Good afternoon, I am Dr. Albert Schumacher, President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and a family physician from Windsor, Ontario. With me today is Dr. Todd Watkins, Director, Office of Professional Services at CMA and also a family physician.
It is estimated that some 4.5 million Canadians have had trouble finding a family doctor, while more than 3 million Canadians do not have regular access to one. Long waiting lists for consultations and specialized diagnostic and therapeutic procedures suggest there is a shortage of specialists.
Including time spent on call, Canada’s physicians worked an average of 70 to 80 hours a week.
Of the 21,000 physicians surveyed in the recently released National Physicians’ Survey, over a quarter said they plan to reduce their work week within the next two years. 60% of family doctors either limit the number of new patients they see or have closed their practices.
At the same time, the average age of physicians in Canada is 48 years with 32% 55 years of age or older. Almost 4000 physicians may retire in the next two years.
There is a “perfect storm” brewing in terms of health human resource in Canada.
The message I hope to leave with you today is that the valuable participation of International Medical Graduates (IMGs) in our medical workforce must be part of a coordinated pan-Canadian plan that strives to address the double imperatives of immigration policies that are fair and policies that in the short, medium and longer term will ensure greater self-sufficiency in the education and training of physicians in Canada.
Today I am going to focus on three things:
Number one: clarify some of the myths about IMGs in Canada;
Number two: stress the need for greater capacity in Canada’s medical education and training infrastructure; and
Lastly: emphasize the importance of a national standard for licensure.
There are a few myths that abound about IMGs in Canada. If you were to believe some of what you read or hear in the media you might gather that it is next to impossible for international medical graduates to enter the practice of medicine in Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As of last month, almost one quarter of the physicians working in our health care system received their medical degree in a country other than Canada. This proportion has declined by only 2% since the 1960s. Estimates peg the number of IMGs arriving in Canada with pre-arranged employment licensed to practice each year at 400. Quite simply, our health care system could not function without the critical contributions of qualified international medical graduates (IMGs).
Also, many IMGs access the postgraduate training system in Canada. As of December 2004 there were 316 IMGs who were either Canadian citizens or permanent residents in their first year of postgraduate residency training – this represents 15% of the total number of first-year trainees.
In the past few years only a few provinces have greatly expanded opportunities for assessing the clinical skills of IMGs and providing supplementary training and practice opportunities.
Just two weekends ago some 550 IMG’s participated in the Ontario Provincial IMG Clinical Assessment which was offered at four medical schools across the province. This will lead to some 200 IMGs being licensed to practice in Ontario. Other provinces have similar programs.
I would note that the initiatives of the federal government announced by the Honourable Hedy Fry in March 2004 have been very helpful in communicating information about and raising awareness of the requirements to practice medicine in Canada. Some $3 million announced at that time was provided to assist provinces and territories in assessing IMGs and will add at least 100 internationally trained physicians into the system.
I am optimistic that her continued collaborative efforts with the medical community will result in positive changes.
So, has Canada closed its borders to IMGs? Hardly. Can more be done to achieve fairness? Absolutely.
I can not stress strongly enough the need to increase the capacity of Canada’s undergraduate medical education and postgraduate training system.
There are some who think that the fastest and least expensive way of meeting our medical workforce requirements is to simply recruit medical graduates from other countries. In the short term this is a major part of the fix. It is, however, no substitute for a “made in Canada” solution for the long term.
As a long-term policy it fails to recognize the fact that the countries from which we poach these IMGs can ill afford to lose them.
We are simply not pulling our weight as a country in educating and training future physicians. As my predecessor, Dr. Sunil Patel told his Committee last April, in 2002 there were roughly 6.5 first year medical school places per 100,000 population in Canada – just over one-half of the UK’s rate of 12.2 per 100,000. The CMA has recommended a 2007 target of 2500 first year medical positions and at the moment we are tracking toward 2300.
Over reliance on IMGs also fails to appreciate the critical role played by Canada’s academic health science centres. These institutions have a three-fold mission of teaching, research and the provision of a great deal of patient care and these three components are inextricably linked.
Expanded capacity will work to the benefit of both Canadians aspiring to attain a medical education and IMGs. For example, in 2004 of the 657 IMGs entering second iteration of the residency match, just 87 or 13% were successful.
We need to expand capacity not only within academic health sciences centres themselves, but we need to recruit and support clinical teachers out in the community. This is crucial, especially for the IMG assessment programs now being rolled out.
But most importantly, an enhanced education and training infrastructure will help meet the future health needs of Canadians.
The goal that had been identified in the 2004 First Minister’s Agreement, specified $250 million a year beginning in 2009-10 through 2013-14 “primarily for health human resources” training and hiring. However, Bill C-39, which was recently tabled to implement provisions of the 10-year plan by creating the Wait Times Reduction Fund, falls short of what Canadians deserve and expect. Specifically, it stipulates theses dollars may be used for multiple purposes.
This failure to recognize the critical shortage of health care professionals by dedicating specific dollars to the issue now could mean the promised investments may never be made to enhance health human resources. The temptation will be to continue to rely on “beggar thy neighbour” policies. However, Canada can and must do better to pull its own weight.
Importance of a National Standard
As the national organization representing Canada’s physicians we have a direct interest in working with government to ensure Canadians have access to health care when they need it.
The CMA has a role in medical and health education in the accreditation of undergraduate medical education and the accreditation of the training programs of some 15 health disciplines.
However, the CMA is not a regulator. We do not grant credentials or license physicians.
Regulation of medicine falls under the purview of the provincial and territorial colleges of physicians and credentials are granted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College des Médecins du Quebec.
If medicine has a lesson to offer other professions and occupations it is in the value of having a national standard. While health is the constitutional responsibility of the provinces and territories, medicine has been able to realize a national standard for portable eligibility for licensure across Canada. Beginning in 1992 the basis for licensure in all provinces/territories except Quebec has been the successful completion of the two-part Qualifying Examination of the Medical Council of Canada plus certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The procedures in place in Quebec are very similar.
To be sure there can be interpretation around the application of the standard, but without a doubt it has provided a significant degree of transparency and uniformity about what is required to practice medicine in Canada.
This not only promotes a concordance between the programs offered by our 16 (soon to be 17) medical schools but also provides a basis for the assessment of international programs.
On this latter point, the Institute for International Medical Education has a database that contains information on more than 1,800 medical schools in 165 countries around the world.
During pre-budget hearings last fall, I submitted to the Standing Committee on Finance our plan to address health human resources shortages.
As was the case then, IMGs are a critical part of the CMA plan. A plan that has as its core the belief that Canada must adopt a policy of increased self-sufficiency in the production of physicians in Canada. This involves:
* increased opportunities for Canadians to pursue medical education in Canada;
* enhanced opportunities for practising physicians to return for additional training;
* strategies to retain physicians in practice and in Canada; and
* increased opportunities for IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada to access post-MD training leading to licensure/certification and the practice of medicine in Canada.
This set of imperatives needs to be balanced against a need for fairness. Fairness to ensure those who need to obtain further medical training are able to do so. And, fairness to young Canadians who deserve a chance to pursue a career in medicine.
I appreciate the opportunity of entering into a dialogue with members of the Committee and look forward to your questions. Thank you.
On behalf of 83,000 physician members, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce study on internal barriers to trade. For the purposes of this brief, an internal barrier to trade is any regulation or policy that restricts mobility or otherwise creates a perverse incentive for mobility.
Basic Facts on the Canadian Physician Workforce
The physician workforce in Canada has always been a mobile one. As of January 2016, just over one in four (26%) licensed physicians who graduated from one of Canada’s 17 medical schools was practising in a different province from the one where they obtained their medical degree.1 It might be added that only 8 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have medical schools. Another important dimension of mobility is the fact that Canada continues to rely to a significant degree on the medical services provided by International Medical Graduates (IMGs). Presently, IMGs represent 24% of practising physicians in Canada, and this figure has remained steady over the past two decades (and previously) despite significant increases in medical enrolment.1 A key reason for this dependence is that Canada trains fewer physicians relative to population than other developed countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2013, Canada ranked 28th out of 34 member countries in terms of medical graduates per 100,000 population; at 7.5 graduates per 100,000, Canada was one-third below the OECD average of 11.1.2 Another key consideration of the physician workforce in Canada is that beyond the tuition that medical students pay at the undergraduate level, it is virtually exclusively publicly funded. By way of illustration, in 2012, 99% of physician professional incomes came from the public purse in Canada, compared to an average of 72% for the 22 OECD countries for which data were available.3
1 Canadian Medical Association Physician Masterfile, January 2016.
2 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD Health Statistics, 2015. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=HEALTH_REAC. Accessed 05/05/16.
3 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD. Stat. Accessed 05/05/16.
4 Internal Trade Secretariat. Agreement on Internal Trade. http://www.ait-aci.ca/agreement-on-internal-trade/. Accessed 05/05/16.
5 Federation of Medical Licensing Authorities of Canada, Association of Canadian Medical Colleges, Medical Council of Canada. Licensure, postgraduate training and the Qualifying Examination. Can Med Assoc J 1992;146(3):345.
6 Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada. Model standards for medical registration in Canada. Ottawa, 2016.
7 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources. Report of the Canadian Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates. Ottawa, 2004.
8 Medical Council of Canada. Practice-ready assessment. http://mcc.ca/about/collaborations-and-special-projects/practice-ready-assessment/. Accessed 05/08/16.
9 Canadian Heritage. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/CH37-4-3-2002E.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
10 Canada. Canada Health Act R.S.C., 1985, c. C-6. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C-6.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
11 Canadian Institute for Health Informaiton. Prescribed drug spending in Canada, 2013: a focus on public drug programs. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Prescribed%20Drug%20Spending%20in%20Canada_2014_EN.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
National Standards for Eligibility for Licensure
The medical profession was well out in front of the 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and its objective in Chapter Seven of eliminating or reducing measures maintained by the provinces and territories that restrict or impair labour mobility in Canada.4 In 1992, the Federation of
Medical Licensing Authorities of Canada, the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges and the Medical Council of Canada adopted a standard for portable eligibility of licensure in all provinces except Quebec.5 When the AIT was revisited in the late 2000s, the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) worked on the development of an agreement on national standards that was endorsed in all jurisdictions in 2009. This has continued to evolve, and presently, the Model Standards for Medical Registration in Canada set out the:
. Canadian standard for full licensure;
. route from a provisional license to a full license (which would apply to most IMGs that do not come through the post-MD system in Canada); and
. requirements for provisional licensure.6
The result of this effort is that the number of different medical licences in Canada has been reduced from more than 140 to fewer than 5.
Since the early 2000s the federal government has played a strong leadership role in assisting the professions to come into compliance with the labour mobility provisions of the AIT. In the case of the medical profession, the key issue has been the mobility of IMGs. In 2002, the federally funded Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources established the Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates, which brought together representatives from national and provincial/territorial health ministries, medical regulatory and certifying bodies and medical schools with a mandate to aid in the integration of IMGs into the Canadian medical workforce. The recommendations in the 2004 final report of the Task Force essentially set out a workplan that has resulted in considerable progress on several initiatives.7
Federal funding through programs such as Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) Foreign Credential Recognition Program and Health Canada’s Internationally Educated Health Care Professional Program, in addition to significant investments by the medical bodies themselves, has contributed to several successful initiatives on the part of the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) and FMRAC and its provincial/territorial members. These have included:
. $3.5 million from Health Canada to MCC to develop programs to facilitate the integration of IMGs into the physician workforce such as the National Assessment Collaboration examination, a standardized examination that assesses the readiness of an IMG for entrance into the Canadian post-MD training system;
. $8.4 million from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada/ESDC to MCC to streamline and standardize the processes of application for medical licensure and to
develop physiciansapply.ca, a single electronic web-based application process for registration with each of the 13 medical regulatory authorities; and
. $6.7 million from ESDC to MCC to develop a more flexible MCC Qualifying Examination Part I that can be administered internationally, which will enable IMGs thinking of immigrating to Canada to assess whether they have one of the requirements for full licensure.
The work to date has contributed significantly to the integration of IMGs but much remains to be done. Many IMGs enter practice in Canada without entering the post-MD system through a process of provisional licensure. One process that jurisdictions have developed over the past decade to facilitate this route to practice is called Practice Ready Assessment (PRA). PRA is an assessment process to determine if an IMG is able to provide safe medical care to the Canadian public under provisional licensure. This consists of a period of practice under supervised direct observation of a licensed physician in a clinical setting with patients. This has the advantage of expediting the process of assessment to approximately 12 weeks versus 2+ years in a residency program. To the present, PRA programs have been developing in a non-standardized way across jurisdictions. With support from Health Canada, an initiative is underway at the MCC with collaboration from FMRAC, the regulatory bodies, the certifying colleges and provincial IMG assessment programs to develop a pan-Canadian PRA program.8 The goal of this program is to address pan-Canadian specialty areas of need, including family medicine, psychiatry and internal medicine. The elements of this program will include:
. IMG candidate orientation to the Canadian health care context;
. identification of core competency for each specialty;
. clinical assessor training;
. standardized assessment tools; and
This initiative is presently in the implementation phase, and the plan includes development of additional work-based assessment tools.i
i For further information contact MCC – www.mcc.ca or FMRAC – www.fmrac.ca
Recommendation one: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government continue to support the Medical Council of Canada and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada in the implementation of a pan-Canadian Practice Ready Assessment Program for International Medical Graduates and the development of work-based assessment tools.
Mobility and Medicare
The right of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to move freely and pursue a livelihood in any jurisdiction is set out in the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.9 This is supported in the objectives of the AIT that refer to an “open domestic market” and “free movement of persons”. 4
This is certainly the spirit in which Canada’s Medicare program was established, beginning in the 1950s, and which has now come to be regarded as a much-cherished basic right by Canadians. The preamble of the 1984 Canada Health Act (CHA) includes the objective “to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers”, and portability of health insurance from one jurisdiction to another is one of five criteria for eligibility for federal funding (subject to a three month waiting period in which benefits are paid for by the originating jurisdiction).10 However, the letter of the CHA defines insured health services as “hospital services, physician services and surgical-dental services provided to insured services”10 and that is how it continues to be interpreted by the provinces and territories. An issue that has been identified in many recent reports is the uneven access to prescription drugs. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has estimated that in 2014, the federal and provincial governments accounted for 42% of prescription drug spending, with the majority accounted for by private insurance (36%) or out-of-pocket (22%) spending.11
There is wide variation in public per capita spending on prescription drugs across the provinces. In 2015, CIHI has estimated that expenditure ranged from $219 in British Columbia and $256 in Prince Edward Island (PEI) to $369 in Saskatchewan and $441 in Quebec.12 Even more striking variation is evident when looking at household out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs by income quintile. Statistics Canada’s 2014 Survey of Household Spending shows that the poorest one-fifth (lowest income quintile) of PEI households spent more than twice as much ($645) on prescription drugs than the poorest one-fifth in Ontario ($300).13 Aside from overall differences in public spending, there are also differences in which drugs are covered, particularly in the case of cancer drugs. For example, the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada reported in 2014 that in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, cancer drugs that must be taken in a hospital setting and are on the provincial formulary are fully funded by the provincial government; if the drug is taken outside of hospital (oral or injectable), however, the patient and family may have to pay significant costs out-of-pocket.14 More generally, the Canadian Cancer Society has reported that persons moving from one province to another may find that a drug covered in their former province may not be covered in the new one. 15
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Database 1975 to 2015. Table A.3.1.1. https://www.cihi.ca/en/spending-and-health-workforce/spending/national-health-expenditure-trends. Accessed 05/08/14.
13 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 2013-0026 Survey of household spending (SHS), household spending, by age of reference person. Accessed 03/27/16.
14 Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada. 2014-15 Report Card on Cancer in Canada. http://www.canceradvocacy.ca/reportcard/2014/Report%20Card%20on%20Cancer%20in%20Canada%202014-2015.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
15 Canadian Cancer society. Cancer drug access for Canadians. http://www.colorectal-cancer.ca/IMG/pdf/cancer_drug_access_report_en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
16 Ipsos Reid. Supplementary health benefits research. Final report, 2012.
17 Conference Board of Canada. Federal policy action to support the health care needs of Canada’s aging population. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/conference-board-rep-sept-2015-embargo-en.pdf. Accessed 05/08/16.
18 Hall E. Canada’s national-provincial health program for the 1980’s ‘A commitment for renewal’. 1980.
19 Canada. Statutes of Canada 2012 Chapter 19. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/2012_19.pdf.
20 Canadian Medical Association. Submission to the Minister of Finance: Small Business Perspectives of Medical Practice in Canada. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/cma-brief-medical-practice-as-small-business-march-17-2016.pdf
Another consequence of the “patchwork quilt” of prescription drug coverage in Canada is the potential for “job lock” among those with employer sponsored benefits. Research carried out by Ipsos Reid for the CMA in 2012 among Canadian adults found that 51% of respondents had employer-sponsored supplementary benefits, with almost all of them reporting prescription drug coverage. Among those with employer benefits, just over four in 10 (42%) indicated that their employer benefits program would be a factor in whether or not they would switch jobs.16
Uneven access to and coverage of prescription drugs across Canada raises two concerns with respect to population mobility. On one hand, there could be a temptation to move to another jurisdiction with better access and coverage, and on the other, there could be a reluctance to move to another jurisdiction for fear of lesser access and coverage. Uncertainty about health care coverage should not be a factor in Canadians’ decisions about where they choose to live and work.
One concrete step that the federal government could take to mitigate these concerns would be to introduce a program of drug coverage that would cap high out-of-pocket drug costs for individual Canadians. In 2015, the Conference Board of Canada conducted research for the CMA to estimate the cost of a drug program that would cover prescription drug costs that are greater than either $1,500 per year or 3% of household income (so-called catastrophic costs). They estimated that this would cost the federal government $1.6 billion in 2016.17
Recommendation two: As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government establish a new program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication.
The Canada Health Act and Physician Mobility
In his 1979 review of the Medicare program that led to the CHA, Justice Emmett Hall clearly recognized the power imbalance of the shift to an exclusive public payer for physician services, stating “I reject totally the idea that physicians must accept what any given Province may decide unilaterally to pay. I reject too, as I did in the report of the Royal Commission, the concept of extra-billing.”
Justice Hall’s recommended solution to this imbalance was provision for that “when negotiations fail and an impasse occurs, the issues in dispute must be sent to binding arbitration, to an arbitration board consisting of three persons, with an independent chairperson to be named by the chief justice of the relevant Province and one nominee from the profession and one from the Government”.18
Provision for reasonable compensation was built into the CHA in sections 12 (1) and (2). In most jurisdictions, bargaining disputes between the government and the medical association over
the amounts that physicians should be paid are subject to a binding dispute resolution mechanism that includes some form of arbitration, as Justice Hall envisioned. However, in Ontario, the physicians have been without a contract since March 31, 2014, and Nova Scotia has given Royal Assent to, but not yet proclaimed the Public Services Sustainability (2015) Act, which suspends the right of the medical association (Doctors Nova Scotia) to arbitration.
As noted in the basic facts enumerated above, Canadian physicians are highly mobile, but they should not be motivated to move on the basis of unfair treatment by the government, as is currently the case in Ontario. There is recent precedent for amending the CHA. In 2012, the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act amended the CHA to remove members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the list of exclusions of insured persons.19
Recommendation three: The Canadian Medical Association recommends that Section 12(2) of the Canada Health Act be amended to require:
(a) Provincial and territorial governments to enter into an agreement with the provincial/territorial organization(s) that represent(s) practising medical practitioners in the province; and
(b) The settlement of disputes relating to compensation through, at the option of the provincial/territorial organization(s) referred to in paragraph (a), conciliation or binding arbitration that is equally representative of the provincial/territorial organization(s) and the province/territory and that has an independent chairperson, to satisfy the “reasonable compensation” criterion in s. 12(1)(c) of the Act for full federal funding.
Incorporation Eligibility and Access to the Small Business Deduction
A significant proportion of Canada’s physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). The ability to incorporate and access to the small business taxation rate play an important role in the allocation of resources in Canada’s health care system.
As explained in the CMA’s recent submission to the Minister of Finance20, incorporation eligibility for medical professionals has been advanced by provincial governments to support the achievement of health policy objectives and, in part, to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals.
The CMA strongly welcomed the federal government’s recognition in the budget of the contribution of health care practitioners as small businesses. However, the CMA has significant concerns with the proposed amendments (clause 54 of the Notice of Ways and Means Motion
to Amend the Income Tax Act and Other Tax Legislation) to alter eligibility to the small business deduction. It is not clear whether these measures will impact group medical structures.
The results of a recent survey by the CMA of its membership confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and is critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada’s public health care system. Of significance to the committee’s study on internal trade, approximately 26% of survey respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to relocate to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%) if they were no longer able to incorporate under the CCPC framework.
Recommendation four: Given the potential for negative unintended consequences, such as rendering group medical structures economically unviable or introducing perverse incentives for mobility, particularly out of country, the Canadian Medical Association strongly encourages the federal government to provide clarification regarding the 2016 budget measures with regard to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation framework.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors, representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in the country. With this brief, the CMA provides a portrait of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. A significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs).
Reflecting the significance of the CCPC framework to medical practice in Canada, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. However, the CMA has been concerned with some statements regarding the incorporation of professionals. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
Presented within this brief are the results of a survey undertaken by the CMA to explore physician incorporation. The survey was distributed to a sample of 25,000 physicians on Dec. 21, 2015 and closed on Jan. 8, 2016 with a response rate of 9%.
Among the key findings of the CMA's survey on incorporation was that more than 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they were incorporated and reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. Survey respondents confirmed that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary; where overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.
The results of the CMA's survey confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada's public health care system.
When asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework, a large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
This brief also highlights the policy imperative for extending incorporation to medical professionals. As captured in Ontario's 2000 budget document, it is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".1
Finally, the CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors. The CMA is the voluntary professional organization representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in Canada and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and more than 60 national medical organizations. The CMA's mission is helping physicians care for patients.
The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. As is discussed herein, a significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). As such, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%, as outlined in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.2
1) Most Physicians are Small Business Owners
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents to the CMA's survey indicated that they were incorporated; 81% indicated that they were incorporated individually while 4% indicated they were incorporated in a group. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 60% of physicians are incorporated.3
Physician-owned and run medical practices ensure that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible. In doing so, Canadian physicians are directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities.
Respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. In operating their medical practices, Canada's physicians rent, lease or own office space and further contribute to local economies through municipal taxes on these properties.
Like other self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, physicians are responsible for the provision of payroll taxes and benefits for their employees.
2) Increased Cost-Burden for Canada's Doctors
Canada's physicians face unique, additional financial and personal burdens in owning and operating medical practices in comparison with other small businesses. First, amongst Canada's small business owners4, Canada's physicians are highly skilled and trained professionals. On average, physicians enter the workforce at a later age with significant debt from education. The average age that family physicians enter practice is over 30 years and over 33 years for specialists.5
The 2013 National Physician Survey explored the issue of debt levels. It found that the proportion of medical students expecting debt of $100,000 or more doubled from 15% in 2004 to 30% in 2012.6 Further, a third of medical residents expect debt to be over $100,000 and 19% expect debt to exceed $160,000 before entering practice.7
For Canada's doctors, the high level of education-related debt and the later age they are able to initiate professional earnings represents a significant challenge for personal financial planning, notably retirement planning.
Second, it is not well known that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary. In addition to the expenses of running a medical practice, such as salaries and rent, physicians have a range of professional fees that are required by regulation to be submitted. According to the respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation, these overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.8
Finally, unlike most small business owners, as providers within a public health care systems, Canada's physicians cannot pass on any cost increases associated with operating their medical practice. The majority of physician remuneration in Canada is through "fee-for-service" systems9 whereby fees for insured physician services10 are set by the province following negotiations with the provincial medical association. Any increases in the cost of operating a medical practice, including changes in taxation, would be borne by the physician directly, as would the potential additional resource burden incurred in responding to a change to the CCPC regulatory framework. It is not surprising then that one study found that "high-income, self-employed physicians are much more sensitive to the marginal tax rate than would be suggested by previous labor-supply studies".11
The results of the CMA's survey on incorporation with respect to personal financial planning highlight the concerns associated with the unique burdens facing physicians in operating a medical practice. A strong majority (92%) of respondents rated the ability to save for retirement as very important for personal financial planning. A majority (61%) of respondents indicated the ability to pay off debt and half (50%) indicated the ability to manage practice overhead costs as very important for personal financial planning.
3) Role of Incorporation for Ensuring Tax Equity for Medical Professional
As reviewed above, in light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and small business owners. Like other small business owners, physicians do not have access to pension and health benefits, despite investing in local communities and providing employment. Unlike other small business owners, physicians commence professional income later in life and carry high debt levels associated with education and training. In light of these significant considerations, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for Canada's physicians.
In Canada, the 12 jurisdictions have extended the ability to incorporate to medical professionals. As stated in Ontario's 2000 budget document, the underlying policy purpose of extending incorporation to medical professionals is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".12
For self-employed professionals, incorporation offers many well recognized benefits. As highlighted by most taxation guidance, the application to the small business deduction and the ability to retain income in the corporation are significant benefits of incorporation for small businesses.13 For self-employed medical professionals without access to an employer pension or benefits, the ability to retain income in the corporation contributes to retirement and pension planning capabilities. Finally, the CCPC framework allows for income splitting with family members in almost all jurisdictions.
The CMA's survey on incorporation explored the benefits of the CCPC framework. The top rated benefit of incorporation was the ability for professional income to be taxed at the small business taxation rate, with 85% rating it as very important. In comparison, 60% of respondents indicated that income splitting with a family member was very important.
4) Changes to the CCPC Framework and Potential Unintended Consequences
As noted above, the federal government has committed to reducing the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. In recognition of the significant financial pressures managed by physicians owning and operating medical practices, the CMA strongly supports this commitment.
However, along with this commitment, the federal government has made concerning statements regarding professionals and the CCPC framework. While the federal government has not indicated a specific measure or timeline, the statements on their own have yielded significant uncertainty and concern. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
The CMA cannot emphasize enough the need for caution in considering changes to the CCPC framework. The CCPC framework and the ability of incorporated physicians to maintain access to the small business rate is fundamental to the business model for these medical practices. Changes to the framework could have real and far-reaching impacts. Beyond the immediate impact to a physician, employees of a medical practice, and the region the medical practice serves, depending on the scope of changes to the CCPC framework, impacts could be at the health-sector level, particularly in terms of shifting the delivery of care away from institutionalized care toward community-based care.
The physicians surveyed by the CMA were asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework. A large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
The responses to the CMA's survey on incorporation align with the limited research available on this issue. In a study that explored the interprovincial migration of physicians confirmed that "the differences in real income have a positive and significant effect on a physician's decision to migrate from one province to another".14 Another study that explored the impacts of taxation on physicians, noted that "it has been demonstrated in the literature that physicians in higher-tax states work less on average".15 These studies emphasize the potential for unintended consequences should changes to the CCPC framework impact physician medical practice.
As outlined in this brief, the majority of Canada's doctors are self-employed, highly skilled professionals providing a critical health care contribution in communities across the country. For these physicians, the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners. For the vast majority of incorporated physicians, the benefits of the CCPC framework are critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework.
In light of the intrinsic role of the CCPC framework to medical practice, and therefore the provision of medical care in Canada, the CMA encourages significant caution in considering any potential changes to this framework. The CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
2 Mandate Letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-small-business-and-tourism-mandate-letter
3 CMA. 2014. Environmental Scan.
4 Industry Canada. Key Small Business Statistics 2013 https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02814.html
5 Canadian Post M.D. Registry.
6 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
7 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
8 Alberta Medical Association. Setting the record straight on physician compensation. https://www.albertadoctors.org/Media%20PLs%202013/Feb1_2013_PL_Backgrounder.pdf and Ontario Medical Association. Payments to physicians and practice overhead expenses: separating facts from fiction in Ontario. https://www.oma.org/resources/documents/paymentsphysicians_pp18-19.pdf. and R.K. House & Associates Ltd. Executive Summary for the British Columbia Medical Association: 2005 Overhead Cost Study.
9 CIHI. Physicians in Canada, 2014: Summary Report. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Summary-PhysiciansInCanadaReport2014_EN-web.pdf
10 Health Canada. Canada Health Act Annual Report 2014-15. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/cha-lcs/2015-cha-lcs-ar-ra/index-eng.php
11 Mark H. Showalter and Norman K. Thurston. Taxes and labor supply of high-income physicians. Journal of Public Economics 66 (1997) 73-97.
12 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
13 Manulife. The Professional's Option - Professional Incorporation. https://repsourcepublic.manulife.com/wps/wcm/connect/02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575/ins_tepg_taxtopicproopt.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575
14 Michael Benarroch and Hugh Grant. The interprovincial migration of Canadian physicians: does income matter? Applied Economics, 2004, 36, 2335-2345.
15 Norman K. Thurston and Anne M. Libby. Taxes and Physicians Use of Ancillary Health Labor. The Journal of Human Resources, XXXV 2.