The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA is pleased that the House of Commons has made Bill C-462 a priority. This bill is an important step toward addressing the unintended consequences that have emerged from the Disability Tax Credit since 2005.
Part 2: Issues to be addressed
In 2005, the Disability Tax Credit was expanded to allow individuals to back-file for up to 10 years. While this was a welcome tax measure for individuals with disabilities, the CMA has been urging the Canada Revenue Agency to address the numerous unintended consequences that have emerged. Central among these has been the emergence of a "cottage industry" of third-party companies engaged in a number of over-reaching tactics. The practices of these companies have included aggressive promotional activities to seek and encourage individuals to file the Disability Tax Credit. The primary driver behind these tactics is profit; some companies are charging fees of up to 40 per cent of an individual's refund when the tax credit is approved.
Further to targeting a vulnerable population, these activities have yielded an increase in the quantity of Disability Tax Credit forms in physician offices and contributed to red tape in the health sector. In some cases, third parties have placed physicians in an adversarial position with their patients. We are pleased that this bill attempts to address the concerns we have raised.
The CMA supports Bill C-462 as a necessary measure to address the issues that have emerged since the changes to the Disability Tax Credit in 2005. However, to avoid additional unintended consequences, the CMA recommends that the Finance Committee address three issues prior to advancing Bill C-462.
First, as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services. Such fees are subject to guidelines and oversight by provincial and territorial medical regulatory colleges (see Appendix 1: CMA Policy on Third Party Forms: The Physician Role).
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
* Amend the definition of "promoters" under section 2 to exclude "a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
* If the committee imports the term "person" from the Income Tax Act, then the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, "Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
Second, the CMA is concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form (Form T2201) be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form T2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit, and explicitly indicate there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to the CRA.
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
* Recommend that the Canada Revenue Agency undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is more informative, accessible and user-friendly for patients.
Finally, the CMA recommends that a privacy assessment be undertaken before the bill moves forward in the legislative process. It appears that, as written, Bill C-462 would authorize the inter-departmental sharing of personal information. The CMA raises this issue for consideration because protecting the privacy of patient information is a key duty of a physician under the CMA Code of Ethics.
Part 3: Closing
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to address these issues to ensure that Bill C-462 resolves existing problems with the Disability Tax Credit while not introducing new ones. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Finance Committee's study of this bill and, with the amendments outlined herein, supports its passage.
Summary of Recommendations
The definition of "promoters" under section 2 of Bill C-462 should be amended to exclude "a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
If the Committee imports the definition of "persons" from the Income Tax Act, the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, "Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
The Canada Revenue Agency should undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is informative, accessible and user-friendly.
Prior to advancing in the legislative process, Bill C-462 should undergo a privacy assessment.
In 2010, physician delegates to the CMA's annual General Council voted in favour of a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches in Canada. The CMA's complete policy on head injury and sport, the central concern of physicians with respect to mixed martial arts, is attached as an appendix to this brief. A key recommendation in this policy is that physicians discourage participation in sports in which intentional trauma to the head and body is the objective of the sport, as is the case with mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA prize fighting, like commercial boxing, is distinct from healthy sport because the basic tenet is to win by deliberately incapacitating one's opponent through violent bodily assault. Professional fighters train in different martial arts disciplines in order to develop the widest possible set of fighting techniques. Blows delivered by hands, feet, elbows and knees are entirely permissible.1 "Bouts" are won in a number of ways that include deliberate head injury such as knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO). Physician and referee stoppage are recognized as a necessary option for the declaration of a winner in order to prevent continued violence.4; 5
Despite the introduction of rules and regulations meant to ensure fighter safety, MMA is a violent sport with a high risk of injury. Publications seem to indicate that the overall injury rate in professional MMA competitions ranges approximately from 23 to 28 injuries per 100 fight participations, which is similar to that found in other combat sports involving striking, including boxing.1; 5; 7 Organizers support the rules because they realize that prize fighting can't be sustained as a business if the fighters are unable to return to the ring.
The injuries vary in severity but include many types of head injury: ocular injuries, such as rupture of the bony orbit or of the eye itself; facial injuries including fractures; spine injuries; concussion; and tympanic membrane ruptures.2, 6, 7
Most sanctioned matches end in a submission, judge's decision or referee/physician stoppage, as opposed to KO or TKO. It is important to note that the overall risk of critical injury, defined as a persistent acquired brain injury, permanent blindness, permanent functional loss of limb or paralysis, appears to be low. The ability of referees to intercede and for fighters to voluntarily concede victory to their opponents, as well as the presence of physicians at the ringside, are all thought to play a role in minimizing the risk of critical injury.7
The risk of traumatic brain injury and concussion nevertheless remains one of the chief concerns with respect to MMA. KO rates are thought to be lower in professional MMA events than in similar boxing competitions, but it is not clear why. It is well known that knockouts are the result of brain injury4 and at least one study reported that blunt trauma to the head was a common reason for match stoppage. One study reported a severe concussion rate of 16.5 per 100 fighter participations (3.3% of all matches). 6 Regrettably, as in other combat sports, long-term follow-up of players is insufficient to measure how often head injury leads to permanent brain damage.1, 3
Whether you defend or condemn MMA, the true nature and rate of severe brain injuries is speculative.6 Similarly, the absence of longitudinal studies means that the true long-term health implications of MMA fighting can only be surmised.
Risk factors for injury
Unsurprisingly, losing fighters are at a considerably greater risk for sustaining injury. It is notable that fighters losing by KO or TKO appear to have a higher overall incidence of injury.4 An increased duration of fighting is associated with an increased incidence of injury.3, 5 However, it remains unclear how age and fight experience contribute to the risk for sustaining injury.2, 3, 4 It appears that fighters with head injury continue to fight and sustain further injury, head injury being more clearly associated with injury than are either inexperience or age.
Despite the sport's growing popularity, professional MMA competitions are currently illegal in Canada. Indeed, section 83(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that only boxing matches, where only fists are used, are legal. However, the governments of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have regulated/licensed MMA through athletic governing commissions, effectively circumventing the Criminal Code. The legality of the sport in New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia currently varies by municipality.
The CMA recommends that Section 83(2) of the Criminal Code, the ban on mixed martial arts, be maintained in its current form.
The CMA recommends that the federal government undertake further research on head injuries and concussion in Canada, including expanding current surveillance tools for the incidence of these injuries.
1. Bledsoe, G. H. (2009). Mixed martial arts. In R. Kordi, N. Maffulli, R. R. Wroble, & W. A. Angus (Eds.), Combat Sports Medicine (1st ed., pp. 323-330). London: Springer.
2. Buse, G. J. (2006). No holds barred sport fighting: A 10 year review of mixed martial arts competition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(2),169-172.
3. Bledsoe, G. H., Hsu, E. B., Grabowski, J. G., Brill, J. D., & Li, G. (2006). Incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5(Combat Sports Special Issue), 136-142.
4. Walrod, B. (2011). Current review of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 10(5), 288-289.
5. Unified Fighting Championship. (n.d.). Unified rules and other important regulations of mixed martial arts. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations
6. Ngai, K. M., Levy, F., & Hsu, E. B. (2008). Injury trends in sanctioned mixed martial arts competition: A 5-year review from 2002 to 2007. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(8), 686-689.
7. Scoggin III, J. F., Brusovanik, G., Pi, M., Izuka, B., Pang, P., Tokomura, S. et al. (2010). Assessment of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. American Journal of Orthopedics, 39(5), 247-251.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding income inequality in Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Income inequality is a growing problem in Canada. According to a Conference Board of Canada report, high income Canadians have seen their share of income increase since 1990 while the poorest and even the middle-income groups have lost income share. In 2010 the top quintile of earners accounted for 39.1% of Canadian income while the bottom quintile only accounted for 7.3%. These numbers led to a ranking for Canada of 12 out of 17 among other high income countries in terms of income inequality.1 Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has largely confirmed these results.2
Part 2: Why Income Inequality Matters to Canadian Physicians
The issue of income inequality is an important one for Canada's physicians. As physicians, we are not the experts in housing, in early childhood development, income equality and so on. But we are the experts in recognizing the impact of these factors on the health of our patients.
Hundreds of research papers have confirmed that people in the lowest socio-economic groups carry the greatest burden of illness.3 In 2001, people in the neighbourhoods with the highest 20% income lived about three years longer than those in the poorest 20% neighbourhoods.4 Mental health is affected as well. Suicide rates in the lowest income neighbourhoods are almost twice as high as in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.5
Studies suggest that adverse socio-economic conditions in childhood can be a greater predictor of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults than later life circumstances and behavioural choices.6
Finally, the countries reporting the highest population health status are those with the greatest income equality, not the greatest wealth.7
These differences in health outcomes have an impact on the health care system. Most major diseases including heart disease and mental illness follow a social gradient with those in lowest socio-economic groups having the greatest burden of illness.8 Those within the lowest socio-economic status groups are 1.4 times more likely to have a chronic disease, and 1.9 times more likely to be hospitalized for care of that disease.9
Income plays a role in access to appropriate health care as well. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, younger adults and men are less likely to have primary care physicians than their counterparts.10 Women and men from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to report difficulties making appointments with their family doctors for urgent non-emergent health problems. They were also more likely to report unmet health care needs.11
People with lower socio-economic status are more likely to be hospitalized for ambulatory care sensitive conditions and mental health12, admissions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.13
Those with higher socio-economic status are more likely to have access to and utilize specialist services.14 Utilization of diagnostic imaging services is greater among those in higher socio-economic groups.15 Access to preventive and screening programs such as pap smears and mammography are lower among disadvantaged groups.16
It is not just access to insured services that is a problem. Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.17 Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy to name two are often not covered unless they are provided in-hospital or to people on certain disability support programs.18 Access to psychologists is largely limited to people who can pay for them, through private insurance or out of their own pockets.19 Similar access challenges exist for long-term care, home care and end-of-life care.
There is a financial cost to this disparity. According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon alone consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.20 A 2010 study by CIHI found increased costs for avoidable hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions were $89 million for males and $71 million for females with an additional $248 million in extra costs related to excess hospitalizations for mental health reasons.21
The societal cost of poor health extends beyond the cost to the health care system: healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.22 According to data in the U.K., those living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods experience almost 20 years less disability-free life than those in the highest income neighbourhoods. These individuals will become disabled before they are eligible for old age services, striking two blows to the economy: they will no longer be able to contribute through productive work, and their disability will consume a great deal of health care services.23
The reasons for this inequitable access are multifaceted and include patient specific barriers as well as challenges within the health care system itself. CMA recognizes the need for physicians to work to address the system related barriers. However, one of the biggest challenges for patients themselves remains economic. Having a low-income can prevent access through lack of transportation options, an inability to get time off work, and the inability to pay for services that are not covered by government insurance.
Health equity is increasingly recognized as a necessary means by which we will make gains in the health status of all Canadians and retain a sustainable publicly funded health care system. Addressing inequalities in health is a pillar of CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative.
Part 3: Ensuring adequate income for all Canadians
"The rates of family and child poverty are unacceptably high taking into account Canada's high quality of living standard."
2010 Report of the Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability
One reason income is so critical to individual health is that it is so closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment.
The CMA and its members are concerned that adequate consideration during the decision-making process is not being given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes.
Recent decisions such as changes to the qualifying age for Old Age Security, and new rules for Employment Insurance, among others, will have far reaching consequences on the income of individuals, especially those in vulnerable populations. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on health will lead to more costs to society down the road.
One method to ensure that these unintentional consequences do not occur is to consider the health impact of decisions as part of the policy development and decision-making process.
A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of any given policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. The HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and increasingly the United States.
The HIA can ensure that government departments consider the health impacts of their policies and programs by anticipating possible unintended consequences and taking appropriate corrective action. The use of HIA will allow the federal government to demonstrate leadership in health care in Canada and provide greater accountability to all Canadians.
The CMA recommends that:
1. The federal government recognize the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system; and
2. The federal government requires a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making.
We are hearing about the need to address the poverty and income security of Canadians from stakeholders across the country. We have conducted a series of town halls with Canadians asking them questions about how the social and economic conditions of their communities affect their health. From Winnipeg, to Hamilton to Charlottetown we have heard how poverty and a lack of income is undermining Canadians' health.
This public response is not surprising. According to the Conference Board of Canada, more than one in seven children in Canada live in poverty.24 This poverty will severely limit the ability of these children to achieve good health in the future.
There are systemic barriers that contribute to this poverty. The annual welfare income in Canada varies between $3,247 for a single person to $21,213 for a couple with two children. The 'best' of Canadian programs provides an income within only 80% of the poverty line. The lowest income is barely 30% of that needed to 'achieve' poverty.25
It is not just people on social assistance, however, that are facing poverty. Data from 2008 indicates that one in three (33%) of children living in poverty had a parent that was employed. Based a review conducted in 2010, one in 10 workers still earned less than $10 an hour in 2009, with 19% paid less than $12. The same study found that roughly 400,000 full-time adult workers, aged 25+, were making less than $10/hr. and therefore paid less than poverty line wages.26
Some physicians are working directly with patients to try and address the income inadequacy which is undermining their health. Physicians from Health Providers Against Poverty in Ontario have developed a tool for physicians to use in screening their patients for poverty and linking them with provincial/territorial and/or federal programs that might help mitigate the health effects of their poverty. This group is also involved in training health care providers to support this work. While this program and others like it are serving as a 'band aid' solution for some living in poverty, the CMA feels that physicians and their patients should not be placed in this position.
As part of its study on income inequality, the CMA encourages the Finance Committee to review two recent reports from Parliamentary committees on the same topic. The first and most recent is the report of the House of Commons Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada.27 The second is the report of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness.28
The Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability, noted that the federal government's efforts to address poverty among Canadian seniors "is generally recognized as one of Canada's most notable achievements of the past 30 years."
The report of the Senate Committee made a number of significant observations, two bear repeating:
* "[W]hen all the programs are working, when the individual gets all possible income and social supports, the resulting income too often still maintains people in poverty, rather than lifting them into a life of full participation in the economic and social life of their communities."
* "[A]t their worst, the existing policies and programs entrap people in poverty, creating unintended perverse effects which make it virtually impossible for too many people to escape reliance on income security programs and even homeless shelters."
The public policy debate on addressing income inequality in Canada is not new. For instance, the 1971 report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty recommended that a guaranteed annual income financed and administered by the federal government be established. In consideration of this concept, from 1974 to 1979, the Governments of Canada and Manitoba funded the Manitoba Basic Guarantee Annual Income Experiment (referred to as "Mincome"). While this was initially designed to be a labour market study, the results were also relevant from a health perspective. A recent study of this data concluded that hospitalizations declined by 8.5 per cent for the Mincome subjects.29
The CMA recommends that:
3. The federal government gives top priority to the development of strategies to minimize poverty in Canada.
Part 4: Addressing access barriers in the health sector
Access to services not covered by provincial health plans remain a large barrier for Canadians. Those with low incomes are less likely to be able to access needed pharmaceuticals and services due to this barrier. One in 10 Canadians can not afford the medications that they are prescribed.30 This further exacerbates the income inequality that exists. While we urge the federal government to take action on reducing poverty among Canadians, at the minimum action needs to be taken to ensure universal access to needed medical care.
The CMA recommends that:
4. Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies;
5. Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care; and
6. Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians. This could include public insurance schemes or registered savings plans allowing Canadians to save for their future long-term care needs.
Finally, there is a need to recognize the effect on income related to providing care to family members who are ill. Many Canadians take time off work to care for their children or parents. Without adequate long-term care resources and supports for home care, Canadians may be forced to take a leave from the workforce to provide this unpaid care. Research suggests that more than one third of parents (38.4%) who care for children with a disability are required to work fewer hours to care for their children.31 While the 2011 federal budget provided some relief in the form of a Family Caregiver Tax Credit of up to $300, it is not enough. A 2004 Canadian study placed the value of a caregiver's time at market rates from $5,221 to $13,374 depending on the community of residence.32 This is a significant amount of unpaid work and may further add to income inequalities. Expanding the tax credit available to these individuals would help but there is a need to provide further supports to family caregivers.
The CMA recommends that:
7. The federal government expands the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
Part 5: Conclusion
Once again, we commend the Standing Committee on Finance for agreeing to study this important issue. Canada's physicians see the examples of income inequality in their practices on a daily basis. Tackling this important social issue will contribute to not only reducing the burden of disease in Canada but to providing Canadians with the necessary financial resources to achieve good health.
Summary of Recommendations
The federal government recognizes the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system
The federal government requires a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making.
The federal government gives top priority to the development of strategies to minimize poverty in Canada.
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care; and
Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians. This could include public insurance schemes or registered savings plans allowing Canadians to save for their future long-term care needs.
The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
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28 Eggleton A, Segal H. In From the Margins: A Call TO Action On Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Ottawa(ON);2009. Available: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/402/citi/rep/rep02dec09-e.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 17).
29 Forget, Evelyn L. The town with no poverty: the health effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. University of Toronto Press. Canadian Public Policy 37(3), 283-305.
30 Law MR, Cheng L, Dhala IA et al. The effect of cost adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ February 21, 2012 vol. 184 no.3.
31 Campaign 2000. 2010 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty...
32 Chappell NL, Dlitt BH, Hollander JA et al. Comparative Costs of Home Care and Residential Care. The Gerontologist 44(3): 389-400.
The Canadian Medical Association welcomes the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to Health Canada's Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, published in the Canada Gazette, Part I on December 15, 2012.
CMA provided comments on the proposed changes when Health Canada first announced them in June 2011. Our position on these changes, and indeed on the entire Medical Marihuana Access Program (MMAP), has been consistent since the program was initiated. We remain deeply concerned that, though the program has made a physician's authorization the key to a patient's access to medical marijuana, physicians and other health professionals have little to no evidence-based information about its use as medical therapy. As our President, Dr. Anna Reid, noted in December, the regulatory proposals are "equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded."
Health Canada gives two reasons for its regulatory proposal: first, to address concerns about the safety of home grow-ops; and secondly, to reduce the cost of administering a program that has proven more popular than anticipated. Neither of these reasons is related to improving patient care or advancing our clinical knowledge of marijuana as a medical treatment.
CMA understands that many Canadians suffer constant pain from chronic or terminal illnesses and are searching for anything that will provide relief. We know that some patients find that use of marijuana relieves their symptoms and that some health professionals also believe it has therapeutic value. However, we are concerned that these claims remain inadequately supported by scientific research. Controlled studies of medical marijuana have been published recently and some have shown benefits. However, these studies are few in number, of short duration and with small samples, and knowledgeable clinicians say that more research is required. In addition, some say that marijuana has become more potent since it became a popular recreational drug in the 1960s, though others disagree,1 and growers say they can develop strains tailored to the needs of individual medical users.2 Though these claims are part of the popular understanding of medical marijuana, there is no scientifically valid evidence that supports them.
What Physicians Have Told Us
In May 2012, CMA surveyed members of its "e-panel" of physicians to obtain more information about their attitudes and needs regarding medical marijuana. The survey received just over 600 responses out of more than 2,200, for a 27 per cent response rate. Among the findings:
* About 70 per cent of respondents had been asked by patients to approve medical marijuana, though only four per cent said they were asked to do so "often." Of those who were asked, one-third reported that they "never" supported such requests, while 18 per cent "usually" did so.
* 64 per cent of respondents were concerned that patients who request medical marijuana may actually be using it for recreational purposes;
* A large majority of respondents said they would find more information on the appropriate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and on its therapeutic benefits and risks, useful or very useful.
* About two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel more comfortable if:
o Physicians wishing to use medical marijuana in their practices were required to undergo special training and licensing; and,
o Health Canada offered them protection from liability.
* In open-ended questions, some respondents expressed favourable views on marijuana's medical benefits. However, a larger number expressed concern over its harmful effects, such as: psychotic symptoms, especially in younger people; potential for addiction and dependency; and the risks to lung health from smoking it or any other substance.
Marijuana is Not Like Other Therapeutic Products
Theoretically, marijuana, when used for medicinal purposes, is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act. However, because of its unique legal position, Health Canada has exempted it from the applications of the Act and its regulations, and it has not undergone the scrutiny of benefits and risks required of other therapeutic products approved for use in Canada, be they prescription-only or over-the-counter.
According to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), all drugs requiring a health professional's authorization must be approved for use by Health Canada, based on evidence of effectiveness obtained from controlled clinical trials, which remain the best currently available means of validating knowledge. In addition, Health Canada has a system of post-market surveillance to keep track of problems that arise with prescription drugs in real-world use. Though the CMA has been critical of some aspects of this system,3 we acknowledge that it has added to our body of knowledge on drug safety risks. If marijuana were not an illegal product, it might have been assessed through some form of pre-approval and post-approval surveillance. By exempting marijuana from the FDA's pre-approval and post-approval requirements, Health Canada has lost an opportunity to improve our knowledge of the drug's therapeutic uses.
The Views of Canadians
A recent online survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the CMA provides insight into the views of Canadians on Health Canada's regulatory proposal.4 The survey found:
* 92 per cent of Canadians think it is very or somewhat important that Health Canada not remove itself from its oversight role until guidelines are put in place for physicians;
* 90 per cent believe that research on the effectiveness, safety and risks of medical marijuana is needed before Health Canada removes itself from the authorization process;
* 85 per cent of Canadians believe medical marijuana should be subject to the same rigorous testing and approval standards as other medicines;
* 79 per cent agree that Health Canada has a responsibility to maintain its role in the authorization process.;
The Role of the Physician
The CMA cannot with certainty predict the consequences of these regulatory changes for the practising physician (and, if the regulations are approved, for the nurse practitioner as well). However, we have several causes for concern:
* The gatekeeper role of health professionals: The most significant change, from our point of view, is that Health Canada is removing itself from the approval process, making it a transaction between the patient, the practitioner and the licensed producer. In addition, Section 125 of the regulatory proposal would reduce the content of the authorization form, from its current two-page format to a brief document requiring little more information than is required for a standard medical prescription.
We are concerned that these changes will put an even greater onus on physicians than do the current regulations. The CMA agrees with the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities that the lack of evidence to support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes signifies that it is not a medical intervention. In our opinion, putting physicians in the role of gatekeeper for access to marijuana is inappropriate and may be an abdication of responsibility on Health Canada's part.5 Such a move could increase physicians' liability risk and put them at odds with their medical regulatory authorities, which have no choice but to continue to advise physicians to exercise extreme caution.
The CMA believes, as does the Canadian Medical Protective Association, that a drug's approval under the Food and Drugs Act does not impose a legal obligation on physicians or nurse practitioners to authorize its use if, in their judgment, it is clinically inappropriate. The Ontario Court of Appeal reached a similar decision recently in the case of R. v. Mernagh.
* Protection of Physician Privacy. Under the proposed regulations, health information and physician data - such as the patient's name and date of birth, or the provider's licence number - will be collected by licensed producers who may not be subject to the same regulatory and privacy constraints as the health care sector. The draft regulations also indicate that the licensed producer is expected to confirm that the data on the "medical document" is correct and complete - in other words, health providers who authorize medical marijuana use will receive correspondence from the producer. We are very concerned about the risks this would pose to the privacy of patient and health care provider information. We believe Health Canada should conduct a privacy impact assessment of its proposed regulations or, if it has done so, to share the results.
* Physicians as Dispensers. Section 124 of the proposed regulations would allow authorized health care practitioners to "sell, provide or administer dried marijuana." This is contrary to Article 46 of the CMA Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry, which states that "Physicians should not dispense pharmaceuticals or other products unless they can demonstrate that these cannot be provided by an appropriate other party."6
* Other possible consequences. We are also concerned about other potential consequences of the regulatory changes. Will more people go to health professionals requesting an authorization, on the assumption that the new regulations will make it easier to get? Will entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to establish "dispensaries" whose intended clientele are not those in legitimate medical need, as recent news stories have suggested?7 Will medical marijuana advocates put increased pressure on physicians to authorize its use?
Meeting the Information Needs of Physicians
In one respect, Health Canada has listened to physicians' concerns regarding the lack of evidence about medical marijuana, and acknowledged the need to remedy this problem. Though it is not addressed in the draft regulations, Health Canada has established an Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) to help provide comprehensive information to health professionals. The CMA has attended meetings of this committee in an observer capacity, suggested the names of practising physicians to serve as members, and made a presentation to the committee at its meeting in November 2012.
If the EAC follows the CMA's suggestions, it will consider actively supporting the following activities:
* Funding of scientific research on the clinical risks and benefits of marijuana;
* Knowledge translation activities to convert this research into accessible, user-friendly tools for education and practice;
* Development of best practice guidelines in the therapeutic use of marijuana. Though this guideline would of necessity be based on "C" level evidence, it would be an improvement on what now exists; and
* Support for a compulsory training and licensing program for physicians wanting to authorize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The CMA believes that the EAC should be given the mandate and resources to undertake these activities.
Health Canada's stated mission is to help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health. The CMA believes that if Health Canada wants its Medical Marihuana Access Program to serve this mission, it should not withdraw from administering the program, leaving it to health professionals working within a large knowledge gap. Rather, it should support solid research into the use of marijuana as medication and make a commitment to share this knowledge with the health professional community and to support best clinical practices.
1 Bonsor K: "How marijuana works". Accessed at http://science.howstuffworks.com/marijuana5.htm
3 CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health: Post-Market Surveillance of Prescription Drugs (February 28, 2008). Accessed at http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2008/brief-drug-en-08.pdf
4 Online survey of 1,000 Canadians the week of Feb. 24, 2013 conducted by Ipsos-Reid. Summary report of the poll can be accessed at www.cma.ca/advocacy/cma-media-centre.
5 Letter to Health Canada from Yves Robert, MD, President of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, November 4, 2011.
6 CMA. 2004. Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry. Guideline can be accessed online: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf
7 Lee J. "Ross Rebagliati to Open medical marijuana franchise." Vancouver Sun. January 23, 2013. Accessed at http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ross+Rebagliati+open+medical+marijuana+franchise/7860946/story.html
In its Economic Action Plan 2011(Budget 2011), the Government of Canada committed to consult stakeholders on the next long-term plan for public infrastructure which would extend beyond the expiry of the current framework, the Building Canada Plan, on March 31, 2014.
The CMA’s 2012-13 pre-budget brief recommends that the federal government ensure health infrastructure is eligible for funding as part of the next long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of which is to address a particular health infrastructure deficit that is preventing the optimization of health care resources and exacerbating wait times and ensure that Canadian communities are able to meet the current and emerging care needs of their older seniors. The CMA has prepared this brief to provide further details on the scope of the proposed infrastructure funding for the health sector, its rationale and economic benefit, and how it could be applied.
2. Overview of proposal
The CMA recommends that the federal government ensure health sector infrastructure for long-term care facilities is eligible for funding under the next long-term infrastructure program. This funding should be applicable both for new capital projects and for renovating/retrofitting existing facilities.
This recommendation, and the recognition of the need for additional capacity in the long-term care sector, is part of a pan-Canadian approach to redirect alternate level of care patients from hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where they can receive more appropriate care at a lower cost. It costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed. If ALC patients were moved to more appropriate care settings, in this case, from hospital to long-term care, this would save the health care system about $1.4 billion a year.
For the purposes of this recommendation, long-term care facilities include long-term care residential homes, assisted living units and other types of innovative residential models that ensure residents are in the setting most appropriate to their needs. The long-term care sector is facing significant change due to increasing numbers of older seniors and their increasingly complex care needs. These pressures not only relate to the construction of new facilities but apply to the need to maintain existing facilities, including retrofitting to meet higher regulatory requirements, as well as struggling to meet higher care needs of their increasingly elderly population.
The CMA’s recommendation to ensure that long-term care infrastructure qualify under the next long-term infrastructure plan is one component of the association’s Health Care Transformation initiative and would support a pan-Canadian approach for continuing care, which would integrate home care and facility-based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within the health care system.
The rationale behind the recommendation for health infrastructure to qualify for the next long-term infrastructure plan is based primarily on the care needs of Canada’s growing seniors’ population and its impact on Canada’s health care system. Communities across Canada face a common problem of a lack of resources to properly meet the housing and care needs of their seniors population. Demographic trends indicate this problem will only intensify. However, as demonstrated below, investing in seniors can generate substantial direct and indirect economic benefits.
Meeting the needs of Canada’s growing seniors population and their changing care needs
While all advanced countries are expected to age over the coming decades, the Canadian population is projected to age more rapidly than that of most other OECD countries, according to a recent report from Finance Canada. Statistics Canada reports the number of seniors (65+) in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2005 to 9.8 million in 2036, with their share of the total population increasing from 13.2 per cent to 24.5 per cent. The number and proportion of older seniors – those 75 and older – are expected to increase significantly as well. Ontario’s population of people aged 75 and up is expected to grow by almost 30 per cent between 2012 and 2021. According to Statistics Canada’s medium-growth population projection scenario, the population aged 80 years or over will increase 2.6 times by 2036 – to 3.3 million persons.
While the rate of residency in long-term care facilities among seniors has been declining, as the aging of Canada’s population accelerates, the demand for residential care will nonetheless increase significantly over the near term due to higher numbers of elderly seniors.
Not only is the size of the elderly population increasing, but their health needs are changing too, particularly among those requiring residential care. Long-term care residents are older today than in previous years and have more complex health needs than ever before. A Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) comparison of home care clients and seniors who are living in residential care found that “seniors in residential care were more likely to require extensive assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing and toileting (74 per cent versus 18 per cent). They were also more likely to have moderate to severe cognitive impairment (60 per cent versus 14 per cent). The number of residents with dementia is expected to increase. In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia – that’s 14.9 per cent of Canadians 65 and older. By 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million. At the request of the House of Commons Finance Committee, the CMA submitted a national dementia strategy. This proposal to fund long-term care facilities supports such a strategy.
Many existing residential facilities are poorly equipped to meet the care needs of their residents, which are more complex now than when these facilities were originally built. For example, many facilities do not meet current building safety standards and the limited provincial and municipal funding available is usually insufficient to bring them up to code. Also, there is a lack of units with shared space to better support residents with dementia, as well as a shortage of appropriate units to care for residents who are disabled or obese. Renovations are also required to make better use of long-term care beds for other purposes such as providing short-stay respite care or transitional care. According to the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres, the lack of physical facilities necessary for care was the reason most often given by homes for declining to admit a long-term care wait-list client.
Opportunity to improve health care efficiency and reallocate existing program spending
We recognize that addressing the current gap in long-term care residency options is only one strategy to improve the effectiveness of Canada’s health care system. However, we believe it is a critical component of an integrated continuum of care strategy that provides for increased home and community supports. Improving options for seniors will have a positive cascading effect on many other elements of the system. Not only will seniors reside in more appropriate and safer settings but acute care resources will be better used. Consider that about 45 per cent of provincial and territorial governments’ health care spending in 2009 went toward those 65 years and older, while this group constituted only 14 per cent of the population.
A major issue facing Canada’s health care system is the high number of alternate level of care patients (ALC) who occupy acute care beds. ALC patients are those who have completed the acute care phase of their treatment but remain in an acute care bed or who are admitted into a hospital bed due to the lack of a more appropriate care setting. In most cases, these people would be better served living in their own home with the appropriate level of supports or in a long-term care residence.
The high number of ALC patients in hospitals is a problem experienced across the country. The total number of hospital bed days for ALC patients in 2007-2008 (latest figures) was 1.7 million.
Furthermore, the lack of options for ALC patients also contributes to a high percentage of these patients being readmitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge (see Appendix A). According to CIHI figures, 85 per cent of ALC patients were older than age 65, with almost half waiting for placement in long-term care. A high percentage of ALC patients suffer from dementia.
It costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed. If ALC patients were moved to more appropriate care settings, in this case, from hospital to long-term care, this would save the health care system about $1.4 billion a year. The presence of ALC patients in hospitals also lead to longer surgical wait times and longer delays in the emergency department as acute care beds remain unavailable. In fact, the Wait Time Alliance – an alliance of 14 national medical organizations and specialties – has said “the most important action to improve timely access to specialty care for Canadians is by addressing the ALC issue.”
Available wait-time data (See Appendix B) for long-term care show that wait times to access a long-term care bed can often be measured in, not months or days, but years. Data from Ontario for 2004 to 2008 found that less than 50 per cent of seniors with high or very high needs were placed in a long-term care facility within a year of being put on a wait list. The average wait time for placement in Quebec is 13 months (ranging between five months and four years). The most recent report by Ontario’s Auditor General found that 15 per cent of patients on the provincial wait list for long-term care passed away while waiting for placement.
The wait to access residential care can vary immensely depending on where one resides. Often the wait is longer for residents in small, rural and northern communities. Sometimes the only route to securing a placement is for the resident to move to a facility in another community.
According to Statistics Canada, there are 261,945 long-term care beds in operation in Canada (latest figures, 2009/10.) How many residential beds will be required in the future to meet the growing number of elderly seniors?
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a bed forecast tied to the growth of the population aged 75 and over and based on a decreased bed ratio demand of 0.59 per cent per year to reflect the greater shift to community-based services and supportive housing options being advanced at the provincial level. This bed ratio demand is described by the Canadian Healthcare Association as representing a modest shift from the current reliance on long-term care to community services. Based on these assumptions, it has been estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,535 new beds per year over the next 35 years, for a total of 637,721 beds by 2047. Demand would vary over the 35-year period, peaking between 2022 and 2040 (See Appendix C). The five-year projection for beds is as follows:
Table 1: Projected shortage in long-term care beds, 2014 to 2019
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
Year Number of additional beds required
Projected 5-year shortage 29,693
As shown, there is a projected shortage of 29,693 beds over the next five years. For the purposes of longer-term planning, the gap in beds required for the following five-year period (2019-2023) is as follows:
Table 2: Projected shortage in long-term care beds, 2019 to 2023
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
Year Number of additional beds required
As previously outlined, the rising gap in bed numbers is affected by the increased numbers in people aged 75 and older anticipated over the next 35 years.
The estimated cost to construct 10,535 beds (the average number of beds required to be built per year from 2013 to 2047) is $2.8 billion, based on a cost estimate of $269,000 per bed. This figure could include both public and private spending.
The purpose of this bed projection is to provide a sense of the immense challenge Canada faces in addressing the needs of a vulnerable segment of its older seniors population. It is important to note that this forecast does not include the significant investments required to renovate and retrofit the existing stock of residential facilities, not only to meet the current standards but to effectively respond to the complex care needs of residents requiring long-term care today and in the future. Similarly, the potential facility capacity expansions through retrofit or renovation are not included. Moreover, innovative capital investment in residential facilities can provide opportunities for their greater use by other members of the community. They can, for example, provide short-stay respite to support families and convalescent care programs such as those found in the United Kingdom. We also recognize that supportive housing and healthy aging programming are important components of an integrated solution to the ALC issue and to ensuring seniors reside in the most appropriate place.
4. How the funding would work
Health infrastructure could qualify under a communities component of the next long-term infrastructure plan where this federal funding can be leveraged with provincial and and / or municipal investment (e.g. 1/3 federal component matched by + 2/3 provincial and / or municipal). This funding allocation could also include the use of public-private partnership models.
Investing in Canada’s Continuing Care Sector Provides a Wide Range of Economic Benefits
Construction of new residential care models and renovating/retrofitting existing facilities will provide significant economic opportunities for many communities across Canada (See Appendix E for detailed figures).
Based on Conference Board of Canada estimates, the construction and maintenance of 10,535 long-term care beds (the average number of new beds needed per year from 2013 to 2047) will 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); and close the significant gap between the projected long-term care bed shortages and current planned investment.
When indirect economic contributions are included, the total estimated annual contribution to Canada’s GDP reaches almost $3 billion, yielding 37,528 new jobs (construction, care providers and other sectors). Details on these economic benefits are provided in Appendix F, but a summary is presented below:
Table 3: Average annual total economic contribution of new residential care facilities
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
(10, 535 new beds per year at market prices)
GDP (in 2013 $millions)
Number of jobs created
Average direct contribution to GDP of investing in new facilities (construction)
Average direct contribution to GDP of operating the new facilities
Average indirect contribution to GDP of investing in new facilities (construction)
Average indirect contribution to GDP of operating the new facilities
TOTAL (both direct and indirect)
For every 100 jobs created in the construction of long-term care facilities, an additional 72 jobs would be created in other sectors, while for every 100 jobs created in the long-term care sector, 14 jobs would be created in other sectors.
The numbers provided above reflect the annual average contribution. On a time specific level, covering the five-year period between 2014 and 2018, an estimated 167,840 jobs would be created, based on the construction of 29,693 new beds.
Another important economic benefit is the return in government revenues. The increase in construction and operating spending per average year will provide over $425 million in federal government revenues and over $370 million in provincial revenues (See Appendix G).
As previously identified, an improved stock of long-term care beds will provide many other economic spinoffs, including savings in health care costs that can be reallocated to better meet Canadians’ health care needs and to provide greater support for families in their role as caregivers. Without adequate provision of long-term care resources, Canada’s labour force may experience a productivity drag through increased leaves and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The aging of our population touches all Canadians – from seniors who need the services to families who serve as caregivers and/or contribute financially to the care of aging relatives. Recent data show that 32 per cent of caregivers who provide more than 21 hours of care per week report distress in their role – four times the proportion of distressed caregivers who provide less than 10 hours of informal care per week.
The federal government has a long history of allocating capital investment in the health sector. Previous examples include the Hospitals and Construction Grants Program in 1948, the Health Resources Fund established in 1966 and, more recently, the funding of capital projects at research hospitals under the Canada Foundation for Innovation Leading Edge and New Initiatives Funds in 2012.
All communities across Canada are strongly affected by the social and health care needs of their growing senior and long-term care populations (see Appendix H for a sample of recent news stories.) Federal capital investment will help narrow the significant gap between the projected long-term care bed shortages and current planned investment in the area of residential care facilities. Further, it would have a cascading effect leading to a more effective and efficient Canadian health care system.
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government allocate $2.3 billion over a five-year period in the next long-term infrastructure plan for the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities. Long-term care facilities include long-term care residential homes, assisted living units and other types of innovative residential models that ensure residents are in the most care setting most appropriate to their needs. This funding could be delivered as part of the communities component of the next long-term infrastructure plan.
1 Department of Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's aging population. Ottawa, 2012.
2 Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. 2012 annual report. 2012. http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_en/en12/2012ar_en.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
3 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. June 2010. 91-520-X
4 Alzheimer's Society Ontario. Facts about dementia. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/Dementias/What-is-dementia/Facts-about-dementia. Accessed 01/30/13.
5 Canadian Medical Association. Toward a Dementia Strategy for Canada. Ottawa, 2013. http://www.cma.ca/submissions-to-government Accessed 01/30/13.
6 Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors. Proposals for the Ontario Budget. Fiscal Year 2012-13. March 2012.
7 David Walker. Caring for our aging population and addressing alternate level of care. Report Submitted to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. June 30, 2011. Toronto.
8 Long Term Care Innovation Expert Panel. Why not now? A bold, five-year strategy for innovating Ontario's system of care for older adults. March 2012. http://www.oltca.com/axiom/DailyNews/2012/June/LTCIEPFullREport_web_jun6.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
9 For an example of an integrated continuum of post-acute care model see CARP, One Patient: CARP's Care Continuum. http://www.carp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/One-Patient-Brief-Updated-Oct-18.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
10 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Improving the accessibility, quality and sustainability of long-term care in Canada. CLHIA Report on Long-Term Care Policy. June 2012.
11 Wait Time Alliance. Time out! Report card on wait times in Canada. 2011. http://www.waittimealliance.ca/media/2011reportcard/WTA2011-reportcard_e.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
12 Correspondence with officials from Bruyère Continuing Care in Ottawa. January 2013.
13 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health care in Canada, 2011 2011. .
14 Rapport du Vérificateur général du Québec à l'Assemblée nationale pour l'année 2012-2013.
15 Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. 2012 annual report. 2012.
16 The .59 per cent decrease in bed ratio is presented as Scenario 2 in Lazurko, M. and Hearn, B. Canadian Continuing Care Scenarios 1999-2041, KPMG Final Project Report to FPT Advisory Committee on Health Services, Ottawa. 2000. Presented in Canadian Healthcare Association, New Directions for Facility-Based Long-Term Care. 2009. http://www.cha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CHA_LTC_9-22-09_eng.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
17 Canadian Institute for Health Information, Health Care in Canada, 2011.
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
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance discusses the important role of the federal government in ensuring Canada's health care system is cost-effective, accountable and accessible in order to support the country's economic advantage. As in other leading industrialized countries, the federal government has an important role in the effective allocation of health-related resources and the health outcomes of Canadians.
The purpose of this brief is to provide decision-makers with recommendations on areas within existing federal mandates in which the Government of Canada can contribute to advancing Health Care Transformation and improving the health of Canadians and the health care system - an issue Canadians consistently rank as their top concern. These recommendations focus on federal investment in a seniors care strategy, the social determinants of health and health sector innovation and productivity.
Summary of Recommendations
Recommendation # 1
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada collaborate with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to establish and invest in a pan-Canadian strategy for seniors care.
Recommendation # 2
The CMA recommends that funding for health infrastructure qualify under the next Building Canada Plan to support the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities.
Recommendation # 3
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada invest $25 million per year over five years toward a pan-Canadian dementia strategy.
Recommendation # 4
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish a Canada-wide injury prevention strategy to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources that will enable them to be disseminated nationwide.
Recommendation # 5
In support of a pan-Canadian palliative care strategy, CMA recommends that the Government of Canada undertake research to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources so that they can be replicated nationwide.
Recommendation # 6
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process.
Recommendation # 7
The CMA recommends that the federal government, in consultation with the provincial and territorial governments, health care providers, the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish and invest in a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
The CMA recommends that the federal government rescind changes made to the Interim Federal Health Program until appropriate consultation and program review occur.
As in other leading industrialized countries, the federal government has an important stewardship role in the effective allocation of health-related resources and health outcomes of Canadians; this is central to a productive workforce and a strong economy.
This brief provides tangible, actionable recommendations on how the federal government can contribute to transforming Canada's health care system and improving the health of Canadians. The focus is on three critical areas for federal investment: a senior's care strategy; the social determinants of health and health equity; and health sector innovation and productivity. The recommendations in these areas are aligned with the CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative, the principles of which have been endorsed by 134 organizations, representing millions of Canadians.1
1. Contributing to a National Seniors Care Strategy
Issue: Engagement and investment from the Government of Canada is essential to meet the increasing needs of Canada's aging population.
It is expected that by 2036, a quarter of Canada's population will be over the age of 65. The number of people in the oldest age group - the age group most likely to experience serious health problems - is expected to increase at an even faster rate: Statistics Canada predicts that in 2036 there will be 2.6 times as many people 80 years old or over as there are today. 2
Already, patients age 65 or older account for nearly half of Canada's health care spending (45% in 2009).3 Canada's governments are rightly concerned about how to provide sustainable, high-quality health care to all Canadians as the country's population ages. The Canadian public shares this concern. In an Ipsos Reid public opinion survey done for CMA in July 2013, 83% of respondents said they were concerned about their health care in their retirement years.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada collaborate with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to establish and invest in a pan-Canadian strategy for seniors care.
As elaborated below, the CMA recommends that this strategy include adequate investment in long-term care, home care, as well as palliative and end-of-life care to ensure access to the continuum of care. In addition, there should be investment in programs to address age-related health risks of particular concern, notably dementia and injuries due to falls. These areas, including recommendations for immediate investment by the Government of Canada are discussed in greater detail below.
i) Ensure continuing care qualifies under the new Building Canada Plan4
Addressing the gap in long-term care residency options is a critical component of an integrated continuum of care strategy that provides for increased home and community supports. Communities across Canada face a common problem of a lack of resources to properly meet the housing and care needs of their seniors population. While the percentage of older Canadians who live in long-term care facilities is declining, as the aging of Canada's population accelerates, the demand for residential care will increase significantly.
The current wait times in the long-term care sector are contributing to the high number of alternate level of care patients (ALC) who occupy acute care beds; a major issue facing Canada's health care system. At more than 3 million ALC days, the high number of ALC patients in hospitals is a problem experienced across the country.5 Based on the difference between the average cost of care in hospital versus long-term care, if ALC patients were moved from hospital to long-term care this would save the health care system about $2.3 billion a year.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a bed forecast tied to the growth of the population aged 75 and over and based on a decreased bed ratio demand to reflect the greater shift to community-based services and supportive housing options being advanced at the provincial level. Based on these assumptions, over the five-year period ending in 2018, an estimated 29,693 additional beds will be required, representing a pan-Canadian investment of $7.98 billion.
It is evident that the existing and planned schedule of provincial projects will be unable to meet the estimated demand. Based on a review of provincial budgets, current capital investments already committed at the provincial level represent at least $861 million allocated over the next 10 years, representing approximately 3,200 new beds. The shortfall between our projected gap (29,693) and our calculation of provincial committed projects is 26,493 beds, at a cost of $7.1 billion.
The CMA recommends funding for health infrastructure qualify under the next Building Canada Plan to support the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities.
ii) Invest in a national dementia strategy
About three quarters of a million Canadians currently live with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and cognitive impairment. Our knowledge of how to prevent dementia is limited. We do not fully understand its causes and there is no known cure. People with dementia may live for years with the condition and will eventually need round-the-clock care. Dementia currently costs Canada roughly $33 billion per year, both in direct health care expenses and in indirect costs such as lost earnings of the patient's caregivers.
Given that the prevalence of dementia will unquestionably increase with the aging of Canada's population, the Alzheimer Society of Canada predicts that by 2040 the annual cost to the country will reach $293 billion. 6
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada invest $25 million per year over five years toward a pan-Canadian dementia strategy.
This $25 million investment would be distributed as follows:
- $10 million to support research on key aspects of dementia, including prevention, treatment options, and improving quality of life.
- $10 million in increased support for informal caregivers. This includes both financial support and programs to relieve the stress experienced by caregivers such as education, skill-building and provision of respite care and other support services.
- $5 million toward knowledge transfer, dissemination of best practices and education and training to support:
- an integrated system of care facilitated by effective co-ordination and case management
- a strengthened dementia workforce, which includes development of an adequate supply of specialists and improving diagnosis and treatment capabilities of all frontline health professionals.
iii) Establish an injury prevention strategy for Canada
Falls are the primary cause of injury among older Canadians; they account for 40% of admissions to nursing homes, 85% of injury-related hospitalizations and nearly 90% of all hip fractures. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that injuries among seniors cost Canada approximately $2 billion a year in direct health care costs.7 They are also a major contributor to alternate level of care patients in hospitals given the shortages in the home care, rehabilitation or long-term care sector.
Falls can be prevented, and a growing number of regional programs across Canada are identifying and modifying risk factors for falls in their client population specific to seniors.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish a Canada-wide injury prevention strategy to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources that will enable them to be disseminated nationwide.
iv) Support the expansion of palliative care in Canada
Experts believe that a palliative-care approach - when combined with treatment - leads to better outcomes by reducing the length of stay in hospitals and the number of deaths in acute care. In Canada, according to Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), only 16% to 30% of patients have access to hospice palliative and end-of-life services.8 These services tend to be delivered in institutional settings on a tertiary or intensive model; and like falls prevention programs, they tend to be delivered locally.
The CMA strongly supports an approach that integrates palliative care with chronic care in the community, earlier in the patient's condition. In support of a pan-Canadian palliative care strategy, CMA recommends that the Government of Canada undertake research to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources so that they can be replicated nationwide.
2. Social Determinants of Health and Health Equity
Issue: Addressing the social and economic determinants of health is critical to ensuring improved health outcomes for Canadians.
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.9 While a strong health care system is vital, changes to our health system alone will not be sufficient to improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
Addressing the social and economic determinants of health has an important role in ensuring the sustainability of the health care system. It is estimated that one in five dollars spent on health care in Canada can be attributed to socio-economic disparities. These are the avoidable health costs linked to issues such as poverty, poor housing, health illiteracy, and unemployment among others. In 2012 health care dollars, these potentially avoided costs represented $40 billion in public spending. 10
Many of these social and economic determinants fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government such as tax policy. The section below elaborates on how the federal government can contribute to addressing the social determinants of health and reduce health inequity.
i) Ensure healthy public policy
Recognizing that the social and economic determinants of health have an important role in the health of Canadians, the policy decision-making process across departments must include a consideration of health. This can be accomplished by establishing health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process to ensure that the health promoting aspects of policies and programs are strengthened while potential negative impacts can be avoided or mitigated. In short it will ensure healthy public policy.
Not only could health care costs be reduced, but ensuring healthy public policy has the potential to provide significant benefits for the Canadian economy. Healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.11
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process.
ii) Address access to prescription pharmaceuticals
Universal access to prescription drugs is widely acknowledged as part of the "unfinished business" of Medicare in Canada. What exists today is a public-private mix of funding for prescription drugs. As of 2011, CIHI has estimated that 44% of prescription drug expenditures were public, 38% were paid for by private insurance and 18% were paid out of pocket.12 At present, Quebec is the only province to have universal prescription drug coverage for its residents, either through private insurance or a public plan, introduced in 1997.
Of serious concern, there is evidence of wide variability in levels of drug coverage across Canada. According to Statistics Canada, almost one in 10 (7.6%) of households spent greater than 3% of after tax income on prescription drugs in 2008. Across provinces, this ranged from 4.6% in Alberta and 4.7% in Ontario to 13.3% in PEI.13 Further, 10% of the Canadian respondents to the Commonwealth Fund's 2010 International Health Policy Survey said they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.14 Research conducted by Ipsos Reid in 2012 showed that almost one in five households (18%) does not have supplementary insurance coverage that would cover prescription drugs.15
Statistics Canada's 2011 Survey of Household spending clearly shows the burden on seniors and low-income Canadians. Households headed by a person aged 65 and older spent 50% more, on average, on prescription drugs when compared with all households.16 Those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill needed prescriptions.17 This has consequences not only for their health but for the health care system as well. Individuals who are unable to manage treatable conditions often end up hospitalized at a great cost to the health care system.
The CMA recommends the federal government, in consultation with the provincial and territorial governments, health care providers, the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
iii) Address health disparities experienced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit
During a cross-country town hall consultation in Winnipeg on Feb. 4, 2013, the CMA heard about the adverse effects of inequalities and disparities and their impact on the health and wellness of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. As elaborated below, the inequalities and disparities in the social determinants of health can have a significant impact on the health of the population.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada experience higher rates of chronic disease, addictions, mental illness and childhood abuse. The Health Council of Canada reports that the crude mortality rate for First Nations is higher and life expectancy lower than the Canadian average.18 In 2009, UNICEF reported that the infant mortality rate for First Nations on reserve was seven times higher than the national average.19 First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples suffer much higher rates of infectious and chronic diseases. Tuberculosis rates are six times higher in First Nations populations and 17 times higher in Inuit communities as compared to the rest of Canada.20 Diabetes rates are higher among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples - 15.5% vs. just over 4.7% for the non-Aboriginal population,21 and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities face higher rates of heart and circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, and mental health disorders.22
Housing is a key area of concern for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. It is estimated that there will be a backlog of 130,000 housing units in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities between 2010 and 2031, with 44% of existing units needing significant repairs and 18% requiring complete replacement.23 This inadequate housing can lead to serious health problems. The quality of housing stock directly affects health through exposure to lead, mold and other toxins that are harmful to health. Action is needed to develop an appropriate housing strategy for Canada's First Nations, Métis and Inuit that includes consideration of expiring social housing arrangements on and off reserve.
Access to health care also plays a role in determining health. This can be a challenge for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care.24 Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges between federal and provincial delivery of health services. First Nations, Métis and Inuit living in Canada's urban centres also face significant barriers to accessing health care. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Utilizing the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program can be problematic for some First Nations. It is the CMA's understanding that funding constraints can lead to decreased quality of services, treatment delays or even in some cases denial of services. While the federal government has committed to continuing payments for the NIHB program the CMA is aware of concerns with current funding is inadequate to account for the growing native population, the addition of other beneficiaries, and the higher health care utilization as a result of the poor health status of many of Canada's First Nations.25
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish and invest in a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of First Nations, Metis and Inuit that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, and Aboriginal communities.
iv) Restore coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program
The CMA, together with other medical, health and social organizations, have recommended that the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program be rescinded until appropriate consultation is undertaken. The purpose of this consultation would be to identify opportunities to achieve the Government of Canada's cost saving objectives while maintaining the scope of health care coverage for the program recipients. To date, this consultation has not occurred.
One of the primary rationales for the program changes was an estimated cost savings of $20 million per annum in health care costs covered by the federal government. As evident by the recent statements of provincial health ministers following the Oct. 3 Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial Health Ministers Meeting, these projected cost savings are not likely to be realized.
The CMA is concerned that the costs of the program have been downloaded on the provincial health systems, the charitable sector, and other public programs and organizations that provide the uninsured with benefits. Further, there has been significant confusion that has resulted in an increased administrative burden on the health sector following continual changes in this program.
The CMA recommends the federal government rescind changes made to the Interim Federal Health Program until appropriate consultation and program review occur.
3. Improving Health Care Productivity and Innovation
The CMA supports federal engagement to advance a health sector innovation and productivity framework, the purpose of which would be to support the introduction and expansion of innovation in health technology and processes of delivery to yield better health outcomes and productivity. As part of this framework, the CMA encourages federal focus on accountability measures and health information technology, as elaborated below.
i) Accountability mechanism to improve productivity and quality care
Despite the importance of the health care sector to Canada's economy and quality of life, it is generally agreed that in health care, Canada is no longer a strong performer relative to similar nations. For instance, OECD Health Data 2012 ranks Canada seventh highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, while Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries in terms of performance. 26 According to the latest forecast report by CIHI, public spending on health care was to surpass $200 billion in 2012.
According to the OECD, if the Canadian health sector was to become as efficient as the most efficient countries, we could save 2.5% of GDP in public expenditure by 2017.27 The need to improve system performance will only intensify as demand for health care services increases and the system is pressed to effectively manage the rising number of Canadians with chronic diseases.
While the provinces and territories have initiated steps to collaborate on the sharing of best practices in health care, federal leadership is necessary to address the overall performance of the health care system in Canada. This includes collaborating with the provinces and territories on the identification of pan-Canadian metrics that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes and system performance.
CIHI does develop and collect data on numerous health indicators and has developed a performance measurement framework with an initial set of indicators coming out in the near future. However, there is currently no pan-Canadian process to set targets and monitor outcomes and system performance, the purpose of which is to demonstrate accountability to Canadians, improve health outcomes and health sector performance.
The CMA recommends the federal government engage the provinces and territories in a collaborative process to identify pan-Canadian metrics and measurements that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes and system performance.
ii) Maximizing the value of Electronic Medical Records
The digitization of our health care system is central to quality, safety and the continuity of patient care for all Canadians. Canada continues to make progress in the adoption of health information technology (HIT). It is forecast that 70% of physicians will have an electronic medical record (EMR) system in place by 2014. Almost 90% of the most common radiology examinations and reports in Canada's acute care hospitals are now digital, up from approximately 38% only six years ago.
However, there is still a long way to go in order to share information more effectively among caregivers, enable patient access to clinical information, and optimize the use of these systems. Areas where progress has stalled include: specialist EMR needs, applied research, local interoperability, decision support tools, and analytical tools.
Stalled progress in these areas has meant Canadians are not benefiting at the point of care such as allowing comparisons between patients within a practice, comparing across practices, facilitating sentinel disease surveillance and a population health approach to primary care, and allowing patients to get consistent, more understandable information from their providers electronically through portals, emails and other e-routes.
As we look to the future - and in particular the next three years - there's a need to reframe the discussion from building HIT infrastructure to deriving benefits. To this end, investment is required to ensure that the efforts to date are fully utilized and support improved patient outcomes. A committee comprised of CMA and Provincial Territorial Medical Associations representatives considered this issue and developed recommendation for targeted investment in HIT; these are outlined below.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada allocate $545 million as follows:
* $200 million to support an additional 10,000 physicians not covered by current programs.
* $200 million to support change management for EMR adoption.
* $10 million to support data migration (i.e. clinics have to move to new products).
* $100 million to support local interoperability solutions.
* $5 million to support the Standards Collaborative.
* $20 million to support research into HIT effectiveness.
* $5 million to support solutions for the integration of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
* $5 million for applied research on patient portal.
This additional investment would benefit patients, providers and governments through improved patient care and improved performance of health care systems. In addition, the appropriate use of health information technology will contribute toward a more effective health care system supporting Canada's economic competitiveness.
Working with the provinces and territories and health care providers in delivering better health care to all Canadians through enhancing productivity and innovation is a policy challenge requiring federal leadership and engagement.
The CMA believes the Government of Canada should act upon the recommendations included in this brief and collaborate with stakeholders to ultimately contribute to optimal health outcomes for Canadians, and health services that are delivered in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
1 For the latest update on the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, visit: www.cma.ca/cma-media-releases
2 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. June 2010. 91-520-X
3 CIHI. Health Care in Canada, 2011, 1.
4 CMA. The need for health infrastructure. Submission to the Minister of Infrastructure, March 1, 2013. www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2013/Health-Infrastructure_en.pdf .
5 CIHI. 2012. Health Care in Canada, 2012: A focus on wait times.
6 Alzheimer Society of Canada. A New Way of Looking at Dementia in Canada. Based on a study conducted by RiskAnalytica. C. 2010
7 PHAC. The Safe Living Guide - A guide to home safety for seniors. 2005. Revised 2011.
8 CIHI. 2013. End-of-life hospital care for cancer patients.
9 Keon, Wilbert J. & Lucie Pépin (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Available at: www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
10 Public Health Agency of Canada (2004) Reducing Health Disparities-Roles of the Health Sector: Discussion Paper. Available at: publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/HP5-4-2005E.pdf
11 Munro, Daniel (2008) "Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the Socio-Economic Determinants of Health." The Conference Board of Canada. Available at: www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/dec2008_report_healthypeople.sflb
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug expenditure in Canada, 1985 to 2011. Ottawa.
13 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 109-5012 - Household spending on prescription drugs as a percentage of after-tax income, Canada and provinces. www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/pick-choisir;jsessionid=4FF8F1A5D604C73873F71D9FDE6141C5. Accessed 12/10/12.
14 Commonwealth Fund. 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey. www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Surveys/2010/IHP%202010%20Toplines.pdf Accessed 12/10/12.
15 Ipsos Reid. Supplementary health benefits research. www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2012/ CMA-Benefits-Research-Survey_en.pdf. Accessed 12/10/12.
16 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 203-0026. Accessed 06/18/13.
17 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Available at: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf
18 Health Council of Canada, "The Health Status of Canada's First Nations, Métis And Inuit Peoples", 2005, online: http://healthcouncilcanada.ca.c9.previewyoursite.com/docs/papers/2005/BkgrdHealthyCdnsENG.pdf Accessed October 20, 2010.
19 National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health & UNICEF Canada "Leaving no child behind - national spotlight on health gap for Aboriginal children in Canada" 2009, online: www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/s_140.asp Accessed November 20, 2009
20 Health Council, supra note 34.
21 NWAC, 2009, supra note 39.
22 Canada, Health Canada, First Nations, Inuit and Aboriginal Health, (Ottawa: Health Canada), online: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/pubs/index-eng.php Accessed November 4, 2009
23 Assembly of First Nations (2013) Taking Action Together on Shared Priorities Towards a Fair and Prosperous Future: AFN Submission to the Council of the Federation. Available at: www.afn.ca/uploads/files/13-07-23_afn_submission_to_cof_2013.pdf
24 Bowen, S. Access to Health Services for Underserved Populations.
25 Assembly of First Nations (2011) Structural Transformation & Critical Investments in First Nations on the Path to Shared Prosperity. Pre-Budget Submission, 2011. Available at: www.afn.ca/uploads/files/2011-pre-budget-submission.pdf
26 OECD Health Data 2012 - www.oecd.org/health/healthgrowthinhealthspendinggrindstoahalt.htm
27 OECD, Economic Survey of Canada 2012. www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/economicsurveyofcanada2012.htm
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 present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study on the government's role in addressing prescription drug abuse in Canada.
It is increasingly recognized that while prescription medication has an important role in health care, the misuse and abuse of controlled psychoactive prescription medications, notably opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydromorphone, is emerging as a significant public health and safety issue. The use of prescription opioids is on the rise, in Canada and internationally. Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States. The CMA is particularly concerned about the impact of prescription drug abuse and misuse on vulnerable populations; notably, seniors, youth and First Nations. We note, for example, that in 2011 opioids were reported as the third most common drug (after alcohol and marijuana) used by students in Ontario.
Controlled prescription medications are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, such as pain management or palliative and end-of-life care. However, they may also be used for recreational purposes or to feed an addiction. Though many patients are prescribed controlled drugs to treat medical conditions, it is addiction which drives the drugs' illegal acquisition through means such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers or the Internet.
Canada's physicians are concerned about the abuse and misuse of prescription medication for a number of reasons. For one, physicians need to assess the condition of patients who request the medication, and consider whether the use is clinically indicated and whether the benefits outweigh the risks. This can be challenging as there is no objective test for assessing pain, and therefore the prescription of opioids rests to a great extent on mutual trust between the physician and the patient. For another, physicians may need to prescribe treatment for patients who become addicted to the medications. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge their signatures or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested.
Canada's physicians believe that the misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a serious problem and because of its complexity, requires a complex and multifaceted solution. Therefore, the CMA makes the following recommendations to the Committee:
1) A National Strategy to Address the Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Medication
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the misuse and abuse of prescription medication in Canada.
The CMA has consistently recommended a comprehensive national strategy to address the problems of drug abuse in Canada, whether of illegal or prescription-based substances. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, in its report First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada's Prescription Drug Crisis, has offered nearly 60 recommendations toward the development of a strategy to combat misuse of prescription medications. The CMA believes that such a strategy should include:
a) Prevention: Existing community programs and social marketing campaigns to address prescription drug abuse are generally aimed at young recreational users. For example, since many such users report that they get drugs from their parents' or friends' medicine cabinets, many jurisdictions have implemented prescription "take-back" programs, and education campaigns to promote safe storage and disposal of medications. Prevention strategies aimed at other types of prescription drug abuse, and targeting other populations such as health care providers, are still required.
b) Treatment: Appropriate services for the treatment of addiction to prescription drugs are also a vital part of a national strategy. The CMA recommends that all partners work to improve and promote access to treatment programs - not only for treatment of addiction, such as pharmacological interventions, support and counselling, and withdrawal management, but also to treat and manage pain. In particular, the CMA recommends improving access to culturally appropriate treatment, counselling and withdrawal management programs in rural and remote areas, and for First Nations.
c) Consumer Protection: There are several ways in which consumer protection strategies may form part of a strategy. One is modifications to the drugs themselves. For example, opioid manufacturers have developed formulations of their products intended to minimize their abuse potential, such as "slow-release" formulations and other forms of tamper-proofing to reduce a drug's potential for abuse. CMA supports further investigation into abuse-deterrent technologies.
d) Surveillance and Research: Our knowledge of the extent of the prescription drug abuse problem in Canada, and the effectiveness of strategies proposed to combat it, is limited by a number of factors. These will be more specifically addressed later in this brief.
2) Strategies to Enhance Optimal Prescribing in Canada
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers and the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to support optimal prescribing and medication use in Canada.
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the medications that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm. The CMA acknowledges that we have not yet achieved that ideal, but believes that optimal prescribing in Canada is a goal worth achieving. Our 2010 position statement "A Prescription for Optimal Prescribing" (Appendix A) recommends a national strategy to promote best practices in prescribing, and its recommendations can be applied to the specific situation of prescription drug abuse. Key elements of this strategy are:
* Relevant, objective and easily accessible information for prescribers, which can readily be incorporated into every day practice. This can include clinical decision-support tools for use at the point of care.
* Ongoing development and dissemination of clinical guidance in pain management. A Canadian practice guideline for use of opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain, prepared under the direction of the multi-stakeholder National Opioid Use Guideline Group (NOUGG), was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on June 15, 2010. A number of plans for dissemination of this guideline are under way, under the direction of the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre at McMaster University. They include an online CME module, co-sponsored by the CMA, which is now being finalized by MDcme.ca, a professional education group based at Memorial University.
* Educational programs for prescribers in pain management and in the management of addictions. Both addiction treatment and pain management should be part of the educational curriculum in medical school and residency training as well as in continuing education. Educational programs could also provide prescribers with advice on how to recognize addiction in a patient, or on how to deal with fraudulent or aggressive patients.
* Ensuring that prescribers have access to expert advice if required. This could be achieved through such means as:
o Academic detailing programs, which use personalized one-on-one techniques to deliver impartial prescribing information to practitioners.
o Communities of practice and clinical support networks that link practitioners with experts in the field. Experts can not only provide clinical information, but can provide mentorship and personal advice on best practices.
3) Monitoring and Surveillance of Prescription Drug Abuse
The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance.
One of the challenges in dealing with prescription drug abuse is the incompleteness of our knowledge of the extent of the problem, or of the most effective ways to address it. This means that physicians do not have access in real time to the information they need, at the point of care. For example, except in Prince Edward Island, physicians do not have the ability to look up a patient's medical history to determine if he or she has received a prescription from another source.
Prescription monitoring programs exist in most provinces, but they vary in quality, in the nature of the information they require, and in the purpose for which data is collected. Some are administered by regulatory colleges, others by governments. The CMA recommends that national standards be developed for prescription monitoring programs, to ensure that all jurisdictions across Canada are collecting the same information in a standard way. Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can have a number of positive effects:
* It can help identify fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers.
* It can help deter cross-provincial fraud.
* It can help professional regulatory bodies actively monitor and intervene, as needed, with practitioners suspected of over-prescribing or over-dispensing frequently-misused medications.
* Finally, it will help researchers gather consistent data to improve our knowledge of the problem, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues.
The CMA also recommends that this system be electronic and that it be compatible with electronic medical and pharmacy record systems, and with provincial pharmaceutical databases such as British Columbia's.
Provincial and territorial governments should work with the federal government and with health care providers to improve the standardization and sharing of information where appropriate. Prescription monitoring programs should be evaluated to ascertain their effectiveness in reducing misuse and abuse.
We are pleased that federal, provincial and territorial health ministries have expressed interest in working together on issues related to prescription drug abuse, and we hope that this will result in a coherent national system for monitoring and surveillance, and thus to improved knowledge about the nature of the problem and its most effective solutions.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association reiterates the deep concern of Canada's physicians about prescription drug abuse and misuse in this country. We are committed to enhancing optimal prescribing and to working with governments to develop and implement a strong, coherent plan of action to address this pressing national problem.