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 changes announced on July 18, 2017, are the most significant change to the private corporation tax structure in 45 years and will have a negative impact on doctors and also convenience store operators, electrical contractors and family farmers. In short, these proposals will negatively affect all small business owners, most of whom are squarely in the middle class and are the engine of the Canadian economy.
We believe a 75-day consultation is inadequate to assess the scope of these changes and the ramifications for not only our members but also the 1.1 million other small business operators as well as the impacts of the proposals on Canada's prospects for future economic growth.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) strongly urges the federal government to:
1) suspend the current proposals;
2) conduct a comprehensive review of these proposals to ensure that legislation can meet policy objectives without significant unintended consequences; and
3) engage all Canadians in a comprehensive review of the tax system considering unique aspects of all sectors, including safety net provisions.
Economic considerations of the tax proposals:
Small business in Canada
Most Canadian businesses are small. As of December 2015, there were 1.17 million employer businesses in the Canadian economy. Of these, 1.14 million (97.9%) were small-sized businesses, 21,415 (1.8%) were medium-sized businesses and 2,933 (0.3%) were large-sized businesses.
Small- and medium-sized enterprise
s (SMEs) are critical contributors to the Canadian economy. They generate the majority of Canadian jobs. Across the country, an estimated 10.6 million people (66.8% of the labour force) work in small-sized businesses and another 3.3 million (20.4%) are employed in medium-sized businesses. Only 2.0 million (12.8%) work in large-sized businesses.
In addition to generating jobs, SMEs make a significant contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). Notably, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will contribute on average 30% to national GDP. SMEs also make sizable contributions to research and development. Between 2011 and 2013, SMEs accounted for 27% of the research and development expenditures in this country.
Physicians' offices are an important component of the Canadian economy, employing people and supporting suppliers in their communities. The majority of physicians (66% or 54,000) own and operate a private corporation.
The direct GDP contribution produced by physicians' offices in Canada in 2016 was $22.3 billion. They paid $6.2 billion in wages and salaries, employed 137,000 people and contributed $643 million in tax revenues to governments. Including the supply chain and induced effects of this economic activity, the total GDP supported by the economic footprint of physicians' offices was $33.4 billion and the total number of jobs supported was 250,000.
Physicians' medical practices, in addition to providing essential health care services to Canadians, also provide a noticeable contribution to Canada's economy. The total economic footprint of physicians' practices in 2016 - directly, through their supply chain and through induced effects - accounted for 1.6% of Canada's total GDP in 2016.
Making Canada an attractive place to practise medicine
Physicians and small business owners across the country believe that the proposals are complex and will ultimately lead to unintended consequences that will affect all Canadians. With so many underserviced regions of Canada and 5.3 million orphan patients, it behooves government to establish conditions that facilitate recruitment and retention of highly skilled professionals, such as physicians.
Physicians are more mobile than many other small business owners. Between 2014 and 2015, for instance, approximately 740 physicians (about 1% of all physicians) moved from one province or territory to another. In the CMA's recent member survey, 22% of practising physicians stated they would consider relocating their practice to another country as a result of the proposed federal tax changes. Of the medical residents who participated in the survey, 39% would consider moving their practice to another country if the proposed federal tax changes are implemented.
The experience of the 1990s provides evidence that this is a real possibility. In 1992, health ministers agreed to reduce medical school enrolment, and shortly afterward provincial governments began to put restrictions in place, such as a two-year moratorium on new billing numbers in Ontario for physicians who had not completed their undergraduate or postgraduate training there. These measures sent a clear message that doctors were not welcome in Canada and it was no surprise that they left in large numbers. From 1995 to 1997 Canada experienced an annual average net loss of 454 physicians to migration, the equivalent of four medical school classes. The United States continues to face a shortage of physicians, and it may be an attractive alternative for Canadian physicians to practise. Projections released earlier this year for the American Association of Medical Colleges indicate that the United States will have a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030.
The path to becoming a physician is a long one, which includes 10 or more years of postsecondary education. As a result, physicians start their careers later than other workers. Average student debt ranges from $160,000 to $180,000. This represents a large personal investment of time and money. We want to ensure that Canada establishes the public policy conditions necessary to retain and attract the next generation of physicians.
Thriving medical practices are the best medicine for patients
Public policy should strive to promote economic growth, innovation and quality of life for all Canadians. Thriving medical practices are a key ingredient in ensuring that Canadians have access to medical care when and where they need it. Any changes to the existing tax regimen can have the unintended consequences of forcing owners of medical practices to curtail their operations, reduce availability of care and stifle expansions of much-needed medical services.
The CMA asked physicians whether they would consider reducing the number of hours they worked if the government eliminated any or all of the benefits of incorporation. Over half of the practising physicians who responded to the survey (54%) indicated they would consider reducing their number of hours worked, and 24% indicated they would consider retirement. In addition, 31% of the respondents stated they would consider closing their practice and moving to another practice setting (such as a hospital-based or salaried position). Of particular note, 64% of the medical residents who responded to the survey indicated that they would avoid independent practice.
If fewer physicians opt to stay in or enter into independent practice there could be important implications for physician supply and patient accessibility. This may be particularly important in rural and remote regions, where independent practice is the most common means for delivery of physician services.
In some rural and remote communities across Canada, there is already a shortage of physicians. According to Statistics Canada, about 19% of the Canadian population lives in rural and remote communities, but only about 14% of family physicians and 2% of specialists practise in such communities. The ratio of physicians to patients is also much lower in rural than in urban Canada (0.8 versus 2.1 per 1,000 in 2013).
Some of the challenges in recruiting and retaining physicians to rural and especially to remote communities include the reality that physicians in these regions often have to work long hours, have a high level of on-call responsibilities and need additional competencies to meet their community's needs. Unlike most physicians working in urban environments, they may also experience insufficient backup or a total absence of backup from other physicians, nurses and complementary services. There are typically fewer professional education opportunities in rural and remote communities. Finally, physicians sometimes find it difficult to travel long distances to visit their families in urban regions or to convince their spouses and children to relocate from urban to rural and remote communities because of limited job prospects and educational opportunities for their families.
Promoting gender equality in small- and medium-sized businesses and in medical practices
The current federal government has advanced a feminist agenda with a view to ensuring that all public policy aligns with and supports gender equality. It is therefore perplexing to see the tax proposals being considered, as these may further deter women from entering the medical profession.
It is worth noting that female physicians now account for 40% of all Canadian physicians and they represent 60% of physicians under the age of 35. This statistic represents a significant achievement in promoting gender equality in the profession. While the potential indirect effects of the federal tax proposals apply to all physicians regardless of gender, female physicians will likely see an incrementally larger decrease in income at all career stages and particularly as they start a family. This is coupled with the fact that there are already fewer female physicians over the age of 50. Many female physicians may choose to stay at home if the current financial and entrepreneurial incentives are no longer available.
In addition to the direct impact of the proposed tax measures on female physicians, any practice consolidations or closures resulting from these measures will also impact women currently employed in physician practices, including nurses and administrative support staff. This is significant for occupations such as medical administrative assistants and other health services support staff; 98% and 80% of total employees in these occupations are women, respectively.
Inspiring innovation as the cornerstone of Canada's future
A significant portion of medical research in Canada is funded by physician donations of cash and unpaid physician labour. This is especially true for physicians working in academic health science centres (AHSCs). AHSCs are vital to ensuring that leading-edge medical research continues in Canada. Since most AHSCs are structured as partnerships of incorporated physicians, they will also be affected by the federal tax proposals, and donations to fund medical research will be compromised as physicians make financial decisions to reduce their spending to make up for their increased tax burden. This is significant, as the CMA estimates that physicians provide $340 million from their gross earnings to fund medical research and teaching in AHSCs.
Furthermore, if physicians are facing a reduction in after-tax income from their practices, they will likely favour paid labour over unpaid labour to offset the reduction, which would result in fewer physician hours spent on medical research. There would be little financial incentive for physicians to continue with medical research, which would significantly impede medical innovation in Canada.
Technical considerations of the proposals:
In reviewing the specifics of the proposals, the CMA wishes to provide its perspective on several of the elements being considered, including fairness, complexity, passive income of a small business corporation, anti-avoidance rules and income splitting.
The tax rules for private corporations are available to everyone should they wish to start and run their own business. They have been supported and even promoted by various governments to encourage entrepreneurship and those who are willing to take the risk of starting up a small business, entering independent practice or taking over the family business.
Seeking to compare a salaried employee to someone who works through a private corporation where the corporation earns an equivalent amount of income fails to take into account all the factors necessary to operate a successful business through a corporate structure. For example, private corporations reinvest in the business and save funds to weather adverse economic events and to offset the lack of employment provisions and benefits. Physicians start their medical practice with significant debt and enter their career in their 30s. Private corporations in different sectors face their own unique set of challenges and the existing policies provide certainty that enables them to make plans.
The CMA is aware that in 2011 an Employment Insurance (EI) program was established for self-employed individuals whereby they could register and pay for benefits including maternity and parental leave. We understand that there has been low uptake; we suspect that is because many self-employed people cannot take a full year off for maternity/parental leave and therefore do not receive the full value of what they put into the program. Other considerations include the fact that the program is not topped up by an employer, the program does not factor in expenses related to replacement costs, and there is loss of flexibility to cover lifestyle costs.
Although well-intentioned, it seems that the enhancements to the EI program may not address the realities of running a business (regardless of incorporation) and that is why we need a more comprehensive review of the tax system that considers unique sector conditions and safety net provisions.
Corporations are legitimate business vehicles that facilitate compliance and administration, and they have been sanctioned and encouraged by successive governments for decades. Changing the rules now will be highly destabilizing for small business owners who have chosen to organize their affairs in this way, many of whom also do not have the resources to adjust to these changes.
In some cases, provisions for physician incorporation have been part of a negotiated settlement with provincial governments. The proposed changes will drive up medical costs, increase pressure on provincial and territorial governments and worsen fee-schedule negotiations between physicians and their provincial and territorial governments, causing yet more unnecessary disruption.
The use of corporations has to a certain extent kept the underground economy at bay because of mandatory reporting requirements and registration both for income tax and GST/HST purposes and for corporate governance.
The Canadian tax system and in particular the rules governing both big and small corporations are complex, and successive governments have strived to simplify them over time. The proposed tax changes have a level of complexity that is counter to what the present government has been promoting by eliminating boutique tax provisions.
The proposals create a bigger disparity between small business corporations eligible for the small business deduction and small public corporations that provide many of the same benefits to family shareholders.
Passive income is already taxed at higher levels than active business income. Working capital is just as necessary in a small business corporation as it is in a public corporation.
Investing passively in a private corporation has been a legitimate practice for many generations of Canadian business owners. The method of taxing passive income has been in effect since 1972. Investing passively within a corporation accommodates business owners who assume risk and responsibility not otherwise assumed by employees. A few important accommodations are noted below:
* Investing passively provides a business owner with efficient access to capital so that opportunities can be seized, creating growth and employment for our economy.
* Business owners are more likely to accept the risk associated with making investments if they have access to more capital.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to manage risks assumed when one goes into business for oneself. These risks are not otherwise assumed by employees.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to diversify risk by investing in assets that are very different than private corporation shares.
* Investing passively allows a business owner to provide for retirement and unforeseen circumstances that may need to be self-funded.
Physicians, like other small business owners, retain capital in their corporations to weather the financial ups and downs that are inherent in self-employment. Because physicians do not have employer-sponsored pension plans or health, disability or maternity benefits or statutory vacation leave, they rely on retained earnings and make passive investments to build up the capital to fund these eventualities. Similar to other businesses, medical practices have to respond to the ups and downs of the business cycle - in the medical practice context, provincial and territorial governments will implement expenditure caps and cuts that will affect the medical practice's bottom line.
Fair, simple and efficient tax system
As noted by CPA Canada, fairness in our tax system is an essential principle and it is doubtful that the recent proposals will improve this. Investing passively in a private corporation has in some cases been a mechanism available to business owners of all sizes since 1972.
It will be important to consider the fact that many small business owners have legitimately organized their affairs by investing passively in their corporation and have not contributed to registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), tax free savings accounts (TFSAs) and registered education savings plans (RESPs). Fundamentally changing the tax system will in some cases require physicians to:
* work for more years to save for retirement with after tax dollars;
* evaluate whether Canada's tax system is competitive with that of other economies; and
* alter practice decisions, such as opting to retire completely versus easing into retirement or reducing hours of work in favour of other career pursuits.
Applying a 50% permanent income tax rate in the corporation to passive income assumes that all small business owners are high-rate taxpayers. This is not the case, and this assumption would inadvertently punish many small business owners who are not subject to the highest rates of income tax. In some cases, applying a high rate of personal income tax to corporate income that has already been subject to tax at 50% will result in a combined income tax rate of approximately 71%.
Canada's tax system is already complex and the proposed methods of accounting for passive income will in all cases add further complexity, reducing taxpayer compliance. Tracking and pooling sources of income to account for investments will be both time consuming and costly. There will need to be simple mechanisms for both grandfathered investments and those impacted by the new rules.
Lastly, making significant changes to legitimate tax structures that have been in use for 45 years requires careful consideration, material stakeholder involvement, carefully considered grandfathering provisions and the appropriate amount of time to plan and implement.
The proposals concerning passive income in a private corporation represent a significant change in tax policy. If implemented as proposed by the government, the changes could act as a disincentive for those looking to invest in small business, decreasing job creation. Furthermore, the tax policy changes as proposed could make it difficult for Canada to attract, recruit and retain highly skilled professionals, which will significantly impact the quality and availability of health care in the short and long term.
For consideration - prescribed allowable assets for passive investment
A fair tax system accommodates taxpayers who assume different levels of risk and is flexible enough to allow taxpayers to manage various circumstances. From a policy perspective, there are many examples of accommodation or incentive, such as the lifetime capital gains exemption (LCGE) and the small business deduction (SBD), which accommodate a self-employed individual's realities when compared with an employee. In the CMA's view, passive income is already taxed at rates of almost 50% to discourage investing passively in a corporation, and when passive income is distributed to individual shareholders, investment income is appropriately taxed.
Existing passive assets and any income or related capital gain thereon should not be impacted by any new system that is implemented. Regarding a transition, a taxpayer should have the ability to elect to have existing or substituted assets and the related income or capital gains taxed under the current regime resulting in no change.
On a prospective basis, passive assets accumulated over and above a prescribed threshold could be subject to new investment income rules. The prescribed threshold would allow business owners to accumulate passive assets commensurate with the amount of risk they accept or assume. Alternatively, the prescribed threshold would allow a taxpayer to opt out of the onerous and costly rules that are not conducive to small business.
Business owners have raised the concern that they need to retain capital in their corporations for valid business purposes. These include saving for economic downturns, future growth and contingencies such as an illness of the principal business owner. Allowing a prescribed amount of passive investments to be held by private corporations will permit them to save for these valid business reasons without facing excessive tax rates, while still meeting the government's policy objective of preventing individuals from using corporations to save beyond government tolerance. A prescribed threshold provides greater certainty for planning and ease of administration.
These ideas are worth exploring but require time and the engagement of small businesses to ensure that the changes do not produce unintended consequences while meeting public policy objectives.
Converting income to capital
Anti-tax avoidance rules
We are in support of targeted measures to curtail abuse. Non-arm's length manipulations of cost base to reduce or eliminate capital gains are not appropriate, and such abuses should be curtailed.
Use of mechanisms to avoid double taxation such as the so-called pipeline strategy that has been accepted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to avoid double taxation should be encouraged, not legislated against.
CRA has issued numerous favourable advanced income tax rulings with respect to pipeline planning. The proposed changes in ITA section 84.1 are especially troublesome for those nearing retirement and those who have planned for their final estate tax liability under the current income tax regime.
For example, assume an owner of a private corporation dies in Ontario and the shares are not inherited by a spouse. If the private company shares have a fair market value of $2,000,000 with minimal adjusted cost base, the estate's final income tax liability will increase by approximately $360,000 if the fair market value of the private corporation must be realized as a dividend rather than as a capital gain, as contemplated by proposed subsection 84.1(2).
In addition, there would be limited opportunities for retired or near-retirement business owners to acquire life insurance or otherwise reorganize their affairs.
Lastly, the proposed changes would effectively require each estate to wind up the affairs of a private corporation within a very short period of time (12 months) to avoid double taxation.
Subsection 164(6) of the Act should be extended to coincide with the graduated rate estate rules that were recently introduced. On this basis, an estate would have three years to properly wind up the affairs of a private company, realize a capital loss and carry it back to the terminal return of the shareholder to avoid paying income tax twice.
The practice of income sprinkling within the use of a professional corporation has been supported by judgments issued by the Supreme Court of Canada. It is also true that in some cases provincial governments have amended legislation governing professionals to allow a professional to introduce family members as shareholders of their professional corporations. Such amendments were made in the context of negotiating contracts for service deliverables and remuneration and in recognition of the family involvement in running a small business, such as a medical office in the case of physicians.
Upon incorporation the entity that has been created in support of a specific business activity has nominal value. The corporation builds and expands through bank borrowing, expenditures and the sweat capital of spouses/partners. The value of that sweat capital is difficult to quantify but in many respects is no different than the sweat capital provided by unrelated entrepreneurs in developing a high technology idea into a working venture.
The proposed changes could result in more stringent requirements for a family shareholder to demonstrate their contribution of capital or value to an entity than would be required of a non-family member shareholder. Spouses/partners are integral to the risk and development of a business enterprise that, as a family, they have an interest in: pension income splitting recognizes the family unit and similar considerations apply here.
Tax policy reflected in the ITA has always permitted a certain level of income based on the personal amount and the dividend tax credit to be received without tax cost. In 2017 the amount was approximately $32,000.00. There is no abuse in using those provisions just as there is no abuse in pension income splitting to share the tax obligation within a family.
Subjectivity of reasonability criteria
Regarding the application of tax on split income (TOSI) and the "reasonableness test," the CMA is concerned that in practice, the proposed rules will result in inconsistent application, as the reasonableness test requires a subjective self-assessment after considering labour and capital contributions.
Consider the practical difficulties that will arise in the following situations:
* Both spouses are involved in the business on a regular and continuous basis. However, at different points during their life, their involvement is limited because of health or maternity reasons.
* All family members (adult children and parents) are involved on a regular and continuous basis in the business. Similar to the example above, each family member has differing levels of involvement at different times and each family member makes unique contributions.
* In some cases, a household will be required to decide on the division of labour. The division of labour would consider both inside and outside duties, resulting in one family member being less active in the business for a period of time or permanently because he/she is directly supporting inside duties so that the other spouse's involvement can exceed what would normally be required of an employee.
When assessing the reasonability of a dividend paid, both the taxpayer and CRA are required to evaluate a proper rate of return and assess the risk assumed. Independent data or proxies are not readily available when assessing risk assumed with respect to a private company investment.
In the case where a spouse and/or all family members are involved with the business on a regular and continuous basis, practical difficulty will constantly arise when attempting to ascertain with any degree of precision or certainty reasonable compensation in the circumstances.
In some cases, a physician's spouse will deliberately choose not to enter the workforce as a second income earner because it is not economically viable to do so given the day-to-day realities of managing a business, raising a family and planning for the future. Constraining income splitting will in some cases cause hardship for families who have organized their division of labour so that the family can fully support the professional's activities. This translates into physicians being more available to grow their practice and to care for patients. If the economics concerning the division of labour within and outside of the household are seriously altered, many small business owners could be motivated to work less and refocus their division of labour.
For consideration - prescribed threshold on income sprinkling
Dividends are paid to shareholders as a return on their investment in the corporation. Since the distribution of the dividend is not determined by the quantum of a shareholder's contribution to the corporation, it is illogical to use contribution or labour as the criterion that determines when dividend income will be subject to TOSI. A small business is dynamic, and contributions to a family business are required at different times by different people and entail different amounts of effort. Documenting and measuring the many different contributions will undoubtedly create problems because a business owner and their spouse are often inextricably linked when it comes to valuing their contributions to a business.
Because of the complexity that the proposed changes would cause, the TOSI income rules should not consider a small business owner's spouse or common-law partner. In the alternative, a threshold should be contemplated that would recognize various contributions and eliminate the uncertainty and judgment required when applying the proposed rules.
The implementation of a prescribed threshold of allowable dividends to be paid to family members would alleviate many of the issues with the current reasonableness test. The primary concern with the current wording of the reasonableness tests is the inherent uncertainty because of the difficulty in determining the value of contributions made by family members. A threshold of allowable dividends would inherently acknowledge that family members contribute value and assume risk with respect to a family business.
This would eliminate the uncertainty about these amounts paid to family members, allowing small businesses to recognize the contributions of family members without fear of future reassessments at the top marginal rate of tax. This would also shift the focus of the proposals to higher income earners. Dividends above the prescribed threshold would still be subject to the proposed reasonableness test, preventing excessive amounts from being paid to family members where their contributions do not warrant these distributions.
These ideas are worthy of consideration but require the engagement of the small business community to ensure that the changes do not produce unintended consequences while achieving their public policy objectives.
Canada's doctors are fully committed to improving health and health care by helping families, youth and women, growing the economy and ensuring we have thriving communities from coast to coast to coast. We know that these values are shared by governments. As health care providers and as owners of small businesses, Canada's doctors have been committed to these goals for decades. While the full impact of the proposed taxation changes is currently being assessed, every indication points to significant negative ramifications for frontline health care workers and the Canadian economy.
Physician medical practices contribute significantly to the local and national economy by directly employing 137,000 Canadians and providing needed medical infrastructure. These entrepreneurs are also responsible for providing a self-funded safety net.
These factors have, to a significant degree, been taken into account in settling fee structures for the medical professional on an overall after-tax basis. If those provisions cannot be relied on in the future, fairness would dictate that time be given for those in the relevant provinces to renegotiate their fee structures so that new factors can be taken into account. Fairness would also dictate that other self-funded safety net provisions, such as retirement savings vehicles, be adjusted or created to cover planned and unplanned events.
The July 18, 2017, proposals represent the most significant tax changes since 1972. The CMA is concerned that the government may not be aware of the potential for far-reaching unintended consequences of the proposals and therefore strongly urges the government to:
1. suspend the current proposals;
2. conduct a comprehensive review of these proposals to ensure that legislation can meet policy objectives without significant unintended consequences; and
3. engage all Canadians in a comprehensive review of the tax system considering unique aspects of all sectors, including safety net provisions.
There are several potential mitigating measures physicians may apply to offset reductions in net revenue, including the following:
* Physicians may decide to operate their practices on a leaner basis, offsetting their loss in net income by reducing practice spending. They may reduce their individual spending on staff and other costs, or they may elect to consolidate several practices into one.
* Physicians may decide to reduce their hours worked, or change their practice setting in response to the reduction in net income.
Scenario 1 provides an example.
Scenario 1: Private practice
Dr. Johns operates a private practice in rural Ontario. Understanding that there is a significant shortage of physicians in rural communities across Canada, Dr. Johns and her husband moved to their current rural community 10 years ago. Dr. Johns' husband, a teacher by trade, has been unable to secure full-time employment because of the limited number of jobs available in their community. Instead, he helps Dr. Johns by dealing with all operational matters for her clinics. This includes negotiating leases, buying equipment and hiring staff so that Dr. Johns can focus on delivering medical services. The children are involved too; they developed and maintain the clinic website.
Over the last 10 years, he has also handled all matters related to the household, including raising their two children. Dr. Johns' children are now 18 and 19 years old and are both starting university in 2018. Dr. Johns, Mr. Johns and their children are shareholders of the medical professional corporation.
Because of the new changes, Dr. Johns worries that she will not be able to help her children pay for university. Dr. and Mr. Johns are now trying to decide if they should close the rural practice and move back to the city, where Mr. Johns could find employment to help pay for their children's education.
Scenario 2 illustrates how the proposed tax changes would affect a female pediatrician operating her practice through a corporation.
Scenario 2: Retirement
Dr. Grey is a 55-year-old pediatrician who operates her practice through a corporation. She is married and has two adult children. Her husband is a shareholder in the corporation. Her children are not.
After finishing medical school and her residency, she started practising when she was 30. She spent the next three years making minimum payments on her student loans so that she could save enough to finance her maternity leave. Between ages 33 and 35, she had two children and was unable to work. When she returned to work, her husband stopped working to raise the children and manage the household. By age 40 she had finally paid off her medical school debt, but she spent the next 15 years saving to pay for her children's education and supporting the family. As a result, Dr. Grey has not been able to save any money for retirement before now.
Dr. Grey has heard that her plans may be significantly impacted by the changes to both income splitting and passive investments. She has heard that existing portfolios of passive investments will be grandfathered, but she does not see how that will help her because she is only starting to save for retirement now.
As Dr. Grey's fees are set by the province she cannot increase the fees she charges to her patients and will therefore have to reduce costs, including staffing costs. Otherwise, she may never be able to retire comfortably.
Scenario 3: Married physician at an academic health science centre
Dr. Ritchie is an incorporated cardiologist working in an academic health science centre. Because of her sporadic schedule her husband is not able to work a traditional job. Instead, he manages the household, and when needed he helps with any administrative activities required for managing Dr. Ritchie's corporation. As Dr. Ritchie understands that medical research is not well funded in Canada, she donates $25,000 per year to her local research institute.
Dr. Ritchie currently takes an annual dividend of $135,000 out of her corporation and pays a dividend of $35,000 to her husband.
Under the proposed changes to income splitting, it is unclear what would be considered a "reasonable amount" that can be paid to Dr. Ritchie's husband for his contributions; therefore, Dr. Ritchie will have to take out all funds herself.
If the $35,000 typically paid to Dr. Ritchie's husband is now paid to her, the family tax liability will increase by $13,016/year. This means that if the family wants to have the same after-tax cash under the new rules, they will have to draw an additional $23,400 out of the corporation as dividends, increasing total dividends to $193,400.
To fund this additional outflow while still saving for retirement, Dr. Ritchie will have to reduce her practice's expenditures by an amount roughly equal to her annual medical research donation. She is strongly considering not making donations to medical research so that she can support her family.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors, representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in the country. With this brief, the CMA provides a portrait of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. A significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs).
Reflecting the significance of the CCPC framework to medical practice in Canada, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. However, the CMA has been concerned with some statements regarding the incorporation of professionals. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
Presented within this brief are the results of a survey undertaken by the CMA to explore physician incorporation. The survey was distributed to a sample of 25,000 physicians on Dec. 21, 2015 and closed on Jan. 8, 2016 with a response rate of 9%.
Among the key findings of the CMA's survey on incorporation was that more than 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they were incorporated and reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. Survey respondents confirmed that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary; where overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.
The results of the CMA's survey confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada's public health care system.
When asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework, a large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
This brief also highlights the policy imperative for extending incorporation to medical professionals. As captured in Ontario's 2000 budget document, it is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".1
Finally, the CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors. The CMA is the voluntary professional organization representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in Canada and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and more than 60 national medical organizations. The CMA's mission is helping physicians care for patients.
The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. As is discussed herein, a significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). As such, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%, as outlined in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.2
1) Most Physicians are Small Business Owners
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents to the CMA's survey indicated that they were incorporated; 81% indicated that they were incorporated individually while 4% indicated they were incorporated in a group. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 60% of physicians are incorporated.3
Physician-owned and run medical practices ensure that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible. In doing so, Canadian physicians are directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities.
Respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. In operating their medical practices, Canada's physicians rent, lease or own office space and further contribute to local economies through municipal taxes on these properties.
Like other self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, physicians are responsible for the provision of payroll taxes and benefits for their employees.
2) Increased Cost-Burden for Canada's Doctors
Canada's physicians face unique, additional financial and personal burdens in owning and operating medical practices in comparison with other small businesses. First, amongst Canada's small business owners4, Canada's physicians are highly skilled and trained professionals. On average, physicians enter the workforce at a later age with significant debt from education. The average age that family physicians enter practice is over 30 years and over 33 years for specialists.5
The 2013 National Physician Survey explored the issue of debt levels. It found that the proportion of medical students expecting debt of $100,000 or more doubled from 15% in 2004 to 30% in 2012.6 Further, a third of medical residents expect debt to be over $100,000 and 19% expect debt to exceed $160,000 before entering practice.7
For Canada's doctors, the high level of education-related debt and the later age they are able to initiate professional earnings represents a significant challenge for personal financial planning, notably retirement planning.
Second, it is not well known that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary. In addition to the expenses of running a medical practice, such as salaries and rent, physicians have a range of professional fees that are required by regulation to be submitted. According to the respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation, these overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.8
Finally, unlike most small business owners, as providers within a public health care systems, Canada's physicians cannot pass on any cost increases associated with operating their medical practice. The majority of physician remuneration in Canada is through "fee-for-service" systems9 whereby fees for insured physician services10 are set by the province following negotiations with the provincial medical association. Any increases in the cost of operating a medical practice, including changes in taxation, would be borne by the physician directly, as would the potential additional resource burden incurred in responding to a change to the CCPC regulatory framework. It is not surprising then that one study found that "high-income, self-employed physicians are much more sensitive to the marginal tax rate than would be suggested by previous labor-supply studies".11
The results of the CMA's survey on incorporation with respect to personal financial planning highlight the concerns associated with the unique burdens facing physicians in operating a medical practice. A strong majority (92%) of respondents rated the ability to save for retirement as very important for personal financial planning. A majority (61%) of respondents indicated the ability to pay off debt and half (50%) indicated the ability to manage practice overhead costs as very important for personal financial planning.
3) Role of Incorporation for Ensuring Tax Equity for Medical Professional
As reviewed above, in light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and small business owners. Like other small business owners, physicians do not have access to pension and health benefits, despite investing in local communities and providing employment. Unlike other small business owners, physicians commence professional income later in life and carry high debt levels associated with education and training. In light of these significant considerations, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for Canada's physicians.
In Canada, the 12 jurisdictions have extended the ability to incorporate to medical professionals. As stated in Ontario's 2000 budget document, the underlying policy purpose of extending incorporation to medical professionals is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".12
For self-employed professionals, incorporation offers many well recognized benefits. As highlighted by most taxation guidance, the application to the small business deduction and the ability to retain income in the corporation are significant benefits of incorporation for small businesses.13 For self-employed medical professionals without access to an employer pension or benefits, the ability to retain income in the corporation contributes to retirement and pension planning capabilities. Finally, the CCPC framework allows for income splitting with family members in almost all jurisdictions.
The CMA's survey on incorporation explored the benefits of the CCPC framework. The top rated benefit of incorporation was the ability for professional income to be taxed at the small business taxation rate, with 85% rating it as very important. In comparison, 60% of respondents indicated that income splitting with a family member was very important.
4) Changes to the CCPC Framework and Potential Unintended Consequences
As noted above, the federal government has committed to reducing the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. In recognition of the significant financial pressures managed by physicians owning and operating medical practices, the CMA strongly supports this commitment.
However, along with this commitment, the federal government has made concerning statements regarding professionals and the CCPC framework. While the federal government has not indicated a specific measure or timeline, the statements on their own have yielded significant uncertainty and concern. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
The CMA cannot emphasize enough the need for caution in considering changes to the CCPC framework. The CCPC framework and the ability of incorporated physicians to maintain access to the small business rate is fundamental to the business model for these medical practices. Changes to the framework could have real and far-reaching impacts. Beyond the immediate impact to a physician, employees of a medical practice, and the region the medical practice serves, depending on the scope of changes to the CCPC framework, impacts could be at the health-sector level, particularly in terms of shifting the delivery of care away from institutionalized care toward community-based care.
The physicians surveyed by the CMA were asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework. A large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
The responses to the CMA's survey on incorporation align with the limited research available on this issue. In a study that explored the interprovincial migration of physicians confirmed that "the differences in real income have a positive and significant effect on a physician's decision to migrate from one province to another".14 Another study that explored the impacts of taxation on physicians, noted that "it has been demonstrated in the literature that physicians in higher-tax states work less on average".15 These studies emphasize the potential for unintended consequences should changes to the CCPC framework impact physician medical practice.
As outlined in this brief, the majority of Canada's doctors are self-employed, highly skilled professionals providing a critical health care contribution in communities across the country. For these physicians, the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners. For the vast majority of incorporated physicians, the benefits of the CCPC framework are critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework.
In light of the intrinsic role of the CCPC framework to medical practice, and therefore the provision of medical care in Canada, the CMA encourages significant caution in considering any potential changes to this framework. The CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
2 Mandate Letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-small-business-and-tourism-mandate-letter
3 CMA. 2014. Environmental Scan.
4 Industry Canada. Key Small Business Statistics 2013 https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02814.html
5 Canadian Post M.D. Registry.
6 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
7 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
8 Alberta Medical Association. Setting the record straight on physician compensation. https://www.albertadoctors.org/Media%20PLs%202013/Feb1_2013_PL_Backgrounder.pdf and Ontario Medical Association. Payments to physicians and practice overhead expenses: separating facts from fiction in Ontario. https://www.oma.org/resources/documents/paymentsphysicians_pp18-19.pdf. and R.K. House & Associates Ltd. Executive Summary for the British Columbia Medical Association: 2005 Overhead Cost Study.
9 CIHI. Physicians in Canada, 2014: Summary Report. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Summary-PhysiciansInCanadaReport2014_EN-web.pdf
10 Health Canada. Canada Health Act Annual Report 2014-15. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/cha-lcs/2015-cha-lcs-ar-ra/index-eng.php
11 Mark H. Showalter and Norman K. Thurston. Taxes and labor supply of high-income physicians. Journal of Public Economics 66 (1997) 73-97.
12 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
13 Manulife. The Professional's Option - Professional Incorporation. https://repsourcepublic.manulife.com/wps/wcm/connect/02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575/ins_tepg_taxtopicproopt.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575
14 Michael Benarroch and Hugh Grant. The interprovincial migration of Canadian physicians: does income matter? Applied Economics, 2004, 36, 2335-2345.
15 Norman K. Thurston and Anne M. Libby. Taxes and Physicians Use of Ancillary Health Labor. The Journal of Human Resources, XXXV 2.