumer products, or with the potential spread of infectious disease. Specific health protection functions include:
* Ensuring that Canadians have access to the right pharmaceutical drugs, which have been proven safe and efficacious, at the right times, for the right prices. Our policy in this area is further discussed in our 2003 submission to the House Standing Committee on Health's review of prescription drugs, an executive summary of which is attached (Appendix II).
* Monitoring Canada's pharmaceutical drug supply to ensure its safety, effectiveness and continued availability.
* Ensuring the safety of natural health products, medical devices, hazardous products and other consumer products. This should include the regulation of toxic substances, including tobacco.
* Regulating health claims for consumer products.
* Monitoring the advertising and promotion of health products to the public.
* Administering quarantine procedures.
* Developing regulatory frameworks to ensure the safety and effectiveness of new technologies such as gene therapy and genetically modified foods.
CMA Position: The principles that CMA believes should guide review of health protection legislation are discussed in Section 3.
c) Pillar #3: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
For more than 30 years the federal government has incorporated the promotion of health, as well as the treatment of disease, into its mandate. Activities undertaken in pursuit of this function include:
* Programs to encourage healthy behaviours, e.g. physical activity strategies.
* Advocating for or implementing public policy that supports health e.g. bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and fiscal policies, such as high tobacco taxes.
* Research strategies to increase our understanding of the determinants of health.
CMA Position: The CMA has called on the federal government to commit to the goal of establishing Canada as the top country in the world with regard to the health status of its citizens. Canada remains one of the few countries in the industrialized world without a clear statement of national health goals, targets and strategies. All levels of government should enable the Health Council of Canada to monitor and report on defined health goals and priorities.
In addition, the CMA has developed policies and statements urging action on specific health promotion issues including: obesity control; injury prevention; physical activity; tobacco control; mental health; and many others.
Though these three pillars have different foci and different legislative instruments, they must all be part of a comprehensive legislative agenda and strategy to renew and enhance public health and public health service delivery in Canada. Addressing issues under one pillar without reference to the other pillars or to a comprehensive public health framework and strategy fails to address the overall public health needs of Canadians.
1. That the federal government ensure that legislative and administrative measures related to public health complement one another in function and are connected through communications and co-ordination mechanisms.
3. A Policy Framework for Health Protection Legislation
This submission is a response to a legislative proposal regarding health protection; consequently the rest of this document will focus on the second of the three pillars described above, the "health protection" pillar.
This section discusses the overall policy framework that the CMA believes should govern health protection in Canada. The CMA holds that health protection legislation should rest on the following principles:
i) Primacy of Health and Safety. Legislation should commit to protection of public health and safety as its primary objective.
ii) Core Values. Legislation should recognize the core values of Canadians, such as privacy of health and personal information, freedom of choice, and protection of vulnerable citizens, and be sensitive to cultural, gender, socio-economic and other factors where relevant. Where there is a conflict between Principle (i) and other values, this conflict and the grounds on which to resolve it should be explicitly stated.
iii) Evidence-based Decision Making. Legislation should reflect a commitment to scientific, evidence-based decision making. It should provide for the requisite mechanisms to ensure that reviews of risk are independent and unbiased.
iv) The Risk Assessment Process. Legislation should reflect a thorough risk-analysis procedure including risk assessment and evaluation. The pre-approval scrutiny to which a product1 is subjected should be based on its relative risk: regulatory requirements should be greater for products with greater risk and lower for those with less risk. Risk assessment should take into account risk to the community as well as to individuals. While the risk assessment process should be science-based, it should also recognize that public perception might influence the management and communication of risk. In areas of risk uncertainty, application of the precautionary principle could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
v) General Safety Requirement. The CMA supports the proposal to include in the legislation a General Safety Requirement that would make it illegal for anyone to manufacture, promote or market a product that may present an undue risk to health, under reasonably foreseeable conditions of use. However, this overall requirement should not be used as a substitute for enacting regulations to cover specific products if evidence indicates that such regulations are necessary to protect public health. Nor should it be used as a rationale for relaxing regulatory regimes currently in place.
vi) Support for Informed Patient Decision-Making. Legislation should ensure that Canadians have access to reliable, evidence-based information to support them in making decisions regarding their own health, and should ensure that the information they receive is not misleading or deceptive.
vii) Accountability. Legislation should ensure that there is clear accountability for decision-making, and that this is vested in the Government of Canada.
viii) Surveillance. Legislation should ensure comprehensive, effective post-marketing surveillance of drugs and other health products. This should be co-coordinated with surveillance and research programs governed by related public health acts such as the proposed Canada Emergency Health Measures Act.
ix) Enforcement. Legislation should provide and enforce effective, meaningful penalties for noncompliance.
x) Flexibility. Legislation should allow for flexibility in product approval, consistent with Principle i, in order to quickly and efficiently accommodate emerging issues (such as new technologies) developed in Canada and internationally.
xi) Openness and Transparency. Legislation should operate transparently, incorporating ongoing, two-way communication with stakeholders, including health professionals and the public.
xii) Working with Others. Legislation should encourage collaboration and co-operation with other federal departments, with provinces and territories, and with non-governmental and international organizations. At the same time it should respect existing jurisdictions and existing legislative and administrative mechanisms.
4. Impact of Health Protection Legislation on Medical Practice
Physicians, along with other health professionals, play an important role in maintaining high health standards and communicating appropriate health information to Canadians. Some of the proposals included in the legislative proposal could have a significant positive or negative impact on medical practice. These include:
a) The Drug Review Process
Stakeholders have repeatedly drawn attention to the slowness and secrecy of Canada's drug approval process. Between 1996 and 1998 Canadian approval times (median 518 days) were significantly longer than Sweden (median 371 days), the UK (median 308 days) and the United States (median 369 days). These have not improved significantly even after Health Canada implemented a cost-recovery approach to funding drug reviews. In addition, the review process may not distinguish genuinely new and innovative "breakthrough" drugs from imitations of products already on the market.
The legislative proposal discusses possible means of modernizing the drug review process, including co-operative agreements with comparable drug review agencies in other jurisdictions, and establishment of a mechanism for public comments. The CMA approves both these suggestions.
To ensure that Canadians have access to the right drugs for their conditions as quickly as is consistent with safety, the CMA recommends:
2. That the federal government implement a timely and efficient drug review process to reduce review times to the fastest level consistent with ensuring improved health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
3. That the federal government consider co-operative agreements for drug review with comparable agencies in Europe, the United States and Australia, while retaining final authority as to whether a new product should be allowed on the Canadian market.
4. That the drug review and approval process be open and transparent, providing updates on review status and the opportunity for stakeholder input.
5. That Health Canada apply a priority review process to "breakthrough" drugs, i.e. those that demonstrate a substantial improvement over products already on the market.
b) Patient Safety and Post-marketing surveillance
Recent reports have drawn public attention to the need for a rigourous, well-resourced post-marketing surveillance system to monitor the ongoing safety of marketed drugs and other health products in Canada.
CMA strongly recommends that Health Canada work in partnership with stakeholders to develop such a system. The system should be non-punitive, supporting a "culture of safety" rather than one of blame, and should respect the privacy of patients and physicians. In this context the CMA supports the establishment of the Patient Safety Institute.
In developing its post-marketing surveillance capacity, Health Canada should ensure that sufficient resources are in place to enable the system to:
* Facilitate the reporting of adverse reactions by health professionals and others. The CMA supports activities that encourage the voluntary reporting of adverse reactions by physicians and others. For example, to facilitate timely and comprehensive reporting, forms should be easily accessible and the reporting process should be computerized, simple and transparent.
* Collect and analyze data and produce information that health care professionals and policy makers can use in decision-making at the population level. With appropriate privacy safeguards, this information could also be used for a number of research purposes, e.g. monitoring the importation and use of drugs not yet licensed in Canada; ascertaining best practices in prescribing.
* Communicate this information back to the provider in real time. The importance of real-time two-way communication with front-line practitioners and institutions cannot be overstated. The CMA has repeatedly called for sustained and substantial investment in a Health Communications and Coordination Initiative to improve the technical capacity of front-line health providers to communicate in real time with one another and with the rest of the health care system. This is a critical endeavour and should be undertaken immediately, using funds established for health surveillance in the March 2004 Federal Budget, and implemented within the next 6 months. This network could form the cornerstone of an adverse drug reaction reporting system.
6. That Health Canada work in partnership with stakeholders including CMA and other national medical and other health professional associations, to develop a rigourous post-marketing surveillance system to monitor the ongoing safety of marketed drugs.
7. That government accelerate activities to establish the Patient Safety Institute using a systems approach to support a culture of safety.
8. That all stakeholders join in supporting and encouraging outcome-based research to ascertain best practices in prescribing.
9. That the federal government invest in measures such as electronic communications networks, to increase physicians' capacity to report medication incidents and improve the timeliness of adverse event reporting.
c) Drug Information and Advertising
CMA believes that the public has a right to unbiased, accurate information on drugs and other therapeutic products. This information should be provided in accordance with CMA's "Principles for Providing Information about Prescription Drugs to Consumers" (Appendix III). Brand-specific product advertising is a less than optimal way of providing this information, and should be carefully monitored to discourage fraudulent or misleading claims. In particular, direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs should not be permitted in Canada.
Physicians and their associations are willing to work with Health Canada and other stakeholders in developing and disseminating accurate, unbiased information to the public and to health professionals about drugs and other health products.
10. That all stakeholders work to ensure that Canadians have ready access to a source of comprehensive, reliable information on health products and their uses, and that governments fund development and dissemination of validated information to physicians and to the public.
11. That the legislation define "promotion" and "advertising" so as to clearly distinguish them from unbiased health information, and from counselling by health professionals.
12. That the current safeguards against deception in advertising be strengthened in order to
* Forbid fraudulent or misleading health claims in advertisements, on labels or in any other promotional or descriptive material pertaining to the product;
* Ensure pre-clearance and ongoing review of all health claims by an objective agency;
* Provide meaningful penalties for infraction.
13. That Health Canada maintain the current ban on advertising health products for treatment, prevention and cure of conditions or disease states to be identified in a regulatory schedule or administrative list; the inclusion of conditions in this list should be determined through a set of criteria that are written into the Act or regulations.
14. That the existing ban on direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs be maintained and enforced to the full extent of the law, and that the loophole that currently permits advertising the name, price and quantity of a prescription drug be closed.
15. That all stakeholders, including medical associations and industry groups, work together toward effective regulation of drug promotion to health practitioners.
d) Safeguarding the privacy of health information
Patients must be able to feel assured that anything they tell their physicians will remain confidential, imparted to others only to the extent necessary to ensure optimal care. Accordingly, the privacy and confidentiality of patient-specific and physician-specific information should be safeguarded to the fullest extent possible.
New technologies, e.g. electronic health records, have made the transfer of information simpler and more efficient. They have also made it more vulnerable to infringements on a patient's right to privacy. Several important pieces of legislation to safeguard privacy have already been enacted. In addition, the CMA has developed a Privacy Code (Appendix IV) that discusses confidentiality issues specific to health information. Section 3.6 of this Code contains a legislative test to which all proposed legislation, including the Health Protection Act, should be submitted.
16. That the Health Protection Act respect the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Federal Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
17. That the privacy provisions in the Health Protection Act meet the legislative test outlined in Section 3.6 of CMA's Health Information Privacy Code.
e) Other Issues
The legislative proposal discusses giving Health Canada the power to develop guidelines or regulatory frameworks for specific circumstances, e.g. for new products and technologies such as genetically modified foods; or for situations in which the health of the public may otherwise be at risk, such as contamination of drinking water. In addition, the proposal discusses the possibility of modernizing existing laws that have become outdated.
The CMA supports the direction of these proposals. The Quarantine Act, for example, is a piece of legislation the CMA believe merits urgent updating; new legislation should incorporate quarantine provisions for possible vectors leaving as well as entering Canada, and for inter-provincial as well as international traffic.
With regard to specific issues not addressed elsewhere in this submission, the CMA recommends:
18. That the Health Protection Act give Health Canada a clear mandate to develop guidance documents to address health and safety issues raised by new technologies.
19. That Natural Health Products be regulated on a strict framework that ensures their safety, quality and efficacy as well as the provision of complete and unbiased information to the public.
20. That the Act provide Health Canada with a clear mandate to collaborate with provincial/ territorial and local governments across Canada in reviewing legislation governing all aspects of drinking water from source to consumption to ensure that comprehensive programs are in place and being properly implemented.
21. That Health Canada urgently review the Quarantine Act and modernize its provisions.
Health protection is one of three pillars of an effective public health system, along with rapid and effective emergency response, and programs and policies to maintain health and prevent disease. The CMA is pleased to have been able to advise governments on all of these pillars, in order to establish the health of Canadians on a strong foundation.
We look forward to continued consultation with Health Canada on the proposed Health Protection Act, both on its overall framework and on specific issues of concern to the medical profession. We trust that the result will be strong legislation, founded on fair and enduring principles, to safeguard the health and security of Canadians.
Answering the Wake-up Call: CMA's Public Health Action Plan
CMA Submission to Naylor Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Executive Summary)
The public health system in Canada lies at the heart of our community values. It is the quintessential "public good" and is central to the continued good health of our population. When the public health system is working well, few are even aware that it is at work! Only when something goes terribly wrong - like the Walkerton tragedy or when we are faced with a new threat like SARS - is the integral, ongoing role of public health really recognized.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been warning that our public health system is stretched to capacity in dealing with everyday demands, let alone responding to the latest crises. Canada's physicians have repeatedly called for governments to enhance public health capacity and strengthen the public health infrastructure throughout Canada.
Our public health system is the first - and often the only - line of defence against emerging and ongoing infectious and noninfectious threats to the health of Canadians. But we are only as strong as the weakest link in the emergency response chain of survival. As most health threats know no boundaries, our public health armaments must be in a constant state of "battle readiness." In today's climate of SARS, West Nile Virus, mad cow disease and monkey pox, even the thought that the public health system may be stretched beyond capacity strikes fear into the hearts of Canadians.
Physicians have always been an integral part of the public health system serving as medical officers of health, community health specialists and other related roles. Indeed public health cannot successfully fulfill its mandate without the cooperation and commitment of front-line clinicians.
In this submission, we reflect on the lessons to be learned from our recent experience with SARS and reflect on the longer-term needs of the public health system as a whole. The objectives of the pan-Canadian Public Health Action Plan proposed by the CMA are, first to realize a clearer alignment of authority and accountability in times of extraordinary health emergencies; and, second, to enhance the system's capacity to respond to public health threats across the country (see recommendations, below).
To achieve these twin objectives, three broad strategies are presented for immediate attention. They are legislative reform; capacity enhancement; and research, surveillance and communications.
Legislative reform (see recommendations 1-3)
The country's response to SARS has brought into stark relief the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis.
The apparent reluctance to act quickly to institute screening at airports, the delay in unifying the practice community for a concerted response and the appalling communications confusion worked against optimum handling of the outbreak - despite the best efforts of health care professionals.
This is a wake-up call that highlights the need for comprehensive legislative reform to clarify the roles of governments with respect to the management of public health threats. A renewed and enhanced national commitment to public health should be anchored in new federal legislation to be negotiated with the provinces and territories.
Specifically, the CMA recommends an Emergency Health Measures Act, to deal with emergent situations in tandem with the creation of a Canadian public health agency headed by a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
Capacity enhancement (see recommendations 4-7)
The SARS crisis has demonstrated the diminished capacity within the public health system. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with one of Canada's most sophisticated public and acute health systems, has not been able to manage the SARS crisis adequately and carry on other health programs. The acute care system virtually ground to a halt in dealing with SARS. There was little or no surge capacity in Canada's largest city. We should be grateful that SARS did not first strike a smaller centre in a far less-advantaged region of Canada.
A critical element of the public health system is its workforce and the health professionals within the acute care system, such as hospital-based infectious disease specialists and emergency physicians who are the front-line interface. Let there be no doubt that the ongoing efforts of the GTA front-line providers are nothing short of heroic. However, the lack of coordinated contingency planning of hospital and community-based disease control efforts was striking. The overall shortage of critical care professionals and the inability of governments to quickly deploy the required professionals to areas of need contributed to the enormous strain on the public and health care system.
Considering the importance of the public health system and its clearly limited capacity to protect and promote the health of Canadians, it is incomprehensible that we do not know how much is actually spent on the system. It is imperative that public health expenditures and capacity, in terms of both physical and human resources, be tracked and reported publicly.
The CMA recommends a $1-billion, 5-year capacity-enhancement program to be coordinated with and through the new Canadian public health agency.
Research, surveillance and communications (see recommendations 8-10)
Canada's ability to respond to public health threats and acute events, such as SARS, and to maintain its effective public health planning and program development depends on sound research, surveillance and rapid, real-time communications.
A concerted pan-Canadian effort is required to take full advantage of our capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures. New-millennium challenges require moving beyond old-millennium responses. Enhanced surveillance is an overdue and integral part of public health, performing an essential function in early detection and response to threats of infectious diseases. Mandatory national reporting of identified diseases by all provinces and territories is critical for national and international surveillance.
During times of crisis, rapid communication to the public, public health staff and front-line clinicians is of critical importance, but in many jurisdictions impossible. We tested our systems during the SARS outbreak and they came up short.
The CMA recommends a one-time federal investment to enhance technical capacity to allow for real-time communication.
The CMA believes that its proposed three-pronged strategy, as set out in the attached recommendations, will go a long way toward addressing shortfalls of the Canadian public health system. Action now will help to ensure that Canadians can once again be confident that they are protected from any future threat of new infectious diseases. Action now will help Canada regain its position as a leader in public health.
We wish the advisory committee well in its deliberations and offer the CMA's assistance at any time in clarifying the strategies set out in our submission.
Recommendations to the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health
Legislative reform ($20 million / 5 years*)
1. The enactment of a Canada Emergency Health Measures Act that would consolidate and enhance existing legislation, allowing for a more rapid national response, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, based on a graduated, systematic approach, to health emergencies that pose an acute and imminent threat to human health and safety across Canada.
2. The creation of a Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control (CODSC) as the lead Canadian agency in public health, operating at arm's length from government.
3. The appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to act as the lead scientific voice for public health in Canada; to head the Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control; and to work with provinces and territories to develop and implement a pan-Canadian public health action plan.
Capacity enhancement ( $1.2 billion / 5 years*)
4. The creation of a Canadian Centre of Excellence for Public Health, under the auspices of the CODSC, to invest in multidisciplinary training programs in public health, establish and disseminate best practices among public health professionals.
5. The establishment of a Canadian Public Health Emergency Response Service, under the auspices of the CODSC, to provide for the rapid deployment of human resources (e.g., emergency pan-Canadian locum programs) during health emergencies.
6. Tracking and public reporting of public health expenditures and capacity (both physical and human resources) by the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada, on behalf of the proposed Canadian Office for Disease Surveillance and Control.
7. Federal government funding in the amount of $1 Billion over 5 years to build adequate and consistent surge capacity across Canada and improve coordination among federal, provincial/territorial and municipal authorities to fulfill essential public health functions.
Research, surveillance and communications ($310 million / 5 years*)
8. An immediate, sequestered grant of $200 million over 5 years to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to initiate an enhanced conjoint program of research with the Institute of Population and Public Health and the Institute of Infection and Immunity that will expand capacity for interdisciplinary research on public health, including infectious disease prevention and control measures.
9. The mandatory reporting by provinces and territories of identified infectious diseases to the newly established Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to enable appropriate communications, analyses and intervention.
10. The one-time infusion of $100 million, with an additional $2 million a year, for a "REAL" (rapid, effective, accessible and linked) Health Communication and Coordination Initiative to improve technical capacity to communicate with front line public health providers in real time during health emergencies.
The Right Drugs, at the Right Times, for the Right Prices: Toward a Prescription Drug Policy for Canada
CMA Submission to House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
Every year, three hundred million prescriptions - about 10 for every man, woman and child - are filled in Canada. Prescription drugs have benefited both the health of Canadians, and the health care system itself; they have meant dramatically improved quality of life for many Canadians, and have saved the country a great deal in hospitalization, social benefits and other expenses. However, it could be questioned whether all of Canada's prescription drug use is appropriate; patients may be receiving too few medications, too many medications or suboptimal medications for their conditions. In addition, prescription drugs carry a price tag of their own. Since 1975, expenditures on prescription medication have risen faster than any other category in the health sector in Canada, and more is now spent on prescription drugs than on physician services.
Governments, health care providers, drug manufacturers and the public must constantly strive to ensure that Canadians receive optimal and appropriate prescription drug therapy: the right drugs, at the right times, for the right prices.
A considered, coherent, comprehensive, "made in Canada" approach to prescription drug policy should:
* Put the health of the patient first;
* Promote and enhance quality prescribing;
* Respect, sustain and enhance the therapeutic relationship between patients and health professionals;
* Promote patient compliance with drug therapy;
* Respect the principles of patient confidentiality and the privacy of patient and prescriber information.
Prescription drug policy in Canada should address:
* efficacious new drugs within an appropriate time;
* coverage for medically necessary drugs for catastrophic care;
* generic drugs at reasonable prices;
* a patient/physician consultation as part of the prescribing process;
* continued research and development capacity in Canada.
Information for health care providers and the public that is balanced and accurate.
Safety: through mechanisms for the systematic monitoring of prescription drugs and their effects.
Canada's doctors are committed to working with others to ensure that Canadians receive the right drugs, at the right times, for the right prices.
Summary of CMA Recommendations:
1. That the federal government implement a timely and efficient drug review process to reduce review times to a level at or better than that in other OECD countries.
2. That the pharmaceutical industry give priority to research and development on drugs and delivery mechanisms that demonstrate a substantial improvement over products already on the market.
3. That Health Canada apply a priority review process to all drugs that demonstrate a substantial improvement over products already on the market.
4. That governments and insurance providers conduct research to identify the current gaps in prescription drug coverage for all Canadians, and develop policy options for providing this coverage, including consideration of the roles of public and private payers.
5. That the federal government monitor and, if necessary, regulate the export of prescription medications to ensure their continued availability to Canadians.
6. That prescribing of medication be done within the context of the therapeutic relationship which exists between the patient and the physician.
7. That brand-specific direct to consumer prescription drug advertising (DTCA) not be permitted in Canada,
8. That the federal government enforce the existing restrictions on DTCA found in the Food and Drug Act to the full extent of the law.
9. That the federal government develop and fund a comprehensive program to provide accurate, unbiased prescription drug information to patients.
10. That all stakeholders join in supporting and encouraging outcome-based research to ascertain best practices in prescribing.
11. That government accelerate activities to establish the Patient Safety Institute using a systems approach to support a culture of safety.
12. That a post-marketing surveillance system be implemented to monitor the ongoing safety of marketed drugs.
Principles for Providing Information about Prescription Drugs to Consumers
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors, March 2003
Since the late 1990's expenditures on direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs in the United States have increased many-fold. Though U.S.-style DTCA is not legal in Canada 2 , it reaches Canadians through cross-border transmission of print and broadcast media, and through the Internet. It is believed to have affected drug sales and patient behaviour in Canada. Other therapeutic products, such as vaccines and diagnostic tests, are also being marketed directly to the public.
Proponents of DTCA argue that they are providing consumers with much-needed information on drugs and the conditions they treat. Others argue that the underlying intent of such advertising is to increase revenue or market share, and that it therefore cannot be interpreted as unbiased information.
The CMA believes that consumers have a right to accurate information on prescription medications and other therapeutic interventions, to enable them to make informed decisions about their own health. This information is especially necessary as more and more Canadians live with chronic conditions, and as we anticipate the availability of new products that may accompany the "biological revolution", e.g. gene therapies.
The CMA recommends a review of current mechanisms, including mass media communications, for providing this information to the public. CMA believes that consumer information on prescription drugs should be provided according to the following principles. 3
Principle #1: The Goal is Good Health
The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of consumer drug information should be its impact on the health and well-being of Canadians and the quality of health care.
Principle #2: Ready Access
Canadians should have ready access to credible, high-quality information about prescription drugs. The primary purpose of this information should be education; sales of drugs must not be a concern to the originator.
Principle #3: Patient Involvement
Consumer drug information should help Canadians make informed decisions regarding management of their health, and facilitate informed discussion with their physicians and other health professionals. CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise health information critically.
Principle #4: Evidence-Based Content
Consumer drug information should be evidence based, using generally accepted prescribing guidelines as a source where available.
Principle #5: Appropriate Information
Consumer drug information should be based as much as possible on drug classes and use of generic names; if discussing brand-name drugs the discussion should not be limited to a single specific brand, and brand names should always be preceded by generic names. It should provide information on the following:
* indications for use of the drug
* side effects
* relative cost.
In addition, consumer drug information should discuss the drug in the context of overall management of the condition for which it is indicated (for example, information about other therapies, lifestyle management and coping strategies).
Principle #6: Objectivity of Information Sources
Consumer drug information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on the information content. Possible sources include health care providers, or independent research agencies. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and patient or consumer groups can be valuable partners in this process but must not be the sole providers of information. Federal and provincial/territorial governments should provide appropriate sustaining support for the development and maintenance of up-to-date consumer drug information.
Principle #7: Endorsement/ Accreditation
Consumer drug information should be endorsed or accredited by a reputable and unbiased body. Information that is provided to the public through mass media channels should be pre-cleared by an independent board.
Principle #8: Monitoring and Revision
Consumer drug information should be continually monitored to ensure that it correctly reflects current evidence, and updated when research findings dictate.
Principle #9: Physicians as Partners
Consumer drug information should support and encourage open patient-physician communication, so that the resulting plan of care, including drug therapy, is mutually satisfactory.
Physicians play a vital role in working with patients and other health-care providers to achieve optimal drug therapy, not only through writing prescriptions but through discussing proposed drugs and their use in the context of the overall management of the patient's condition. In addition, physicians and other health care providers, and their associations, can play a valuable part in disseminating drug and other health information to the public.
Principle #10: Research and Evaluation
Ongoing research should be conducted into the impact of drug information and DTCA on the health care system, with particular emphasis on its effect on appropriateness of prescribing, and on health outcomes.
HEALTH INFORMATION PRIVACY CODE
This Code articulates principles for protecting the privacy of patients, the confidentiality and security of their health information and the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. Its provisions are more exacting than those currently in place in the Canadian health care system. Although a patchwork of laws across Canada permit or require health information collection, use, disclosure and access without patient consent, or even knowledge, this Code would require that all of these laws and any proposed laws be reviewed for consistency with its provisions. Moreover, existing practices and initiatives concerning health information collection, use, disclosure and access, including health information systems or networks, may be contrary to patient expectations and the physician's duty of confidentiality. These practices and initiatives must also be reviewed for consistency with this Code. Many laws, practices and initiatives may not withstand the kind of scrutiny deemed necessary and reasonable for the protection of privacy and the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship.
CMA issues this Code in recognition that its implementation raises numerous issues and challenges, and that the changes it envisions will require time and the expenditure of resources. CMA appreciates that, given the complexity of the health care system, agreement and cooperation among a wide range of users and collectors of health information will be essential to the successful implementation of this Code. In view of these challenges, CMA issues this Code to the Canadian health care community at this time as an ideal to strive for, to guide and coordinate the efforts that need to be made to protect the privacy of patients, the confidentiality and security of their health information and the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. Moreover, this Code is issued in the understanding that those to whom it applies will not be able to achieve full compliance with its provisions until such time as numerous implementation issues have been clarified and resolved through cooperation and the coordinated efforts of many different stakeholders. Consequently, companion implementation documents are being developed that provide for a gradual implementation of the Code's provisions over a five-year span and outline work that needs to be done to achieve the ideal it envisions.
Section A: Scope
This Health Information Privacy Code ("Code") has been produced by physicians to protect the privacy of their patients, the confidentiality and security of their health information and the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. This Code is based on the Canadian Standards Association's Model Code for the Protection of Personal Information ("CSA Code") as a sectoral code of the CSA Code. This Code provides instruction and guidance respecting health information collection, use, disclosure and access.
1. This Code describes the minimum requirements to protect the privacy of patients and the security and confidentiality of their health information.
2. This Code has been developed by physicians in their capacity as clinicians and in recognition of their principal obligation to patients.
3. This Code recognizes the potential benefits of the use of health information for secondary purposes, including teaching, research and system planning, and contains provisions to permit such use under clearly defined terms and conditions.
4. This Code has been developed as a sectoral code of the Canadian Standards Association's Model Code for the Protection of Personal Information and consequently adopts the minimum standards contained in the CSA Code and augments them to meet the special circumstances of health information.
5. The development of this Code has been inspired by the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, entitled Privacy: Where Do We Draw The Line?
6. The Code applies to all health information and to all individuals, groups or organizations that collect, use, disclose or access such information. Its objective is to instruct in the development and implementation of policies, practices, health information systems or networks and legislation.
7. The principles that make up this Code are interrelated. Health information custodians adopting this Code shall adhere to these principles as a whole.
8. Health information custodians must subscribe to the principles contained in this Code and agree to uphold them, but may tailor this Code by modifying or adding principles provided the changes afford no less protection to the privacy of patients and the confidentiality and security of their health information.
9. Statements containing "shall" or "must" indicate requirements that must be met by any health information custodian who wishes to adopt this Code and be recognized for having done so. The use of "should" indicates a recommendation or aspiration.
Section B: Definitions
The following definitions apply in this Code:
"Access" means the ability to acquire or possess health information in any information format.
"Accountability" means having clearly defined and understood responsibilities in connection with health information, agreeing to accept those responsibilities and being subject to appropriate sanctions for failing to fulfil accepted responsibilities.
"Authorized" means that which occurs with patient consent or within the provisions of this Code and applies to purposes, collection, use and disclosure of, or access to, health information.
"Authorized user" is someone permitted to collect, use, disclose or access health information under the provisions of this Code, who is properly instructed on his or her limits and responsibilities, and who can be held accountable for his or her compliance.
"Collection" means the act of accessing, receiving, compiling, gathering, acquiring or obtaining health information from any source, including third parties, and by any means. It includes information collected from the patient, as well as secondary collection of this information in whole or in part by another provider or user.
"Confide" and "confided" mean the revelation of information by a patient within the therapeutic context.
"Confidentiality" and "confidential" mean that health information that is confided by a patient is to be kept secret and not disclosed or made accessible to others unless authorized by patient consent. A breach of confidentiality occurs whenever a health professional discloses or makes health information available to others without or inconsistent with the patient's consent.
"Consent" means a patient's informed and voluntary agreement to confide or permit access to or the collection, use or disclosure of his or her health information for specific purposes. Express consent is given explicitly, either orally or in writing. Express consent is unequivocal and does not require any inference on the part of the provider seeking consent. Implied consent arises where agreement may reasonably be inferred from the action or inaction of the individual and there is good reason to believe that the patient has knowledge relevant to this agreement and would give express consent were it sought.
"Disclosure" means the provision of health information to a third party for any reason, or making health information available for a third party to collect. It includes any transfer or migration of health information from one provider or user to another.
"Duty of confidentiality" means the duty of physicians and other health professionals in a fiduciary relationship with patients to ensure that health information is kept secret and not disclosed or made accessible to others unless authorized by patient consent.
"Emergency situations" mean those instances when health care must be provided to preserve life or prevent severe harm to a patient who is unable, owing to the circumstances, to be cognizant of the context and whose surrogate is not immediately available to make decisions on the patient's behalf.
"Fiduciary duty" means the obligation to act with the utmost good faith for the benefit of another.
"Health information" means any information about a patient that is confided or collected in the therapeutic context, including information created or generated from this information and information that is not directly or indirectly linked to the provision of health care. It includes all information formats.
"Health information custodian" means any organization or institution that has custody, care or control of health information, and includes hospitals, regional boards, governments, corporations and solo or group medical practices.
"Information format" means any form containing or recording health information, including:
(a) a form that identifies or could identify a specific patient, either directly or indirectly;
(b) a form that removes the link between the patient and information about him or her and which could, either directly or indirectly, be manipulated to reconnect the link between the patient and information about him or her ("deidentified-relinkable");
(c) a form that removes the link between the patient and information about him or her with the intent of preventing any reconnection of the link between the patient and information about him or her in accordance with recognized standards ("anonymous"); or
(d) the composite form produced when health information is linked to any information about the patient from any other source, whether or not it is also health information.
"Integrity of health information" means the preservation of its content throughout storage, use, transfer and retrieval so that there is confidence that the information has not been tampered with or modified other than as authorized.
"Health professional" is any person having a fiduciary duty to patients who is registered and entitled by provincial or territorial law to practise or provide health care in that province or territory.
"Knowledge" means the patient's awareness of what can or must happen with the health information he or she confides or permits to be collected.
"Linkage" is the joining together of health information with information from any other source or database, in whatever form. When health information is linked to any other information, the composite is also health information.
"Nonconsensual" collection, use, disclosure or access, whether justified or not, occurs without a patient's consent and contravenes the patient's right of privacy.
"Patient" means the person about whom health information is collected and, for the purposes of this Code, may also mean a surrogate or guardian acting on behalf of this person.
"Physician" means a person who is registered and entitled under the laws of a province or territory to practise medicine in that province or territory.
"Primary" means that which occurs for the therapeutic benefit of a particular patient. Secondary means not directly related to the therapeutic benefit of the particular patient from whom the information has originated.
"Purpose" means an end or aim for which health information is collected, used, disclosed or accessed. A description of purpose can be general enough to incorporate a range of like information uses provided that the generic description is sufficiently narrow and limited so as to communicate to the ordinary person a clear understanding of the potential information uses that could reasonably be expected to be relevant to their consent. The primary therapeutic purpose is the delivery of health care to a particular patient with respect to a particular and immediate health need or problem. It encompasses consultation with and referral to other providers on a need-to-know basis. A primary longitudinal purpose concerns developing composite health information about a particular patient, such as a detailed medical history, beyond direct application to any particular and immediate health need or problem, in order to enhance ongoing care to that person. Secondary legislated purposes have been subjected to the legislative test specified in this Code and have subsequently been written in law. Secondary nonlegislated purposes are any other purposes, such as education or research not governed by legislation, that meet the provisions of this Code and the secondary nonlegislative test provided by this Code.
"Provider" means a health professional or institution that delivers health care services or products in the therapeutic context.
"Right of privacy" includes a patient's right to determine with whom he or she will share information and to know of and exercise control over use, disclosure and access concerning any information collected about him or her; it entails the right of consent. Nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure or access violates the right of privacy, even if it is justified.
"Security" means reasonable precautions, including physical and technical protocols, to protect health information from unauthorized collection, use, disclosure and access, and to ensure that the integrity of the information is properly safeguarded. A breach of security occurs whenever health information is collected, used, disclosed or accessed other than as authorized, or its integrity compromised.
"Sensitivity" of health information refers to the patient's interest in keeping the information secret. It varies according to the nature of the information, its form, and the potential negative repercussions of its collection, use or disclosure on the patient's interests.
"Therapeutic context" means a setting in which information is confided by or collected from, about or on behalf of a patient who:
(a) is in a therapeutic relationship with or under the care of a physician or health professional;
(b) is resident in or seeking health care within a facility or institution whose principal purpose is the provision of health care, including physicians' offices, hospitals and other health care facilities;
(c) confides information within a fiduciary relationship to a health care professional and with the belief that the health care professional will maintain its confidentiality, subject to very limited exceptions; or
(d) confides information in the belief that it is necessary for the safe, timely and effective delivery of health care.
"Transparency and openness" are the characteristics of policies, procedures and practices that seek to ensure that patients know what can or must happen with the health information they confide or permit to be collected, used, accessed or disclosed.
"Use of health information" means any processing of health information including storage, retention, retrieval, manipulation, connection or linkage to other sources of information in any format.
Section C: Principles
Principle 1: The Right of Privacy
The right of privacy is fundamental in a free and democratic society. It includes a patient's right to determine with whom he or she will share information and to know of and exercise control over use, disclosure and access concerning any information collected about him or her. The right of privacy and consent are essential to the trust and integrity of the patient-physician relationship. Nonconsensual collection, use, access or disclosure violates the patient's right of privacy. The right of privacy is important and worthy of protection, not just for the good of individuals in society but also for the good of society as a whole.
1.1 Canadians are entitled to expect and enjoy fundamental privacy rights and guarantees, which include:
(a) physical, bodily and psychological integrity and privacy;
(b) privacy of personal information;
(c) freedom from surveillance;
(d) privacy of personal communications; and
(e) privacy of personal space.
1.2 The basic duties owed to others to ensure that their privacy rights are adequately respected include:
(a) the duty to ensure consent;
(b) the duty to take all the steps necessary to respect adequately others' privacy rights or, if their rights must be infringed, to interfere with privacy as little as possible;
(c) the duty to be accountable;
(d) the duty to be transparent; and
(e) the duty to build privacy protection features into technological systems and designs.
1.3 The specific duties related to the protection of the patient's right of privacy in health information include:
(a) the duty to hold health care information in trust;
(b) the duty to limit information collection to what is necessary and justifiable for the benefit of the patient;
(c) the duty to ensure that patients are informed by reasonable means about purposes for collection, use, disclosure or access at or before the time of collection, including the potential for such to occur nonconsensually;
(d) the duty to ensure that the information is accurately recorded;
(e) the duty to ensure consent by reasonable means, except in limited circumstances where the right of privacy and of consent are justifiably infringed by some compelling right, good or duty;
(f) the duty to ensure that the right of privacy and the right to consent are infringed no more than is necessary by the compelling right, good or duty;
(g) the duty to use and disclose health information only as consistent with the purposes identified at or before the time it was collected;
(h) the duty to keep health information only for as long as necessary to fulfil identified purposes;
(i) the duty not to disadvantage people because they elect to exercise their right of privacy; and
(j) the duty of physicians and other health professionals to hold information in confidence.
1.4 Although the patient's interests and concerns about health information may vary depending on the sensitivity of the information, the right of privacy extends to all health information in whatever format.
Principle 2: Special Nature of Health Information
Governing principles and rules for health information must recognize the patient's right of privacy in health information, its highly sensitive nature, the circumstances of vulnerability and trust under which it is confided or collected, and the fiduciary duties of health professionals in relation to this information. The patient-physician relationship as defined by trust and a professional promise of confidentiality is a societal good worthy of protection.
2.1 Principles and rules governing health information must recognize:
(a) its high level of sensitivity and protect the patient's right of privacy accordingly;
(b) that the principal purpose for confiding and collecting this information is to benefit the patient;
(c) that in the therapeutic context patients may be vulnerable and under duress, and must not be subjected to manipulation, coercion or exploitation;
(d) that patients confide information to physicians and other health professionals under a very special trust, and that physicians and other health professionals have fiduciary duties to patients, including a duty to hold information in confidence.
2.2 Principles and rules governing health information must ensure that physicians and other health professionals can discharge their fiduciary duties and therefore shall take into account that:
(a) patients may be in a situation of vulnerability owing to infirmity or incapacity, urgent need, lack of knowledge and power, or simply because they have needs and have to rely or depend upon providers to meet those needs;
(b) patients confide information that is ordinarily considered by them to be private because they have certain needs that require the care of a provider and believe the information is required by the provider to help meet those needs;
(c) were it not for those needs, and the expectation that the provider can help patients meet them, the occasion for the collection of the health information would not exist and the information would remain private;
(d) were it not for the reputation of health professionals for trustworthiness and the expectation that information disclosed to them will be held in confidence, patients would be less willing to confide health information fully and truthfully in the therapeutic context; and
(e) to the extent that provisions for health information inhibit patients from confiding health information fully and truthfully, their health care will be adversely affected.
Principle 3: Constraints on Purposes and Limitation on Collection, Use, Disclosure and Access
The principal purpose for the collection of health information is to benefit the patient who confides or permits information to be collected for a therapeutic purpose. Secondary purposes for the use of the information shall not be pursued if they inhibit patients from confiding information for the primary purpose, exploit patients' vulnerability, compromise the ability of physicians to discharge their fiduciary duties to patients or borrow on the trust patients invest in physicians for the primary therapeutic purpose. Collection, use, disclosure or access for secondary purposes shall be restricted to what is necessary for those purposes and shall not impede the confiding or collection of information for primary purposes.
Nonconsensual access to and collection, use or disclosure of health information is a violation of a patient's right of privacy, compromises the physician's duty of confidentiality and is potentially disruptive of the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, it must only occur in very limited circumstances - namely emergency situations, in accordance with legislation that meets the requirements of this Code, or in response to a court decision or order. Even consensual collection, use, disclosure or access may erode the right of privacy and the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, it must only occur with due consideration of possible negative impacts and with measures designed to maximize privacy protection.
3.1 Provided that the principles contained in this Code are adhered to, and in particular that the principles related to patient consent are rigorously applied, health information may be collected, used, disclosed or accessed for the following purposes:
(a) Primary purposes:
(i) Primary therapeutic purpose is the initial reason for a patient seeking or receiving care in the therapeutic context, and pertains to the delivery of health care to a particular patient with respect to the presenting health need or problem. It encompasses consultation with and referral to other providers on a need-to-know basis.
(ii) Primary longitudinal purpose concerns developing composite health information about a particular patient, such as a detailed medical history, beyond direct application to the presenting health need or problem, in order to enhance ongoing care to that person.
(b) Secondary purposes:
(i) Secondary legislated purpose refers to health information collection, use, disclosure or access required or permitted by legislation or regulation that meets the provisions of this Code and the legislative test provided by this Code.
(ii) Secondary nonlegislated purpose is any other purpose, such as education or research not governed by legislation, that meets the provisions of this Code and the secondary nonlegislative test provided by this Code.
3.2 Health information collection, use, disclosure or access for the primary therapeutic and longitudinal purposes may be as extensive as necessary to fulfil these purposes and reflect the high level of trustworthiness and accountability of health professionals in the therapeutic context.
3.3 Health information collection, use, disclosure or access for any secondary purposes shall be as minimal as necessary in recognition of the need to protect the patient's right of privacy in the therapeutic context.
3.4 Health information collection, use, disclosure or access without patient consent shall only occur in the limited circumstances provided by this clause. Nonconsensual health information collection, use, disclosure or access, including the conversion of health information from one information format to another, is a violation of a patient's right of privacy, may compromise the physician's duty of confidentiality, and is potentially disruptive of the trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, it must only occur under strict conditions and in these very limited circumstances:
(a) when permitted or required by legislation or regulation that meets the requirements of this Code; or
(b) when ordered or decided by a court of law.
3.5 Any existing or proposed secondary purpose for health information collection, use, disclosure or access, including health information systems or networks, shall be subjected to a patient privacy impact analysis that shall include an evaluation of:
(a) the likely impact of the proposed measures on the right of privacy of patients;
(b) the likely impact of the proposed measures on the relationship between patients and their physicians, and in particular on the duty of confidentiality and the trust within this relationship;
(c) the likely impact of the proposed measures on the willingness of patients to disclose health information;
(d) the likely impact of the proposed measures on the ability of patients to receive health care; and
(e) compelling evidence to demonstrate broad public support for the proposed measures.
3.6 Any proposed or existing legislation or regulation made under legislative authority that permits or requires health information collection, use, disclosure or access shall be subjected to the following legislative test:
(a) There must be demonstration that:
(i) a patient privacy impact assessment has been conducted, the analysis has been made public and has been duly considered prior to the introduction of legislation;
(ii) collection, use, disclosure and access will be limited to the greatest degree possible to ensure that
- the collection of health information by persons external to the therapeutic context will neither trade on nor compromise the trust of the patient-physician relationship;
- patients are not likely to be inhibited from confiding information for primary purposes;
- the ability of physicians to discharge their fiduciary duties to patients will not be compromised; and
- patient vulnerability will not be exploited;
(iii) collection, use, disclosure and access will be restricted to what is necessary for the identified purpose(s) and will not impede the confiding or collection of information for primary purposes;
(iv) provisions exist for ensuring that patients are provided with knowledge about the purpose(s) and that, subject to 3.6(b), patient consent is clearly voluntary;
(v) the means used are proportionate and the collection will be limited to purposes consented to or made known to the patient;
(vi) the patient's privacy will be intruded upon to the most limited degree possible in light of the purpose(s) consented to or made known to the patient;
(vii) linkage of the health information will be limited; and
(viii) unless clear and compelling reasons exist,
- all reasonable steps will be taken to make health information anonymous; and
- if it has been demonstrated that making health information anonymous would render it inadequate for legitimate uses, the information will be collected and stored in a deidentified-relinkable format.
(b) When nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure or access is permitted or required by legislation or regulation that meets the requirements of this Code, the following conditions must also be met:
(i) the right of privacy has to be violated because the purpose(s) could not be met adequately if patient consent is required; and
(ii) the importance of the purpose(s) must be demonstrated to justify the infringement of the patient's right of privacy in a free and democratic society.
(c) Any legislative provision or regulation that permits or requires health information collection, use, disclosure or access nonconsensually shall not, without compelling reasons, be applied retroactively to existing health information.
3.7 Any proposed or existing secondary nonlegislated purpose shall be subjected to the following nonlegislative test:
(a) Before a health information custodian uses health information in its custody for secondary nonlegislated purposes, or before it releases or makes health information accessible to an external third party for secondary nonlegislated purposes, it must demonstrate or require the third party to demonstrate that:
(i) a patient privacy impact assessment has been conducted, the analysis has been made public, the results have been duly considered and uses for that purpose will not be pursued if there is an adverse effect on privacy;
(ii) collection of health information by persons beyond the therapeutic context will not exploit or compromise the trust of the patient-physician relationship;
(iii) patients are not likely to be inhibited from confiding information for primary purposes;
(iv) the ability of physicians to discharge their fiduciary duties to patients will not be compromised;
(v) patient vulnerability will not be exploited;
(vi) collection will be restricted to what is necessary for the identified purpose(s) and will not intrude upon primary purposes;
(vii) patients will be fully informed of the purpose(s) and patient consent will be clearly voluntary;
(viii) patient privacy will be intruded upon to the most limited degree possible in light of the purpose(s) consented to;
(ix) linkage of health information will
be restricted and consented to by the patient;
(x) unless clear and compelling reasons exist,
- all reasonable steps will be taken to make health information anonymous;
- if it has been demonstrated that making health information anonymous will render it inadequate for legitimate uses, then the information will be collected and stored in a deidentified-relinkable format;
(xi) any third party to whom health information is released has adopted this Code or has equivalent provisions in place; and
(xii) the purpose(s) will not be applied retroactively to existing health information unless patient consent is given.
3.8 Health information shall not be collected by means that are unlawful, unfair or exploit the patient's vulnerability, nor shall any of the patient's beliefs or potentially false expectations about subsequent collection, use, disclosure or access be exploited.
3.9 Courts of law should respect the provisions of this Code when issuing orders or decisions.
3.10 Health information shall be retained only as long as it is necessary to fulfil authorized purposes. Once the authorized purposes are fulfilled it shall be securely destroyed, unless some issue or decision related to the patient and pertinent to the patient's health information is pending.
Principle 4: Knowledge and Specification of Purpose, Collection, Use, Disclosure and Access
In the therapeutic context, health information is confided by or collected from patients under the patient's presumption that it is necessary to meet his or her therapeutic needs. The potential that health information, in whole or in part, may be subsequently collected, used, disclosed or accessed for other purposes without their consent, and what those purposes might be, must be made known to the patient by reasonable means before it is confided or collected for primary purposes. It is not acceptable to withhold such knowledge from patients deliberately out of concern that knowledge could inhibit them from confiding important information fully and truthfully.
4.1 A health information custodian must have documentation that lists all purposes for which it uses or discloses the health information it collects, including to whom it permits access to what information, in what format and whether consent is required.
4.2 Within the therapeutic context health information is confided or provided by patients in the knowledge or with the belief that it is necessary to achieve therapeutic purposes. Patients must be explicitly informed about any other purposes.
4.3 Health information must not be used for purposes not identified to the patient at or before the time it is confided or collected, unless patient consent is subsequently sought and obtained.
4.4 Patients must either have or be provided by reasonable means with knowledge about what can or must happen with their health information. The degree of detail or specificity of this knowledge is what could be presumed germane to the decision of a reasonable person in the circumstances of the patient.
4.5. Unless a particular patient has given indication to the contrary, the conveyance of generic information is a reasonable means of providing knowledge. When the preferences of a particular patient for being informed are known or can be reasonably inferred given his or her circumstances, the provision of knowledge should as much as possible be tailored to these known preferences.
4.6 The goal of providing knowledge to patients is to ensure that before they confide information or permit information to be collected they actually understand what can or must subsequently happen with their information, particularly without their consent.
Principle 5: Consent
The patient's ability to decide with whom he or she will share information is crucial for the protection of the right of privacy and for the preservation of trust in the therapeutic context. Only the patient's consent to health information collection, use, disclosure and access for the primary therapeutic purpose can be inferred. Except for the very limited nonconsensual purposes addressed in this Code, any other collection, use, disclosure or access requires express consent. Nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure or access infringes the right of privacy and compromises the trust of the fiduciary relationship. To satisfy the requirement that consent be informed, the patient must have, or by reasonable means be provided with, knowledge about the potential for subsequent nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure or access before he or she confides any information.
5.1 Except for the very limited conditions set out in 3.4 concerning nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure or access, consent is required for health information collection, use, disclosure or access for any purpose.
5.2 For the purposes of this Code, consent for health information collection, use, disclosure or access in emergency situations is deemed to have been given to the extent necessary to allay the emergency as consistent with legal principles governing emergency medical care. The protection accorded this information shall be consistent with the provisions of this Code.
5.3 Consent to health information collection, use, disclosure and access for the primary therapeutic purpose may be inferred. Consent to subsequent collection, use, disclosure and access on a need-to-know basis by or to other physicians or health providers for this purpose, and for this purpose alone, may be inferred, as long as there is no evidence that the patient would not give express consent to share the information.
5.4 Interpretation of "need-to-know" shall be guided by consideration of what the reasonable person in similar circumstances would expect, or otherwise authorize by his or her consent. If expectations are unclear or ambiguous, care should be taken to ascertain those expectations and to make the flow of information among providers in the therapeutic context consistent with those expectations.
5.5 Consent to collection, use, disclosure and access for longitudinal primary purposes must be express unless the provider has good reason to infer consent.
5.6 For the purposes of this Code, disclosure of health information to the patient's relatives or significant others is recognized as assisting in primary purposes. Consent to this disclosure must be express unless the provider has good reason to imply patient consent.
5.7 Consent can only be inferred in the case of primary purposes, and for primary purposes alone; collection, use, disclosure or access thus authorized must be limited either to the known expectations of a particular patient or to what the reasonable person in similar circumstances would likely believe necessary to receive health care.
5.8 Implied consent does not deprive the patient of the right to refuse consent or the right to challenge the provider's finding of implied consent.
5.9 Patient consent for secondary nonlegislated purposes shall be express, voluntary and fully informed.
5.10 Where express consent is required, patients must be informed of their right to refuse consent. It is not acceptable to compromise care deliberately as a consequence of the patient's refusal to provide express consent or to exploit any fear the patient might have that this could occur.
5.11 Consent shall not be obtained by coercion, deception or manipulation. Failure to inform the patient by reasonable means of relevant information pertinent to consent invalidates this consent.
5.12 Although all health information is sensitive and should be treated as such, the more sensitive the health information is likely to be, given what is known about the circumstances or preferences of the patient, the more important it is to ensure that consent is voluntary and informed.
Principle 6: Individual Access
Patients have the right of access to their health information. In rare and limited circumstances, health information may be withheld from a patient if there is a significant likelihood of a substantial adverse effect on the physical, mental or emotional health of the patient or substantial harm to a third party. The onus lies on the provider to justify a denial of access.
6.1 The patient is entitled to know about, and subject to 6.5 to have access to, any information about himself or herself under the custody of the health information custodian.
6.2 Patients should be informed that they have the right to access their health information, to read it and to have copies of it.
6.3 Patients who wish to access their information should be given the opportunity to do so with explanation from a health professional who is knowledgeable about this information and capable of interpreting it for the patient.
6.4 Patients must be able to receive copies of their health information at a reasonable cost that does not exceed the cost of providing the information.
6.5 Providers may, in rare and limited circumstances, withhold health information from a patient if there is a significant likelihood of a substantial adverse effect on the physical, mental or emotional health of the patient or substantial harm to a third party. The onus is on the provider to justify a denial of access.
6.6 Patients are entitled to know who has gained access to their health information and for what purposes.
Principle 7: Accurate Recording of Information
Accurate recording is important to protect the patient's right of privacy and to meet the purposes for its collection, use, disclosure or access.
7.1 Health information shall be recorded as accurately as possible, and shall be as complete and current as necessary for authorized purposes.
7.2. The recording of statements of fact, clinical judgements and determinations or assessments should reflect as nearly as possible what has been confided by the patient and what has been ascertained, hypothesized or determined to be true using professional judgement.
7.3 Patients who have reviewed their information and believe it to be inaccurately recorded or false have the right to suggest amendments and to have their amendments appended to the health information.
7.4 Whenever possible, health information should be recorded in a form that allows for authorized secondary purposes consented to by the patient. Any standardization of recording requirements relevant to subsequent secondary purposes shall not impede recording of information for primary purposes.
Principle 8: Security
Security safeguards must be in place to ensure that only authorized collection, use, disclosure or access occurs. Such safeguards must also assure the integrity of the available information.
8.1 Health information, regardless of the information format, shall be protected by security safeguards to ensure compliance with the provisions of this Code.
8.2 The development of security safeguards with respect to levels of access for various users shall recognize the differences in the sensitivity of health information and permit access accordingly.
8.3 Security safeguards shall impede as little as possible health information collection, use, access and disclosure for primary purposes.
8.4 A health information custodian shall ensure that persons are able to collect, use, disclose or access health information in its control only as authorized. Persons thus authorized must have a clear understanding of the authority, parameters, purposes and responsibilities of their access, and of the consequences of failing to fulfil their responsibilities.
8.5 An authorized person's access to health information, including persons or groups external to the health information custodian, shall be limited to only the information needed for the authorized purpose(s), in the least intrusive format.
8.6 Security safeguards shall include both physical and human resource safeguards to prevent unauthorized health information collection, use, disclosure and access. Physical security measures include such safeguards as locked filing cabinets, restricted access to certain offices or areas, and the use of passwords, encryption and lock-boxes. Human resource security measures include security clearances, sanctions, training and contracts.
8.7. Health information custodians must protect health information in their custody so as to ensure its integrity and have assurance that the integrity of information received from other health information custodians has been similarly safeguarded.
8.8 Security safeguards should incorporate identification, authentication, information integrity/availability and non-repudiation, as appropriate.
Principle 9: Accountability
Accountability is owed first and foremost to the patient. Health information custodians must have in place policies and procedures that recognize this principal accountability and health professionals' duty of confidentiality to the patient. Anyone a health information custodian authorizes to have access to health information must be capable of being held accountable for his or her actions. In addition, health information custodians must designate a qualified person responsible and accountable for monitoring and ensuring internal compliance with this Code.
9.1 Health information custodians are responsible for the security of health information they collect, use, disclose or permit access to.
9.2 Health information custodians must ensure that persons, including administrative and technical support staff, receive authorization to access health information only as necessary to fulfil authorized purposes.
9.3 A health information custodian must ensure that anyone permitted to have access to health information has clearly defined and understood responsibilities in connection with health information, agrees to accept those responsibilities, and is subject to appropriate sanctions for failing to fulfil the accepted responsibilities.
9.4 Health information custodians must designate a qualified person responsible and accountable for monitoring and ensuring internal compliance with this Code. The designated accountable person shall have the autonomy, authority, and resources necessary to ensure the health information custodian's adherence to the Code. In the case of small private practices, practitioners may designate themselves.
9.5 Policies and procedures to ensure compliance with this Code must consider the special, direct accountability of health professionals to their patients. The high level of trust vested in health professionals is crucial to the initial confiding of health information for the therapeutic purpose.
9.6 Health information custodians must ensure that third parties privy to health information have adopted this Code or are bound by equivalent provisions. Provided that this has been determined before health information is disclosed or made accessible, health information custodians are not accountable for the actions of third parties or for what subsequently happens to the information.
9.7 Although it is the responsibility of the health information custodian to ensure that patients are appropriately informed, secondary users whose information requirements impose a burden upon the health information custodian are responsible for covering their share of any related costs or resource requirements (e.g., preparation of brochures). Health information custodians may reasonably require secondary users to cover their own costs as a condition of making health information available to them as authorized.
Principle 10: Transparency and Openness
Policies, procedures and practices relating to health information must be transparent so that patients can clearly understand the extent and circumstances of health information collection, use, disclosure and access. They must be explicit enough that patients are adequately informed and able to acquire knowledge germane to their confiding of information, and must be open to scrutiny and challenge.
10.1 Health information custodians must have transparent, explicit and open policies, procedures and practices, tailored to their practice setting, that seek to ensure that patients are provided with information about what can or must happen with their health information without their consent.
10.2 Policies, procedures and practices shall be as explicit as necessary to ensure that patients are aware of any considerations that could be relevant to deciding what information they elect to freely confide or consent to be collected, used, disclosed or accessed. Nothing must be left implicit that, if made explicit, could reasonably be expected to alter a patient's decision to freely confide information. Information about nonconsensual collection, use, disclosure and access must be made explicit.
10.3 Patients should be able to discuss the health information custodian's policies, procedures and practices concerning health information with a knowledgeable person and have specific questions about their own health information answered in a timely fashion.
10.4 A health information custodian's policies, procedures and practices shall ensure that patients can understand what might, can or must happen to their health information, that consent is sought as required by this Code and that nothing is left implicit or unknown to patients that if known or made explicit could reasonably be expected to alter a patient's decision to freely confide information.
10.5 Patients shall be able to challenge the health information custodian's compliance with the provisions of this Code by addressing their concerns to the designated accountable person.
10.6 Procedures shall be in place to receive and respond to complaints or inquiries about policies, procedures and practices relating to health information collection, use, disclosure and access. The complaint process must be easily accessible and simple to use.
10.7 Patients who make inquiries or lodge complaints shall be informed of the existence of relevant complaint mechanisms.
10.8 All complaints shall be investigated. If a complaint is found to be justified, appropriate remedial measures shall be taken such as amending policies, procedures or practices.
Section D: Health Information Policies
Health information custodians must have in place and implement policies, procedures and practices that give effect to the principles of this Code.
1.1 Health information policies, procedures and practices should be tailored to the specific health care setting of the custodian and shall address and provide for:
(a) complying with and giving effect to the principles of this Code;
(b) protecting the security of health information;
(c) ensuring the accurate recording and integrity of health information;
(d) documentation of all purposes for which the health information custodian uses or discloses the health information it collects, including to whom it permits access to what information, in what format and whether consent is required;
(e) documentation of what health information may be linked to other pieces of information;
(f) documentation of what health information is made available to third parties;
(g) allowing access only to authorized users in the appropriate format and for the limited purposes for which they are authorized;
(h) identification of the person who is accountable for the policies, procedures and practices and to whom complaints or inquiries can be made;
(i) receiving and responding to complaints and inquiries;
(j) ensuring that persons who collect, use, disclose or access health information can be held accountable and are under an enforceable duty to keep information secure;
(k) ensuring that persons who work for or in the health institution know and receive sufficient training about this Code and related institutional policies, procedures and practices to ensure accountability;
(l) the means of gaining access to one's own health information held by the health institution;
(m) making available information that a particular patient specifically requests or reasonably can be presumed to wish to know;
(n) ensuring that patients have, or by reasonable means are provided with, knowledge about their health information and that consent is sought and obtained as appropriate; and
(o) specification of minimum and maximum retention periods and rules for the succession, transfer and destruction of health information.
1.2 The health information custodian's policies must be readily available to patients and should include information about practices and procedures.
1 Though this submission uses the word "product" in this context, it is understood that services, e.g. therapeutic procedures, may also be covered by the Health Protection Act.
2 DTCA is not legal in Canada, except for notification of price, quantity and the name of the drug. However, "information-seeking" advertisements for prescription drugs, which may provide the name of the drug without mentioning its indications, or announce that treatments are available for specific indications without mentioning drugs by name, have appeared in Canadian mass media.
3 Though the paper applies primarily to prescription drug information, its principles are also applicable to health information in general.
On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association, I am writing to highlight the concerns of our members regarding the issue of mandatory retirement for physicians practicing medicine in Canada. The sustained interest in this subject follows as a result of a resolution adopted by the CMA General Council on August 20, 2003. This resolution reads "that CMA, its divisions and affiliates advocate for the enactment of regulations and/or legislation that will prevent mandatory retirement of physicians based on age." Your predecessor, the Honourable Anne McLellan, requested further information from the CMA with regard to the aforementioned legislation, for the purposes of further discussion with provincial counterparts.
Currently, rules governing mandatory retirement of physicians are complex and vary across jurisdictions. Nationally, the Canadian Human Rights Act governs mandatory retirement only insofar as physicians are considered employees of a federally regulated sector. The Act states that mandatory retirement is not discriminatory when a person has "reached the normal age of retirement for employees performing similar types of work."
Provincially/territorially, human rights legislation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, although some provinces and territories only protect employees to the age of 65. Most physicians however, operate as self-employed business persons, billing provincial Medicare plans on a fee-for-service basis, according to tariffs agreed upon by provincial medical associations. This means that human rights legislation does not protect most physicians. Therefore, while physicians are still free to practice medicine after they reach the age of 65 (i.e. contract to provide medical care to patients, and bill the provincial insurer for insured services), renewal of their admitting privileges depends on the policies or regulations of individual hospitals.
In light of the evidence supporting an existing shortage of physicians, federal and provincial/territorial decision makers should be acutely aware of the detrimental effect mandatory retirement has with regard to health human resource planning initiatives. Currently, 10.7% of practising Canadian physicians are over the age of 65. Many of these physicians practice quite actively. In 2003, a CMA survey indicated that physicians over 65 reported working on average 46 hours per week, excluding on-call responsibilities. To remove this experienced cohort of practitioners from the practice setting would be to further exacerbate the growing medical professional shortage. It is shortsighted to uphold restrictions on the practice of medicine by physicians, solely on the basis of age.
Continuing professional development for practicing physicians throughout their medical careers is mandated by both the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada as a requirement of maintenance of certification. In a system which self-regulates based on competency, barriers to practice that are age-based are both unnecessary and discriminatory.
The CMA respectfully requests you to follow the lead of your predecessor and raise the issue of mandatory retirement with your provincial/territorial counterparts. There should be no disparity nation wide; age-based barriers to practicing medicine should not be tolerated for physician employees or independent contractors alike. In some cases, federal, provincial and territorial human rights legislation may need to be amended. Equally as important, these concerns must be factored into discussions around health human resource planning.
Thank you for your time and interest in this very important matter. We look forward with anticipation to your response. For your information, a more detailed account of mandatory retirement follows in the addendum to this letter. Should you have any further questions, I would be pleased to discuss this issue in further detail with you and your staff.
Dr. Sunil Patel
President, Canadian Medical Association
cc: Presidents, Provincial / Territorial Medical Associations
BACKGROUNDER: MANDATORY RETIREMENT
Since its introduction in 1884 by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the age of 65 has become firmly entrenched as "retirement age". Mandatory retirement can be considered a form of discrimination or bias, insofar as scientific data does not support the principle of retirement on the basis of attainment of a specific chronological age. While human rights legislation governs the mandatory age of retirement for employees (including some physicians) with variations from province to province, the extent to which provincial human rights legislation applies to the mandatory retirement of physicians varies, depending on whether the physician is an employee of the hospital or an independent contractor.
Legislative and regulatory framework:
Human Rights Legislation vis-à-vis Mandatory Retirement
Federal and provincial/territorial human rights legislation govern mandatory retirement for physician employees, depending on whether their employers are under federal or provincial jurisdiction. As most health institutions are under provincial jurisdiction, the vast majority of physician employees are protected by provincial human rights legislation.
Each province and territory has enacted human rights legislation that governs in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The legislation tends to be analogous from one province to the next, but there are differences worth noting. Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of seven provinces and territories. Four provinces do not consider mandatory retirement to be discrimination if the employee is 65 years or older. In two provinces, if mandatory retirement is provided for in a retirement or pension plan, it does not amount to discrimination.
Provisions governing mandatory retirement age
Mandatory retirement is not a discriminatory practice when a person has reached the normal retirement age for employees performing the same type of work. Consequently, in that case, the Act allows for mandatory retirement.
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this province.
Older employees are protected until the age of 65 against discrimination based on age. Consequently, employees aged 65 or over cannot file a complaint if they are obliged to retire for that reason.
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this province.
Termination of employment provided for in a retirement or pension plan does not constitute a discriminatory measure. In the absence of such a plan, however, employees who are obliged to retire may file a complaint for discrimination based on age, under the legislation on human rights.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Termination of employment provided for in a retirement or pension plan does not constitute a discriminatory measure. In the absence of such a plan, however, employees who are obliged to retire may file a complaint for discrimination based on age. They may use this recourse until the age of 65.
Provisions governing mandatory retirement age
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this territory.
Mandatory retirement at age 65 does not constitute a discriminatory measure if it is standard in the workplace in question. However, the Human Rights Commission of this province investigates when an employee aged 65 or over is not treated in the same manner as others of the same age where retirement is concerned.
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this territory.
Older employees are protected against age-based discrimination up to the age of 65. Consequently, employees aged 65 or over cannot file a complaint if they are obliged to retire for this reason.
Prince Edward Island
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this province.
Mandatory retirement constitutes a form of discrimination according to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and, more explicitly, is forbidden by the Act Respecting Labour Standards.
Older employees are protected against age-based discrimination up to the age of 65. Consequently, employees aged 65 or over cannot file a complaint if they are obliged to retire for this reason.
Mandatory retirement constitutes a discriminatory measure for employers under the jurisdiction of this territory. Employment Status of Practicing Physicians
Most physicians operate as independent contractors, billing provincial Medicare plans on a fee-for-service basis. Human rights legislation therefore does not protect the majority of physicians because the application of the legislation is limited to certain specific relationships, such as the traditional employment relationship. In other words, since physicians are more likely to be engaged by their patients to provide care than by the hospitals in which they provide it, the relationship between physicians and hospitals is more similar to a service contract than to a traditional employment contract. As a result, physicians who are independent contractors are free to practice medicine after they reach the age of 65. Depending on the hospital specific regulatory framework however, physicians may or may not be allowed to maintain their admitting privileges.
Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons
Regulatory bodies that license physicians do not place any restrictions on physician practice based solely on age. The Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons are not involved in administering hospital admitting privileges. None of the provincial or territorial colleges restrict licenses to practice medicine on the basis of a physician's age. Physicians who are employed in a traditional employment or master/servant relationship are covered by applicable human rights legislation, depending on whether their employers are federally or provincially/ territorially regulated. This means that some physicians can be forced into retirement at the age of 65, while others cannot.
The Changing Physician Workforce
Mandatory age-based retirement for health care workers has been a contested policy for almost 25 years. The issue assumes significant value for the CMA membership. Most physicians, operating as independent contractors, are not protected by human rights legislation in terms of retirement. Hospital admitting privileges are administered by the individual institutions, and renewal of such privileges may be subject to hospital policies on mandatory retirement. As more and more physicians choose to work in a traditional employment situation, the lack of human rights protection for physicians in private practice will be thrown in sharp relief.
Health Human Resources
Labour shortages challenge arguments for mandatory retirement. The health sector in particular has been hit hard by human resource shortages, which are predicted to increase as the baby-boom generation begins to retire in 2012. According to a study released by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), challenges associated with the aging workforce in Canada will require greater flexibility, by way of removing barriers to labour force participation among individuals nearing retirement.1
Physician Health and Wellbeing
For many people, employment provides a fundamental sense of dignity and self-worth. Practicing medicine promotes independence, security, self-esteem and a sense of participation in the community. Involuntary termination of employment can cause psychological and emotional distress. Physician malaise is a burgeoning concern and its address has become a strategic priority for the Canadian Medical Association. Protection of physicians, be they employees or independent contractors, from mandatory retirement is a strategy which would see one dimension of physician anxiety diminished and would therefore be supported by the CMA.
Mandatory retirement can have a particularly serious financial impact on physicians. Employer pension plans are often not available in employment relationships which feature part-time or provisional employees. In order to secure or maintain their standard of living upon retirement, physicians must save extensively via RRSPs or private pension plans. Those physicians with family members to support, such as young adults in post secondary education, children with disabilities, or older family members fear that they will not be able to do so if forced to leave the practice of medicine.
While the threat of malpractice may present as one logical argument in support of a mandatory retirement age, the statistics do not support such a claim. The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) maintains that there is no significant correlation between physicians' physical age and the corresponding number of lawsuits. Dr. Norman Brown of the CMPA notes that of the over 500 new lawsuits a year, there is not a significant number involving elderly physicians.
The public interest is best served by ensuring that all competent physicians, regardless of age, are able to practice medicine. Artificial barriers to practice based on age are simply discriminatory and counter productive in an era of health human resource shortages.
1 Merette, Marcel. (2003) "The Bright Side: A Positive View on the Economics of Aging." Institute for Research on Public Policy. Nov 18/03.
On behalf of 83,000 physician members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health study on the Development of a National Pharmacare Program. Recognizing that the term “pharmacare” is used in different contexts, for the purposes of this brief, pharmacare is defined as a program whereby Canadians have comparable access to medically necessary prescription medications, irrespective of their ability to pay, wherever they live in Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients.
On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease/injury prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2014, of the estimated $28.8 billion spent in Canada on prescription medications (representing 13.4% of total health spending), governmentsi accounted for 42.0%, and private insurers and out-of-pocket (OOP) payment accounted for 35.8% and 22.2% respectively.1
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and over 60 national medical organizations.
i Includes federal. Social security fund and provincial/territorial spending
1 Canadian Institute for Health Information. 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 05/15/16.
2 Royal Commission on Health Services. Report Volume One. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Database 1975 to 2015. Table D 3.1.1-D3.13.1 https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/08/16.
4 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 203-0022 Survey of household spending (SHS), household spending, Canada, regions and provinces, by household income quintile. Accessed 05/18/16.
5 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.
6 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.
7Schoen C, Osborn R, Squires D, Doty M. Access, affordability, and insurance complexity are often worse in the United States compared to ten other countries. Health Affairs 2013;32(12):2205-15.
8 Himmelstein D, Woolhandler S, Sarra J, Guyatt G. Health issues and health care expenses in Canadian bankruptices and insolvencies. International Journal of Health Services 2014;44(1):7-23.
9 Law M, Cheng L, Dhalla I, Heard D, Morgan S. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ 2012. 184)3):297-302.
10 Tamblyn R, Eguale T, Huang A, Winslade N, Doran P. The incidence and determinants of primary nonadherence with prescribed medication in primary care. Ann Inter Med 2014;160:441-50.
Pharmacare is clearly part of the unfinished business of Medicare. Numerous authors have pointed out that Canada is the only developed country that does not include prescription medications as part of its universal health program. Table 1 below shows how Canada compares with the 22 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the proportion of public spending for major categories of health expenditure in 2012.
Table 1. Public spending as % of total spending: Major health spending categories, Canada and 22 OECD country average, 2012
% Public Spending
Prescription Drugs Hospitals Doctors’ Offices
Canada 42 91 99
OECD Average 70 88 72
Source: OECD.Stat, Doctors’ offices figure for Sweden is 2009
In the case of prescription medications, Canada was more than one-third (40%) below the OECD average.
The Patchwork Quilt of Public-Private Coverage
In 1964 the Hall Commission recommended 50/50 cost-sharing between the federal and provincial governments toward the establishment of a prescription drug program, with a $1.00 charge for each prescription. At the time, prescription medications represented 6.5% of spending on personal health services.2 This recommendation was not implemented. It might be further added that the Hall report contained 25 forward-looking recommendations on pharmaceuticals that remain current to this day, including bulk purchasing, generic substitution and a national formulary.2
As a result of the lack of inclusion of prescription medications in Medicare, there is wide variation today in public per capita spending on prescription drugs across the provinces. It may be seen in Table 2 that, for 2014, CIHI has estimated that public per capita expenditure ranged from $219 in British Columbia and $255 in Prince Edward
Island (PE) to $369 in Saskatchewan and $437 in Quebec.3 CIHI does not provide estimates of private per capita prescription drug spending (private insurance plus OOP) below the national level.
Table 2: Spending on prescription drugs: Selected indicators by province and territory, 2014
Public per capita spendinga
Average household out-of-pocketc $
a CIHI, National Health Expenditure Database 1975-2015, includes all public funding sources
b Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association
c Statistics Canada, Survey of Household Spending, 2014
d Provincial/territorial average
Table 2 also shows the significant role of private insurance in every region of Canada. Data provided by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, shown in Column 3 of Table 2, show that private health insurance companies paid out $10.2 billion for prescription drug claims in 2014, representing 83% of the $12.3 billion paid for by governments. In three provinces — Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — the amount paid by private insurance exceeds that paid by governments. Table 2 also shows that there is wide variation in average household OOP spending on prescription drugs, according to Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending (SHS). In 2014 this ranged from a low of $324 in Ontario to a high of $516 in PE and Manitoba.4
Even more striking variation is evident when looking at household out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs by income quintile (detailed data not shown). According to the 2014 SHS the poorest one-fifth (lowest income quintile) of PE households spent more than twice as much ($645) OOP on prescription drugs than the poorest one-fifth in Ontario ($300).4 Aside from overall differences in public spending there are also differences in which medications are covered, particularly in the case of cancer drugs. The Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada reported in 2014 that four provinces have fully funded access to cancer medications taken at home. In Ontario and Atlantic Canada however, 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), the patient and family may have to pay significant costs out-of-pocket.5 More generally the Canadian Cancer Society has reported that persons moving from one province to another may find that a medication covered in their former province may not be covered in the new one. 6
Other sources confirm that prescription medication spending is an issue for many Canadians. On the Commonwealth Fund’s 2013 International Health Policy Survey, 8% of the Canadian respondents said that they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.7 Himmelstein et al. reported on a survey of Canadians who experienced bankruptcy between 2008 and 2010. They found that 74.5% of the respondents who had had a medical bill within the last two years reported that prescription drugs was their biggest medical expense.8
At least two Canadian studies have documented the impact that out-of-pocket costs, lack of insurance and low income have on non-adherenceii to prescription regimens. Law et al. examined cost-related non-adherence in the 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey and found that those without drug insurance were more than four times as likely to report non-adherence than those with insurance. The predicted rate of non-adherence among those with high household incomes and drug insurance was almost 10 times as high as that among those with low incomes and no insurance (35.6% vs. 3.6%).9 Based on a large-scale study of the incidence of primary non-adherence (defined as not filing a new prescription within nine months) in a group of some 70,000 Quebec patients, Tamblyn et al. reported that there was a 63% reduction in the odds of non-adherence among those with free medication over those with the maximum level of co-payment. They also reported that the odds of non-adherence increased with the cost of the medication prescribed.10
ii Non-adherence can be defined as doing something to make a medication last longer or failing to fill or renew a prescription.
Previous Pharmacare Proposals
In a recent monograph Katherine Boothe has contrasted the development of national prescription medication programs in Australia and the United Kingdom with the failure to do so in Canada.11
11 Boothe K. Ideas and the pace of change: national pharmaceutical insurance in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.
12 National Forum on Health. Directions for a pharmaceutical policy in Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/renewal-renouv/1997-nfoh-fnss-v2/index-eng.php. Accessed 05/18/16.
13 National Forum on Health. Canada health action: building on the legacy. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 1997.
14 Bank of Canada. Inflation calculator. http://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/?page_moved=1. Accessed 05/18/16.
15 Statistics Canada. Table 051-0001 Estimates of population, by age group and sex for July 1, Canada, provinces and territories. Accessed 05/15/16.
16 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure database 1975 to 2015. Table C.3.1. Public health expenditure by use of funds, Canada, 1975 to 2015. https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/25/16.
17 Berry C. Voluntary medical insurance and prepayment. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965.
18 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1969. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer for Canada, 1969.
19 Receiver General for Canada. Volume I Public Accounts of Canada for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1972. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1972.
20 Privy Council Office. Speech from the Throne to open the first session thirty-sixth Parliament of Canada. http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=information&sub=publications&doc=aarchives/sft-ddt/1997-eng.htm. Accessed 05/18/16.
21 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians – the federal role. Volume six: recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
22 Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Building on values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, 2002.
23 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers’ accord on health care renewal. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800039004_e1GTC-352011-6102.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
24 Council of the Federation. Premiers’ action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federalism. Communiqué July 30, 2004. http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/newsroom-2004/healtheng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
25 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/CMFiles/800042005_e1JXB-342011-6611.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
26 National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy progress report. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
27 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Backgrounder: national pharmaceutical strategy decision points. http://www.scics.gc.ca/english/conferences.asp?a=viewdocument&id=112. Accessed 05/18/16.
28 Canada’s Premiers. The pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance: April 2016 Update. http://www.pmprovincesterritoires.ca/en/initiatives/358-pan-canadian-pharmaceutical-alliance. Accessed 05/18/16.
29 Canadian Medical Association. General Council Resolution GC15-C16, August 26, 2015.
30 Gagnon M. The economic case for universal pharmacare. 2010. https://s3.amazonaws.com/policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2010/09/Universal_Pharmacare.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
31 Gagnon M. A roadmap to a rational pharmacare policy in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, 2014.
32 Morgan S, Law M, Daw J, Abraham L, Martin D. Estimated cost of universal public coverage of prescription drugs in Canada. CMAJ. 2015 Apr 21;187(7):491-7. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.141564.
33 Morgan S, Martin D, Gagnon M, Mintzes B, Daw, J, Lexchin, J. Pharmacare 2020. The future of drug coverage in Canada. http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
34 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC15-C19, August 26, 2015.
35 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 05/18/16.
36 Government of the United Kingdom. Written statement to Parliament NHS charges from April 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nhs-charges-from-april-2016. Accessed 05/18/16.
37 Appleby J. Prescription charges: are they worth it? BMJ 2014;348:g3944 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g3944.
Among the several Canadian attempts that she describes, the most activity occurred in the decade following the National Forum on Health (NFH), which was struck in 1994 and reported in 1997. A NFH working group paper on pharmaceutical policy recommended first dollar coverage for prescription medications, but acknowledged that it could not occur overnight: “over time we propose to shift private funding on prescribed pharmaceuticals (estimated at $3.6 billion in 1994) to public funding”.12 The NFH included this recommendation in its final report, noting that “the absorption of currently operating plans by a public system may involve transfer of funding sources as well as administrative apparatus”.13
It is instructive to place the 1994 prescription drug expenditure cited by the NFH in today’s context. According to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, the $6.5 billion in 1994 would have cost $9.5 billion in 2014.14 CIHI estimates that actual spending in 2014 was $28.7 billion1 – 203% above the level of 1994 spending, compared to population growth of 23% over the same time period.15 Annual prescription drug spending increases averaged 7.3% over the period, although they have averaged just over 1% since 2009. 16
A significant shift from private to public funding is not without precedent. A study prepared for the Hall Commission estimated that 9.6 million Canadians, representing 53% of the total population, had some form of not-for-profit or commercial insurance coverage for medical and/or surgical services in 1961.17 With the passage of the Medical Care Act in 1966 these plans were all displaced as the provinces joined Medicare. The funding shift did not occur overnight, although it did move quickly. In the first year, 1968/69, Ottawa paid out $33 million to the provinces pursuant to the Medical Care Act, which grew quickly to $181 million in 1969/70, and reaching $576.5 million in 1971/72.18,19
Since the 1997 NFH report the closest that the federal government has come to acting on pharmacare was a commitment in the 1997 Speech from the Throne to “develop a national plan, timetable and a fiscal framework for providing Canadians with better access to medically necessary drugs”, but nothing further was ever made public.20
Pharmacare was subsequently examined in two national studies, both of which recommended federal involvement in reimbursing “catastrophic” prescription drug expenditures above a threshold of household income. The Senate study on the State of the Health Care System in Canada, chaired by Michael Kirby, was authorized in March 2001 and the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, headed by Roy Romanow, was approved in April 2001. Both issued their final reports in 2002.
The Kirby plan was designed so as to avoid the necessity of eliminating existing private plans or the provincial/territorial public plans, not unlike the approach taken by Quebec in 1997. In the Kirby plan, in the case of public plans, personal prescription medication expenses for any family would be capped at 3% of total family income. The federal government would then pay 90% of prescription drug expenses in excess of $5,000. In the case of private plans, sponsors would have to agree to limit out-of-pocket costs to $1,500 per year, or 3% of family incomes, whichever was less. The federal government would then agree to pay 90% of drug costs in excess of $5,000 per year. Both public and private plans would be responsible for the difference between out-of-pocket costs and $5,000, and private plans would be encouraged to pool their risk. Kirby estimated that this plan would cost approximately $500 million per year.21
The Romanow Commission recommended a $1 billion Catastrophic Drug Transfer through which the federal government would reimburse 50% of the costs of provincial and territorial drug insurance plans above a threshold of $1,500 per person per year.22
The advantage of these proposals is that they are fully scalable. The federal government could adjust either the out-of-pocket household income threshold, the ceiling above which it would assume costs, or the percentage of costs that it would pay above the ceiling.
Following the Kirby and Romanow reports there was a back and forth exchange between the federal and provincial-territorial (PT) governments on a plan for catastrophic coverage. In their February 2003 Accord, First Ministers agreed to ensure that Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by March 2006.23 At their annual summer meeting in 2004 the Premiers later called on the federal government to “assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug program for all Canadians”, with compensation to Quebec for its drug program.24 In the September 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers directed health ministers to develop a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), including costing options for catastrophic coverage.25
A federal-provincial-territorial Ministerial Task Force on the NPS was struck and a progress report was issued in June 2006. The estimates of catastrophic spending were markedly higher than those of the Kirby and Romanow reports. Using a variable percentage of income threshold it estimated that, based on public plan costs, only catastrophic spending represented 42% of total prescription drug spending. If private plan costs were also considered, catastrophic spending would represent 55% of total prescription drug spending. This report proposed four options for catastrophic coverage with estimates for new public funding ranging from $1.4 to $4.7 billion.26 Although no account of the methods was provided it is evident that a significant proportion of existing plan costs were included in the estimates of catastrophic expenditure. At their September 2008 meeting, the PT health ministers called for a national standard for drug coverage not to exceed 5% of net income and for the federal government to share 50/50 in the estimated $5.03 billion cost.27
The uncertainty about the projected cost of a pharmacare plan resulting from widely varying estimates has doubtless contributed to a reluctance of governments to engage on advancing this issue.
At the PT level, there has been a concerted effort on price negotiations during the past few years through the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance (pCPA) that was established in 2010. As of March 31, 2015, the pCPA reported that price reductions in generic and brand-name prescription medications result in annual savings of an estimated $490 million.28 The federal drug plans are now participating in the pCPA and the CMA has recommended that the pCPA should also invite the participation of private health insurance companies.29
The prospect of savings through lower prices has been foundational to two recent studies that have made the case that a single public payer pharmacare program with little or no co-payment is affordable.
The first was by Marc-André Gagnon in 2010. The proposal was developed on the basis of a review of cross-provincial and international practices in pharmaceutical policy. The review formed the basis of a set of 11 assumptions that were used to develop four scenarios that resulted in estimates of prescription drug cost savings over the 2008 baseline expenditure of $25.1 billion that ranged to $2.7 billion to $10.7 billion.30 In a 2014 update Gagnon estimated that a first dollar coverage program would save 10% to 41% of prescription drug costs, representing savings of as much as $11.4 billion annually on a 2012-13 base of $27.7 billion.31
Steve Morgan and colleagues (2015) have estimated that a universal public plan with small co-payments could reduce prescription drug spending by $7.3 billion.32 Subsequently, in Pharmacare 2020 Morgan et al. set out five recommendations calling for the implementation of a single payer system with a publicly accountable management agency by 2020.33
Taking a First Step Forward
At its 2015 annual meeting, the CMA adopted a policy resolution that supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive national pharmacare program.34 Reflecting on the experience of the past 40 years since the enactment of the Established Programs Financing Act in 1977 that eliminated 50:50 cost-sharing, it seems highly unlikely that the federal government would take on a new open-ended program in the health and social arena, cost-shared or not. However, notwithstanding the progress of the pCPA, we are unlikely to address the significant access gaps in prescription medication coverage without the involvement of the federal government. These are fiscally challenging times for both levels of government, with budget deficits expected for several years to come. As noted previously, the Kirby and Romanow proposals for a federal funding role in pharmacare are scalable.
In 2015 the CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to model the cost of covering prescription medication expenditure beyond a household spending threshold of $1,500 or 3% of gross household income, based on Statistics Canada’s 2013 Survey of Household Spending. The projected costs over the 2016 to 2020 are shown in Table 3 below.
The cost to the federal government of covering the entire amount above the ($1,500 – 3%) threshold would be $1.6 billion in 2016.35
Recommendation 1: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health request the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a detailed examination of the financial burden of prescription medication coverage across Canada and to develop costing options for a federal contribution to a national pharmacare program.
Recommendation 2: As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medications, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government establish a cost-shared program of coverage for prescription medications.
First dollar coverage?
The issue of co-payment arises in most discussions of pharmacare. Hall recommended a $1.00 prescription charge in 1964. In England, which does include prescription medications in the National Health Service (NHS), the current prescription charge is £8.40, although the government has previously noted that 90% of prescription items are provided free of charge.36 Appleby has noted however that the NHS’s in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have eliminated prescription charges.37One observational study of dispensing rates in Wales found that the overall impact of removing prescription charges was minimal.38 Table 4 shows the total volume of prescriptions dispensed in Scotland over the period 2009-2015, which straddles the removal of prescription charges on April 1, 2011. It indicates that percentage increases in the annual dispensing volume diminished after 2012 and the increase observed in 2015 was just 1.4%. It should be added, however, that patient charges accounted for less than 4% of Scotland’s dispensing expenditures in 2010.39 It will be interesting to see the results of further studies in these jurisdictions.
38 Cohen D, Alam M, Dunstan F, Myles S, Hughes D, Routledge P. Abolition of prescription copayments in Wales: an observational study on dispensing rates. Value in Health 2010;13(5):675-80.
39 ISD Scotland. Prescribing and medicines. Data tables. http://www.isdscotland.scot.nhs.uk/Health-Topics/Prescribing-and-Medicines/Publications/data-tables.asp?Co=Y. Accessed 05/15/16.
40 Canadian Medical Association. A prescription for optimal prescribing. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
41 Canadian Medical Association. Vision for e-prescribing; a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Associaiton and the Canadian Pharmacists Association. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-02.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
42 Department of Finance Canada. Growing the middle class. http://www.budget.gc.ca/2016/docs/plan/budget2016-en.pdf. Accessed 05/18/16.
Table 4 Prescription Dispensing in Scotland, 2009 – 2015
Year Number of Prescriptions % increase from previous year
2009 88.4 3.8
2010 91.0 3.0
2011 93.8 3.1
2012 96.6 3.0
2013 98.4 1.9
2014 100.6 2.2
2015 102.0 1.4
Source: annual tabulations - Remuneration and reimbursement details for all prescribing made in Scotland.39
Other Elements of a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy
It was noted previously that the Hall Report contained 25 recommendations on pharmaceuticals, and the 2004 Health Accord called for a 9-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. Two of the NPS points that the CMA would emphasize are the need to influence prescribing behaviour and the need to advance electronic prescribing (e-prescribing).
The CMA refers to the first of these points as “optimal prescribing” and defines it as the prescription of a medication that is: the most clinically appropriate for the patient’s condition; safe and effective; part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and the most cost-effective available to best meet the patient’s needs. Toward this end the CMA has identified principles and recommendations to promote optimal prescribing, including the need for current information on cost and cost-effectiveness.40
The CMA believes that e-prescribing has the potential to improve patient safety, to support clinical decision-making and medication management, and to increase awareness of cost and cost-effectiveness considerations. In 2012 the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association adopted a joint vision statement calling for e-prescribing to be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians by 2015.41 Clearly that date has come and gone and we are not there yet. The current state primarily consists of demonstration projects and “workarounds”. The CMA was pleased to see an amount of $50 million allocated to Canada Health Infoway in the 2016 federal budget to support the advancement of e-prescribing and telehomecare.42
Finally the CMA remains very concerned about ongoing shortages of prescription drugs. We would caution that whatever measures governments might take to implement a pharmacare program these must not exacerbate drug shortages.
Recommendation 3: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial health Ministers direct their officials to convene a working group on a comprehensive National Pharmaceuticals Strategy that will consult widely with stakeholders representing patients, prescribers, and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries to report with recommendations by spring 2017.
In conclusion, few would argue that prescription medications are less vital to the health and health care of Canadians than hospital and medical services. We would not have had the Medicare program that Canadians cherish today without the leadership and financial contribution of the federal government, and similarly without it now we will not have any form of a national pharmacare program.
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.
Notes for an address by Dr. Eugene Bereza, Chair, Committee on Ethics, Canadian Medical Association : Bill C-6 (An act respecting assisted human reproduction) : Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
My name is Dr. Eugene Bereza. I am a physician and clinical ethicist at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and Chair of the Canadian Medical Association’s Committee on Ethics. I am accompanied today by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, our Director of Ethics.
I am here today representing the CMA, but I would also like to advocate on behalf of those patients affected by infertility and those patients suffering, or who will suffer, from the myriad diseases for which medical science is searching out a cure.
While there has been considerable debate over the past decade on the moral and ethical issues associated with assisted human reproduction, discussion of this as a health issue has been overlooked all to often.
We must remember this is about the practice of medicine and above all, the health of Canadians.
My remarks today will focus on the inappropriateness of using criminal sanctions to deal with medical and scientific activities.
It is important to make it clear at the outset that the CMA does not oppose the prohibition of certain medical and scientific activities.
Others here today are in a better position to address concerns regarding the specific prohibitions proposed under Bill C-6.
Our issue is the means chosen to give effect to these prohibitions and their potential impact on the ability of a physician to ensure the welfare of his or her patients.
Criminal law is a blunt instrument. As parliamentarians, you know how difficult it can be to change the law.
For some activities prohibited under the criminal law, such as murder and theft, change is not an issue. However, the science of medicine evolves constantly, doubling every 18-24 months.
Advances in science and medical practice, coupled with the difficulty of anticipating new developments, make it difficult to adjust the law to remove criminal prohibitions as science and society changes.
In the context of prohibiting medical and scientific activities, it is the CMA’s position that the use of criminal law is inappropriate, as it would ultimately not serve our patient’s best interests.
Prohibitions, specifically those listed as prohibited activities under Bill C-6, (formerly Bill C-13) could be secured through much less drastic means than criminalization.
The CMA proposes that the determination of permissible activities, temporarily or for the longer-term, should be made by the proposed Regulatory Agency working with up-to-date scientific information while providing for public input and ethical review.
The Regulatory Agency, as proposed in the Bill, would determine if and when changes in health and safety considerations, public attitudes and values might justify allowing certain formerly prohibited activities to take place under specific conditions.
Questions to Consider
Bill C-6 begins with the statement: “This enactment prohibits assisted reproduction procedures that are considered to be ethically unacceptable.” However, many Canadians, especially those who are infertile, do not consider some or all of these procedures to be ethically unacceptable nor do the many physicians charged with their care.
The CMA questions whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities about which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians.
Legislators in Canada have been justifiably reluctant to use criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research.
Why is an exception being made for assisted reproduction?
What sort of precedent will this set for other controversial bioethical issues?
What about the chilling effect criminalization will have on research in this important area?
For the CMA, the most important question is: what about the patients?
What about patients suffering from conditions for which research is banned but may lead to a cure?
Should they be denied the opportunity to benefit from this research?
Just as Bill C-6 unfairly targets patients, so too does the Bill’s penalties for infractions.
Jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000 will create a climate of fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area.
The chill created by these penalties will be such that scientists may well avoid any activity potentially covered by the bill even to the detriment of patient care.
The CMA recognizes the good faith among parliamentarians in proposing statutory bans to prohibit certain activities.
However, we are convinced in this case the potential for harm outweighs the potential benefits.
There is a better way to prohibit these activities while still facilitating important research and necessary treatments.
An Alternative Solution
Instead of instituting criminal prohibitions within the legislation, the CMA suggest the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada manage procedures deemed permissible by moving the procedures listed under “Prohibited Activities” to “Controlled Activities.” We recommend that criminal sanctions apply to breaches of agency directives such as performing activities prohibited by the agency and performing controlled activities without a license.
Such an approach would have the dual advantage of being able to both prohibit activities deemed unethical while still providing the flexibility to ensure legitimate medical and scientific progress in the treatment of infertility.
The regulatory agency should be established as soon as possible and should build on the experience and expertise of existing assisted reproduction organizations and structures that deal with practice standards, education, certification and accreditation.
The CMA’s overriding concern in addressing this legislation is the well-being of patients, in this case patients who are infertile and patients afflicted by conditions for which medical research offers significant promise of treatment.
We support government efforts to regulate assisted human reproduction and related activities, including the prohibition of certain practices temporarily or permanently where necessary.
However, we do not believe that criminalization of medical and scientific activities named in the bill is an appropriate way to achieve those objectives. We believe we have advanced a workable alternative within the spirit of the Bill.
Good afternoon, as mentioned, I am Dr. Sunil Patel, President of the Canadian Medical Association and a family physician from Gimli Manitoba. With me today, is Mr. William Tholl, Secretary General and CEO of the CMA. I am pleased to be here with you today and as a foreign trained physician I believe that I can provide a personal perspective to your study of credentialing of international graduates in the medical profession.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA’s mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care. The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 43 affiliated medical organizations.
On behalf of its more than 57,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions, such as advocating for improved access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
I will preface my remarks by emphasizing that in the case of medicine, the recognition of the credentials of internationally trained physicians is only one part of a much larger issue – namely that of Canada’s continued inability to be self-sufficient in the production of physicians to meet the needs of our population. While we recognize the important contribution that International Medical Graduates (IMGs) have made, and continue to make to the health care system, we believe that Canada’s physician workforce policy must not continue to be one of “beggar thy neighbour”.
I want to impress upon Members of the Committee that the CMA does not test, license or discipline physicians, nor is it empowered to act on complaints made by patients — this is the purview of the provincial/territorial licensing bodies. We are not directly involved in provincial or territorial benefit negotiations for physicians – this is the responsibility of our provincial/territorial Divisions. Nor do we control medical school enrolment or conduct medical research.
What we do, is carry out research and advocacy on short, medium and long term health and health care issues to ensure we can meet the current and emergent needs of Canadians.
The CMA was pleased to participate as a member of the Canadian Task Force on the Licensure of International Medical Graduates, and we congratulate Drs. Dale Dauphinee and Rodney Crutcher for their tireless work in co-chairing it. I understand that Dr. Dauphinee tabled with this Committee the Task Force’s recent report.
As a matter of principle, the CMA supports the international exchange of teaching, research and practice that the mobility of physicians can provide for the betterment of medical practice, both in Canada and internationally. The Canadian health system has benefited tremendously from the contribution of IMGs and we expect it will continue to do so into the future.
Canada has always relied on IMGs as a significant part of its medical workforce. Even after the addition of four new medical schools in the 1960s, it remains the case to this day that almost one of four practising physicians in Canada is an IMG. Although precise data are not available, our best guess is that some 300-400 IMGs new to Canada are licensed to practise each year.
Boom to Bust
Canada’s health workforce planning can aptly be described as a “boom to bust” cycle. In the case of physicians, the number of IMGs arriving in Canada exceeded 1,000 annually in the early 1970s and then diminished with the rising concern about health care costs in the 1980s and the fiscal crunch of the 1990s. In 1992 health Ministers unilaterally imposed a 10% cut in undergraduate medical school enrolment that took effect in 1993. This cut has contributed to smaller entry-to-practice cohorts over the past few years and we now face the prospect of a growing physician shortage – a prospect shared by most industrialized countries. Moreover, as is demonstrated in the attached chart, Canada continues to experience the net loss of some 200 physicians each year, mainly to the United States.
In the past few years Canada has been criticized internationally for “poaching” physicians from countries that can ill afford to lose them, although this is no longer the result of systematic recruitment. We must recognize that Canada is still an attractive destination for many prospective migrants of all occupations.
The CMA played a leadership role in working with the World Medical Association to develop a policy statement on ethical guidelines for the international recruitment of physicians that was adopted by the WMA General Assembly in Helsinki in the Fall, 2003 (copy attached).
Need for a National Planning Process
One thing that distinguishes medicine from other professions, both within and outside the health field, is that according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, more than 98% of physician professional earnings are publicly-funded; in this regard Canada’s physicians are unique among industrialized countries. In an era that calls for greater accountability for public expenditure, this underscores the need for a nationally coordinated plan and planning process that strives to ensure that Canada has enough physicians to meet the needs of its population.
Such a plan has eluded Canada thus far. Indeed Canada’s health workforce policy might be described as one of “beggar thy neighbour”, both within Canada – between provinces/territories and communities - and internationally.
In terms of how IMGs might be factored into such a plan, the CMA would recommend short, medium and longer-term approaches.
A critical first step in moving ahead on such a plan would be to convene a table along the lines of the recent IMG Task Force that would tackle the full breadth of workforce issues with representation from the national medical organizations and the provincial, federal and territorial governments.
At present, IMGs are able to access postgraduate medical (post-MD) training by successfully completing the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Exam (MCCEE) and than applying to the second iteration of the match conducted each year by the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) or by applying to one of the special programs for IMGs that are offered at some Canadian medical schools.
In the short-term the CMA would recommend that the federal government provide sufficient funding to provide additional training positions for a number of the some 700+ IMGs who would be eligible to begin a post-MD residency training immediately. Such funding could also provide for the comprehensive assessments of IMGs that have been developed in several jurisdictions. The CMA also strongly supports the initiative of the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) in developing a pilot for the off-shore electronic administration of the MCCEE. The March 1, 2004 announcement by Dr. Hedy Fry of $4 million in support of the Task Force recommendations is very welcome, but it is just a first installment on what is required.
The CMA and other national medical organizations believe that the size of the postgraduate medical training system is a bottleneck, both for Canadian medical graduates and IMGs alike. The number of post-MD training positions funded by provincial governments has been flat-lined since the early 1990s, and is only barely sufficient for the graduating cohort, thus leaving virtually no room for either IMGs or for practising Canadian graduates wishing to retrain.
Over the past few years the number of IMGs applying in the second iteration of the CaRMS match has more than doubled, rising from 294 in 2000 to the forecast 758 who will compete for the 177 positions in the 2nd round match on April 29th of this year. Among the 625 IMGs in the second round of the match in 2003 just under 11% (67) were matched.
I would be remiss however in not acknowledging that several medical schools have special programs for IMGs. While 67 IMGs were matched to postgraduate year one (PGY-1) positions in 2003, according to the Canadian post-MD registry there were a total of 213 IMGs in PGY-1 as of November 2003.
The CMA and other national medical organizations have been advocating for a minimum of 120 PGY-1 training positions for every 100 graduates. Action on this recommendation will become crucial in the next few years when the expanded undergraduate cohort (post-1999) graduates.
More generally, we believe that the following components must be explicitly factored into the planning for the capacity of the post-MD training system:
* all new graduates of Canadian medical schools who are permanent residents (including opportunities to switch training programs);
* re-entry into postgraduate training among physicians in practice in Canada;
* IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada; and
* non-resident IMGs wishing to pursue postgraduate training in Canada as visa trainees.
I would add that increased efforts and resources will be required to recruit additional community-based teachers to participate in both undergraduate medical education and post-MD training, and to support and retain those who are already doing so. As well, government funding for the infrastructure costs to medical schools as a result increased training will need to be forthcoming.
First, I am aware from reading the proceedings of earlier sessions that concerns have been raised about the multiplicity of licensing and credentialing standards among the provinces and territories. This is one area where I can think that medicine can be justifiably proud as, since 1992 there has been a national standard for portable eligibility for licensure – that is, successful completion of the two-part Qualifying Examination of the Medical Council of Canada plus certification either by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the Collège des Médecins du Québec. The regulatory authorities have flexibility in the application of this standard so that IMGs can receive provisional licensure to practise and ultimately attain full licensure. There are also a variety of means through which practising IMGs can achieve certification.
This is something that the CMA strongly supports – that Canadians are served by a uniform standard for medical practice that applies both to Canadian medical graduates and IMGs alike. This national standard must continue to be the cornerstone of a long-term vision and plan for Canada’s physician workforce.
In moving toward such a plan, the CMA believes Canada should adopt a policy of increased self-sufficiency in the production of physicians in Canada, that includes:
* increased opportunities for Canadians to pursue medical education in Canada;
* enhanced opportunities for practising physicians to return for additional training;
* strategies to retain physicians in practice and in Canada; and
* increased opportunities for IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada to access post-MD training leading to licensure/certification and the practice of medicine in Canada.
The CMA believes that there are too few opportunities for Canadians to pursue medicine as a career in Canada. For example, in 2002 there were roughly 6.5 first year medical school places per 100,000 population – just over one-half of the comparable level of 12.2 per 100,000 for England. This shortfall is exacerbating the current situation by creating a new category of international graduates, namely the growing numbers of Canadians who are pursuing an international medical education as a result of the shortage of medical school places in Canada. The CMA has recommended a 2007 target of 2,500 first year medical positions. At best we are tracking toward 2,200 at present.
We would urge this committee to call on the government to conduct a detailed impact assessment of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. For example, at this point we have simply no idea if the numbers of qualified foreign workers arriving in Canada with medical credentials and without arranged employment agreements have increased or not, and we suspect that this may be true for other professionals and occupations.
In conclusion, as regards the medical profession, we believe it is crucial that the federal, provincial and territorial governments must make the high level policy commitment to a nationally coordinated plan for the physician workforce that I have outlined above. Such a commitment is long overdue.
In the context of such a plan, in the short-term we believe that implementation of the recommendations of the Canadian Task Force on the Licensure of IMGs will contribute significantly and moreover will add a measure of transparency and fairness, particularly for those IMGs who are residents of Canada and who have not been able to access the post-MD system.
For our part, the CMA is addressing Task Force recommendation 5b, which called for a recruitment database that will permit IMGs to post curricula vitae and employers to access this information. We have implemented a module on our national online career forum MedConnexions.ca that provides IMGs with electronic tools to create an online resume and to search and apply to medical and health-related employment opportunities.
While we must increase our efforts to promote the integration of IMGs in the Canadian health care system it is imperative that this be done in the context of a national action plan to achieve a greater level of self-sufficiency than we have in the past.
I look forward to your questions and I thank you for your attention.