The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission. It provides recommendations to address major pan-Canadian challenges to the health of Canadians: improve how we provide care to our growing elderly population; improve access to primary care across the country; increase digital health literacy to take advantage of the benefits of new health information technologies; and better prepare for and mitigate the health impacts of a changing climate on Canadians.
Health systems across the country are currently struggling to meet the needs of our aging population. People aged 85 years and over—many of whom are frail—make up the fastest growing age group in Canadai.
Provincial and territorial health care systems (as well as care systems for populations falling under federal jurisdiction) are facing many challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. Canadians support a strong role for the federal government in leading a national seniors strategy and working with the provinces to ensure that all Canadians have the same level of access and quality of services, no matter where they live.
The 2017 federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement involving $6 billion over 10 years to improve access to home care services is a welcomed building block. But without greater investment in seniors care, health systems will not keep up. To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population. This includes recognizing the increased role for patients and their caregivers in the care process.
The federal government must ensure transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Health transfers are estimated to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.ii
The federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.iii
Providing care often comes with a financial cost such as lost income due to the caregiver’s withdrawal from the workforce to provide care. There are also increasing out-of-pocket costs for both caregivers and care receivers for health care-related expenses—privately covered expenditures on home and long-term care for seniors are projected to grow by an average of 5.8 per cent annually—nearly 1.5 times the pace of household disposable income growth. While the federal government offers tax credits that can be claimed by care receivers/caregivers, they are significantly under-utilized. While representing a significant proportion of caregivers, those with low or no income receive little to no federal government support through these programs. Middle-income earners also receive less than those earning high incomes.
The federal government create a Seniors Care Benefit that would be an easier, fairer and more effective way to support caregivers and care receivers alike.iv
Access to Care
Since the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial/territorial governments (FPT) have provided sustained leadership in promoting and supporting the transformation of primary care in Canada. In 2000, the First Ministers concluded the first of three Health Accords in which they agreed to promote the establishment of primary health care teamsv supported by a $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund (PHCTF) funded by the federal government, but jointly governed. The PHCTF resulted in large-scale sustained change in primary care delivery models in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta with interest in other jurisdictions as well.
However, the job is far from finished. Across Canada, access to primary care is challenging for many Canadians with a persistent shortage of family physicians. In 2017, 4.7 million Canadians aged 12+ reported they did not have a regular health care provider.vi Even those who have a regular provider experience wait time issues.
There has been widespread interest in primary care models since the development of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s (CFPC) vision document Family Practice: The Patient’s Medical Home (PMH), initially launched in 2011vii and recently re-launched.viii The model is founded on 10 pillars depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Patient’s Medical Home, 2019
The updated model places increased emphasis on team-based care and introduces the concept of the patient’s medical neighborhood that sets out connections between the primacy care practice and all delivery points in the surrounding community. While comprehensive baseline data are lacking, it seems
safe to conjecture that most Canadians are not enrolled in a primary care model that would measure up to the model’s 10 pillars.
The federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, establish a targeted fund in the amount of $1.2 billion to support a new time-limited Primary Health Care Transition Fund that would build on the success of the fund launched in 2000 with the goal of widely introducing a sustainable medical home model across jurisdictions. This would include the following key elements:
Age-sex-weighted per capita allocation across the provinces and territories;
Joint governance of the FPT governments with meaningful stakeholder engagement;
Respect for the Canada Health Act principles;
Common objectives (e.g., modeled on the CFPC Patient’s Medical Home framework);
Canada and most industrialized countries will experience a digital health revolution over the next decade with great potential to improve patient and population health. Digital health can be described as the integration of the electronic collection and compilation of health data, decision support tools and analytics with the use of audio, video and other technologies to deliver preventive, diagnostic and treatment services that promote patient and population health.
While most Canadian physicians’ offices and health care facilities are now using some form of electronic record keeping and most households have internet access, there remains a large deficit in using virtual care, both within jurisdictions and across provincial/territorial boundaries. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify opportunities for digital health to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required for physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial/territorial boundaries.
To take full advantage of digital health capabilities it will be essential for the population to have a functional level of digital health literacy: the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.ix This also includes the capability of communicating about one’s health to health care professionals (e.g., e-consults), self-monitoring health (e.g., patient portals) and receiving treatment online (e.g., Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy).x
There are no current data available on health literacy in Canada, let alone digital health literacy. One basic barrier to achieving digital health literacy is access to, and usage of the Internet, which has been termed the “digital divide” (e.g., older Canadians and low income households are less likely to have Internet access).Error! Bookmark not defined.
In 2001 the federal government established the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Its mandate includes informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities in dealing with financial institutions and providing information and tools to help consumers understand and shop for financial products and services.xi In 2014 the FCAC appointed a Financial Literacy Leader who has focused on financial literacy, including activities such as conducting financial capability surveys and the development of a National Strategy for Financial Literacy.xii
Considering the anticipated growth of digital/virtual care it would be desirable to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy could serve as a template for digital health literacy.
The federal government establish a Digital Health Literacy Secretariat to:
Develop indicators and conducting surveys to measure and track the digital health literacy of Canadians;
Develop tools that can be used both by Canadians and their health care providers to enhance their digital health literacy; and
Assess and make recommendations on the “digital divide” that may exist among some population sub-groups due to a lack of access to information technology and lower digital health literacy.
Climate Change and Health
Climate change is the public health imperative of our time. There is a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate. A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate: 79% were convinced that climate change is happening, and of these, 53% accepted that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution and climate change as one of the biggest threats to global health. Health care professionals see first-hand the devastating health impacts of our changing climate including increased deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution and increased heat-related conditions. Impacts are most common in vulnerable populations such as adults over 65 years, the homeless, urban dwellers and people with a pre-existing disease.
Canada’s health care system is already treating the health effects of climate change. A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of Canada’s health system, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services, not to mention the economic and social costs. The federal government must provide leadership to deal with the impact already being felt in Canada and around the world.
The federal government make strong commitments to minimize the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians by:
Ensuring pan-Canadian and inter-jurisdictional coordination to standardize surveillance and reporting of climate-related health impacts such as heat-related deaths, develop knowledge translation strategies to inform the public, and generate clinical and public health response plans that minimize the health impacts;
Increasing funding for research on the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities; and
Ensuring funding is provided to the health sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency (i.e., risk assessments, readiness to manage disease outbreaks, sustainable practice).
i Statistics Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2014: Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/chang-eng.php; (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
ii The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018.
iii Canadian Medical Association. Meeting the demographic challenge: Investments in seniors care. Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. August 3, 2018. https://policybase.cma.ca/documents/Briefpdf/BR2018-16.pdf
iv The Conference Board of Canada. Measures to Better Support Seniors and Their Caregivers. March 2019. https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/health-advocacy/Measures-to-better-support-seniors-and-their-caregivers-e.pdf
v Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. News release – First Ministers’ meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-first-ministers-meeting-communique-on-health/. Accessed 04/22/19.
vi Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.pdf?st=NGPiUkM5. Accessed 04/21/19.
vii College of Family Physicians of Canada. A vision for Canada. Family Practice: the patient’s medical home. http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/Resource_Items/PMH_A_Vision_for_Canada.pdf. Accessed 04/22/19.
viii College of Family Physicians of Canada. The patient’s medical home 2019. https://patientsmedicalhome.ca/files/uploads/PMH_VISION2019_ENG_WEB_2.pdf. Accessed 04/21/19.
ix Norman C, Skinner H. eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9. Doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9.
x Van der Vaart R, Drossaert C. Development of the digital health literacy instrument: measuring a broad spectrum of health 1.0 and health 2.0 skills. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(1):e27. Doi:10.2196/jmir.6709.
xi Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. About FCAC.
xii Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. National Strategy for Financial Literacy. Phase 1: strengthening seniors’ financial literacy. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/financial-consumer-agency/migration/eng/financialliteracy/financialliteracycanada/documents/seniorsstrategyen.pdf. Accessed 06/24/19. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/corporate/about.html. Accessed 07/01/19.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA is pleased that the House of Commons has made Bill C-462 a priority. This bill is an important step toward addressing the unintended consequences that have emerged from the Disability Tax Credit since 2005.
Part 2: Issues to be addressed
In 2005, the Disability Tax Credit was expanded to allow individuals to back-file for up to 10 years. While this was a welcome tax measure for individuals with disabilities, the CMA has been urging the Canada Revenue Agency to address the numerous unintended consequences that have emerged. Central among these has been the emergence of a "cottage industry" of third-party companies engaged in a number of over-reaching tactics. The practices of these companies have included aggressive promotional activities to seek and encourage individuals to file the Disability Tax Credit. The primary driver behind these tactics is profit; some companies are charging fees of up to 40 per cent of an individual's refund when the tax credit is approved.
Further to targeting a vulnerable population, these activities have yielded an increase in the quantity of Disability Tax Credit forms in physician offices and contributed to red tape in the health sector. In some cases, third parties have placed physicians in an adversarial position with their patients. We are pleased that this bill attempts to address the concerns we have raised.
The CMA supports Bill C-462 as a necessary measure to address the issues that have emerged since the changes to the Disability Tax Credit in 2005. However, to avoid additional unintended consequences, the CMA recommends that the Finance Committee address three issues prior to advancing Bill C-462.
First, as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services. Such fees are subject to guidelines and oversight by provincial and territorial medical regulatory colleges (see Appendix 1: CMA Policy on Third Party Forms: The Physician Role).
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
* Amend the definition of "promoters" under section 2 to exclude "a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
* If the committee imports the term "person" from the Income Tax Act, then the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, "Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
Second, the CMA is concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form (Form T2201) be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form T2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit, and explicitly indicate there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to the CRA.
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
* Recommend that the Canada Revenue Agency undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is more informative, accessible and user-friendly for patients.
Finally, the CMA recommends that a privacy assessment be undertaken before the bill moves forward in the legislative process. It appears that, as written, Bill C-462 would authorize the inter-departmental sharing of personal information. The CMA raises this issue for consideration because protecting the privacy of patient information is a key duty of a physician under the CMA Code of Ethics.
Part 3: Closing
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to address these issues to ensure that Bill C-462 resolves existing problems with the Disability Tax Credit while not introducing new ones. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Finance Committee's study of this bill and, with the amendments outlined herein, supports its passage.
Summary of Recommendations
The definition of "promoters" under section 2 of Bill C-462 should be amended to exclude "a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
If the Committee imports the definition of "persons" from the Income Tax Act, the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, "Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment."
The Canada Revenue Agency should undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is informative, accessible and user-friendly.
Prior to advancing in the legislative process, Bill C-462 should undergo a privacy assessment.
In 2010, physician delegates to the CMA's annual General Council voted in favour of a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches in Canada. The CMA's complete policy on head injury and sport, the central concern of physicians with respect to mixed martial arts, is attached as an appendix to this brief. A key recommendation in this policy is that physicians discourage participation in sports in which intentional trauma to the head and body is the objective of the sport, as is the case with mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA prize fighting, like commercial boxing, is distinct from healthy sport because the basic tenet is to win by deliberately incapacitating one's opponent through violent bodily assault. Professional fighters train in different martial arts disciplines in order to develop the widest possible set of fighting techniques. Blows delivered by hands, feet, elbows and knees are entirely permissible.1 "Bouts" are won in a number of ways that include deliberate head injury such as knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO). Physician and referee stoppage are recognized as a necessary option for the declaration of a winner in order to prevent continued violence.4; 5
Despite the introduction of rules and regulations meant to ensure fighter safety, MMA is a violent sport with a high risk of injury. Publications seem to indicate that the overall injury rate in professional MMA competitions ranges approximately from 23 to 28 injuries per 100 fight participations, which is similar to that found in other combat sports involving striking, including boxing.1; 5; 7 Organizers support the rules because they realize that prize fighting can't be sustained as a business if the fighters are unable to return to the ring.
The injuries vary in severity but include many types of head injury: ocular injuries, such as rupture of the bony orbit or of the eye itself; facial injuries including fractures; spine injuries; concussion; and tympanic membrane ruptures.2, 6, 7
Most sanctioned matches end in a submission, judge's decision or referee/physician stoppage, as opposed to KO or TKO. It is important to note that the overall risk of critical injury, defined as a persistent acquired brain injury, permanent blindness, permanent functional loss of limb or paralysis, appears to be low. The ability of referees to intercede and for fighters to voluntarily concede victory to their opponents, as well as the presence of physicians at the ringside, are all thought to play a role in minimizing the risk of critical injury.7
The risk of traumatic brain injury and concussion nevertheless remains one of the chief concerns with respect to MMA. KO rates are thought to be lower in professional MMA events than in similar boxing competitions, but it is not clear why. It is well known that knockouts are the result of brain injury4 and at least one study reported that blunt trauma to the head was a common reason for match stoppage. One study reported a severe concussion rate of 16.5 per 100 fighter participations (3.3% of all matches). 6 Regrettably, as in other combat sports, long-term follow-up of players is insufficient to measure how often head injury leads to permanent brain damage.1, 3
Whether you defend or condemn MMA, the true nature and rate of severe brain injuries is speculative.6 Similarly, the absence of longitudinal studies means that the true long-term health implications of MMA fighting can only be surmised.
Risk factors for injury
Unsurprisingly, losing fighters are at a considerably greater risk for sustaining injury. It is notable that fighters losing by KO or TKO appear to have a higher overall incidence of injury.4 An increased duration of fighting is associated with an increased incidence of injury.3, 5 However, it remains unclear how age and fight experience contribute to the risk for sustaining injury.2, 3, 4 It appears that fighters with head injury continue to fight and sustain further injury, head injury being more clearly associated with injury than are either inexperience or age.
Despite the sport's growing popularity, professional MMA competitions are currently illegal in Canada. Indeed, section 83(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that only boxing matches, where only fists are used, are legal. However, the governments of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have regulated/licensed MMA through athletic governing commissions, effectively circumventing the Criminal Code. The legality of the sport in New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia currently varies by municipality.
The CMA recommends that Section 83(2) of the Criminal Code, the ban on mixed martial arts, be maintained in its current form.
The CMA recommends that the federal government undertake further research on head injuries and concussion in Canada, including expanding current surveillance tools for the incidence of these injuries.
1. Bledsoe, G. H. (2009). Mixed martial arts. In R. Kordi, N. Maffulli, R. R. Wroble, & W. A. Angus (Eds.), Combat Sports Medicine (1st ed., pp. 323-330). London: Springer.
2. Buse, G. J. (2006). No holds barred sport fighting: A 10 year review of mixed martial arts competition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(2),169-172.
3. Bledsoe, G. H., Hsu, E. B., Grabowski, J. G., Brill, J. D., & Li, G. (2006). Incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5(Combat Sports Special Issue), 136-142.
4. Walrod, B. (2011). Current review of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 10(5), 288-289.
5. Unified Fighting Championship. (n.d.). Unified rules and other important regulations of mixed martial arts. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations
6. Ngai, K. M., Levy, F., & Hsu, E. B. (2008). Injury trends in sanctioned mixed martial arts competition: A 5-year review from 2002 to 2007. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(8), 686-689.
7. Scoggin III, J. F., Brusovanik, G., Pi, M., Izuka, B., Pang, P., Tokomura, S. et al. (2010). Assessment of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. American Journal of Orthopedics, 39(5), 247-251.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding income inequality in Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Income inequality is a growing problem in Canada. According to a Conference Board of Canada report, high income Canadians have seen their share of income increase since 1990 while the poorest and even the middle-income groups have lost income share. In 2010 the top quintile of earners accounted for 39.1% of Canadian income while the bottom quintile only accounted for 7.3%. These numbers led to a ranking for Canada of 12 out of 17 among other high income countries in terms of income inequality.1 Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has largely confirmed these results.2
Part 2: Why Income Inequality Matters to Canadian Physicians
The issue of income inequality is an important one for Canada's physicians. As physicians, we are not the experts in housing, in early childhood development, income equality and so on. But we are the experts in recognizing the impact of these factors on the health of our patients.
Hundreds of research papers have confirmed that people in the lowest socio-economic groups carry the greatest burden of illness.3 In 2001, people in the neighbourhoods with the highest 20% income lived about three years longer than those in the poorest 20% neighbourhoods.4 Mental health is affected as well. Suicide rates in the lowest income neighbourhoods are almost twice as high as in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.5
Studies suggest that adverse socio-economic conditions in childhood can be a greater predictor of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults than later life circumstances and behavioural choices.6
Finally, the countries reporting the highest population health status are those with the greatest income equality, not the greatest wealth.7
These differences in health outcomes have an impact on the health care system. Most major diseases including heart disease and mental illness follow a social gradient with those in lowest socio-economic groups having the greatest burden of illness.8 Those within the lowest socio-economic status groups are 1.4 times more likely to have a chronic disease, and 1.9 times more likely to be hospitalized for care of that disease.9
Income plays a role in access to appropriate health care as well. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, younger adults and men are less likely to have primary care physicians than their counterparts.10 Women and men from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to report difficulties making appointments with their family doctors for urgent non-emergent health problems. They were also more likely to report unmet health care needs.11
People with lower socio-economic status are more likely to be hospitalized for ambulatory care sensitive conditions and mental health12, admissions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.13
Those with higher socio-economic status are more likely to have access to and utilize specialist services.14 Utilization of diagnostic imaging services is greater among those in higher socio-economic groups.15 Access to preventive and screening programs such as pap smears and mammography are lower among disadvantaged groups.16
It is not just access to insured services that is a problem. Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.17 Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy to name two are often not covered unless they are provided in-hospital or to people on certain disability support programs.18 Access to psychologists is largely limited to people who can pay for them, through private insurance or out of their own pockets.19 Similar access challenges exist for long-term care, home care and end-of-life care.
There is a financial cost to this disparity. According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon alone consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.20 A 2010 study by CIHI found increased costs for avoidable hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions were $89 million for males and $71 million for females with an additional $248 million in extra costs related to excess hospitalizations for mental health reasons.21
The societal cost of poor health extends beyond the cost to the health care system: healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.22 According to data in the U.K., those living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods experience almost 20 years less disability-free life than those in the highest income neighbourhoods. These individuals will become disabled before they are eligible for old age services, striking two blows to the economy: they will no longer be able to contribute through productive work, and their disability will consume a great deal of health care services.23
The reasons for this inequitable access are multifaceted and include patient specific barriers as well as challenges within the health care system itself. CMA recognizes the need for physicians to work to address the system related barriers. However, one of the biggest challenges for patients themselves remains economic. Having a low-income can prevent access through lack of transportation options, an inability to get time off work, and the inability to pay for services that are not covered by government insurance.
Health equity is increasingly recognized as a necessary means by which we will make gains in the health status of all Canadians and retain a sustainable publicly funded health care system. Addressing inequalities in health is a pillar of CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative.
Part 3: Ensuring adequate income for all Canadians
"The rates of family and child poverty are unacceptably high taking into account Canada's high quality of living standard."
2010 Report of the Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability
One reason income is so critical to individual health is that it is so closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment.
The CMA and its members are concerned that adequate consideration during the decision-making process is not being given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes.
Recent decisions such as changes to the qualifying age for Old Age Security, and new rules for Employment Insurance, among others, will have far reaching consequences on the income of individuals, especially those in vulnerable populations. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on health will lead to more costs to society down the road.
One method to ensure that these unintentional consequences do not occur is to consider the health impact of decisions as part of the policy development and decision-making process.
A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of any given policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. The HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and increasingly the United States.
The HIA can ensure that government departments consider the health impacts of their policies and programs by anticipating possible unintended consequences and taking appropriate corrective action. The use of HIA will allow the federal government to demonstrate leadership in health care in Canada and provide greater accountability to all Canadians.
The CMA recommends that:
1. The federal government recognize the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system; and
2. The federal government requires a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making.
We are hearing about the need to address the poverty and income security of Canadians from stakeholders across the country. We have conducted a series of town halls with Canadians asking them questions about how the social and economic conditions of their communities affect their health. From Winnipeg, to Hamilton to Charlottetown we have heard how poverty and a lack of income is undermining Canadians' health.
This public response is not surprising. According to the Conference Board of Canada, more than one in seven children in Canada live in poverty.24 This poverty will severely limit the ability of these children to achieve good health in the future.
There are systemic barriers that contribute to this poverty. The annual welfare income in Canada varies between $3,247 for a single person to $21,213 for a couple with two children. The 'best' of Canadian programs provides an income within only 80% of the poverty line. The lowest income is barely 30% of that needed to 'achieve' poverty.25
It is not just people on social assistance, however, that are facing poverty. Data from 2008 indicates that one in three (33%) of children living in poverty had a parent that was employed. Based a review conducted in 2010, one in 10 workers still earned less than $10 an hour in 2009, with 19% paid less than $12. The same study found that roughly 400,000 full-time adult workers, aged 25+, were making less than $10/hr. and therefore paid less than poverty line wages.26
Some physicians are working directly with patients to try and address the income inadequacy which is undermining their health. Physicians from Health Providers Against Poverty in Ontario have developed a tool for physicians to use in screening their patients for poverty and linking them with provincial/territorial and/or federal programs that might help mitigate the health effects of their poverty. This group is also involved in training health care providers to support this work. While this program and others like it are serving as a 'band aid' solution for some living in poverty, the CMA feels that physicians and their patients should not be placed in this position.
As part of its study on income inequality, the CMA encourages the Finance Committee to review two recent reports from Parliamentary committees on the same topic. The first and most recent is the report of the House of Commons Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada.27 The second is the report of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness.28
The Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disability, noted that the federal government's efforts to address poverty among Canadian seniors "is generally recognized as one of Canada's most notable achievements of the past 30 years."
The report of the Senate Committee made a number of significant observations, two bear repeating:
* "[W]hen all the programs are working, when the individual gets all possible income and social supports, the resulting income too often still maintains people in poverty, rather than lifting them into a life of full participation in the economic and social life of their communities."
* "[A]t their worst, the existing policies and programs entrap people in poverty, creating unintended perverse effects which make it virtually impossible for too many people to escape reliance on income security programs and even homeless shelters."
The public policy debate on addressing income inequality in Canada is not new. For instance, the 1971 report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty recommended that a guaranteed annual income financed and administered by the federal government be established. In consideration of this concept, from 1974 to 1979, the Governments of Canada and Manitoba funded the Manitoba Basic Guarantee Annual Income Experiment (referred to as "Mincome"). While this was initially designed to be a labour market study, the results were also relevant from a health perspective. A recent study of this data concluded that hospitalizations declined by 8.5 per cent for the Mincome subjects.29
The CMA recommends that:
3. The federal government gives top priority to the development of strategies to minimize poverty in Canada.
Part 4: Addressing access barriers in the health sector
Access to services not covered by provincial health plans remain a large barrier for Canadians. Those with low incomes are less likely to be able to access needed pharmaceuticals and services due to this barrier. One in 10 Canadians can not afford the medications that they are prescribed.30 This further exacerbates the income inequality that exists. While we urge the federal government to take action on reducing poverty among Canadians, at the minimum action needs to be taken to ensure universal access to needed medical care.
The CMA recommends that:
4. Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies;
5. Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care; and
6. Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians. This could include public insurance schemes or registered savings plans allowing Canadians to save for their future long-term care needs.
Finally, there is a need to recognize the effect on income related to providing care to family members who are ill. Many Canadians take time off work to care for their children or parents. Without adequate long-term care resources and supports for home care, Canadians may be forced to take a leave from the workforce to provide this unpaid care. Research suggests that more than one third of parents (38.4%) who care for children with a disability are required to work fewer hours to care for their children.31 While the 2011 federal budget provided some relief in the form of a Family Caregiver Tax Credit of up to $300, it is not enough. A 2004 Canadian study placed the value of a caregiver's time at market rates from $5,221 to $13,374 depending on the community of residence.32 This is a significant amount of unpaid work and may further add to income inequalities. Expanding the tax credit available to these individuals would help but there is a need to provide further supports to family caregivers.
The CMA recommends that:
7. The federal government expands the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
Part 5: Conclusion
Once again, we commend the Standing Committee on Finance for agreeing to study this important issue. Canada's physicians see the examples of income inequality in their practices on a daily basis. Tackling this important social issue will contribute to not only reducing the burden of disease in Canada but to providing Canadians with the necessary financial resources to achieve good health.
Summary of Recommendations
The federal government recognizes the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system
The federal government requires a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making.
The federal government gives top priority to the development of strategies to minimize poverty in Canada.
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care; and
Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians. This could include public insurance schemes or registered savings plans allowing Canadians to save for their future long-term care needs.
The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
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2 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising: An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries: Main Findings. Paris (FR); 2011. Available: http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/49499779.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 11).
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14 Allin S. Does Equity in Healthcare Use Vary across Canadian Provinces? Healthc Policy 2008; 3(4): 83-99.;Frolich N, Fransoo R, Roos N. Health Service Use in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority: Variations Across Areas in Relation to Health and Socioeconomic status. Winnipeg (MB) Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Available: http://mchp-appserv.cpe.umanitoba.ca/teaching/pdfs/hcm_forum_nf.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6); McGrail K. Income-related inequities: Cross-sectional analyses of the use of medicare services in British Columbia in 1992 and 2002. Open Medicine 2008; 2(4): E3-10; Van Doorslaer E, Masseria C. Income-Related Inequality in the Use of Medical Care in 21 OECD Countries. Paris(FR) OECD; 2004. Available: http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/31743034.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6).;Veugelers PJ, Yip AM. Socioeconomic disparities in health care use: Does universal coverage reduce inequalities in health? J Epidemiol Community Health 2003; 57:424-428.
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23 Marmot Sir M. Achieving Improvements in Health in a Changing Environment. Presentation to the World Medical Association, Vancouver (BC); 2010.
24 Conference Board of Canada. How Canada Performs: Child Poverty. Ottawa (ON); 2013. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/society/child-poverty.aspx (accessed 2013 Apr 11).
25 National Council of Welfare. Poverty Trends in Canada: Solving Poverty Information Kit. Her Majesty the Queen in the Right of Canada. Ottawa (ON); 2007. Available: http://www.ncw.gc.ca/l.3bd.2t.1ils@-eng.jsp?lid=140 (accessed 2012 Jan 25).
26 Campaign 2000. 2010 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada: 1989 - 2010. Toronto (ON); 2010. Available: http://www.campaign2000.ca/reportCards/national/2010EnglishC2000NationalReportCard.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 11).
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31 Campaign 2000. 2010 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty...
32 Chappell NL, Dlitt BH, Hollander JA et al. Comparative Costs of Home Care and Residential Care. The Gerontologist 44(3): 389-400.
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before this committee on behalf of the CMA and its 76,000 members. Canadians believe that transforming our health care system to meet the needs of 21st century Canada must be among the highest priorities for all levels of government, including the federal government.
I would like to begin by commenting on the health transfer framework announced by the Minister of Finance in December. This announcement provided some predictability for the years ahead.
However, with the federal government reducing its involvement in several areas affecting health or health care, added costs will end up in the laps of the provinces and territories.
So while this budget may enhance the federal government's fiscal prospects, it will do so to the detriment of the provinces and territories.
But there's more to this debate than funding. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
We are encouraged that the Minister of Health has indicated she wants to collaborate with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures to ensure value for money and better patient care. We look forward to the
minister's plan for accountability.
This budget is notable for other missed opportunities. For many years, groups across the political spectrum have called for a pharmaceutical strategy to reduce national disparities. In fact, such a strategy was committed to by governments under the 2004 Health Accord.
Minister Kenney referred to this issue indirectly when he said the recent cancellation of supplemental health benefits for refugee claimants is justified because refugees should not have access to drug coverage that Canadians do not have.
Rather than cutting off those desperately vulnerable people, Canada's physicians urge the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop a plan that ensures all Canadians have a basic level of drug coverage.
Indeed, we now appear to be in a race to the bottom in the way we treat vulnerable groups - by, for example, deferring Old Age Security for two years; and changing service delivery to veterans, mental health programs for our military and the Employment Insurance program.
Significant policy changes have been announced since the budget, with little opportunity for debate and little evidence provided. We note, as well, the lack of open consultation with Canadians on matters of great import to their lives. Successful policy requires buy-in, which is best achieved when those interested are able to participate in the policy-making process.
This brings me to a wider concern shared by our members - that policy-makers are not paying adequate attention to the social determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on health will lead to more costs to society down the road.
The federal government is the key to change that benefits all Canadians. While there are costs and jurisdictions to consider, the CMA believes the best way to address this is to make the impact on health a key consideration in every policy decision that's made. The federal government has used this approach in the past, in considering rural Canadians, for example.
We therefore call for a new requirement for a health impact assessment to be carried out prior to any decision made by cabinet. This would require that, based on evidence, all cabinet decisions take into account possible impacts on health and health care, and whether they contribute to our country's overall health objectives. A similar model is in use in New Zealand and some European countries.
For instance, what health impact will cuts in funding to the tobacco strategy have?
Such an assessment would in particular have a dramatic impact with regard to poverty. Poverty hinders both human potential and our country's economic growth - and needlessly so as there are many ways to address it effectively.
The National Council on Welfare - which will disappear as a result of this budget - reported last fall that the amount it would have taken in 2007 for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion, whereas the consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that figure.
Close to 10 per cent of Canadians were living in poverty in 2009, many of them children, as UNICEF underlined yesterday. This is a huge challenge for our country.
In closing, as this budget cycle ends and as you begin to prepare for the next, please bear in mind that as prosperous as our country is, if we do nothing for the most vulnerable in our society - children, the elderly, the mentally ill, Aboriginal peoples - we will have failed.
Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Maura Ricketts and I am the Director of Public Health for the Canadian Medical Association. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this Committee today as part of your study of clinical trials and drug approvals.
The CMA represents more than 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with all Canadians, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Because prescription drugs are an essential component of health care, the CMA has developed a considerable body of policy on pharmaceutical issues. This work can be distilled into one fundamental principle: The CMA believes that our country requires a National Pharmaceutical Strategy to ensure every individual has timely access to safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs. Despite the commitment in the 2004 Health Accord to the creation of such a strategy, Canadians continue to wait for government leadership on this issue. Drugs replace more costly and invasive medical interventions. They are an essential tool in the physician's tool box.
To ensure safety and effectiveness, the CMA also believes in the need for a strong, unbiased, evidence-based system for research and approval. This is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
In evaluating whether to prescribe a new drug to a patient, a physician will weigh several factors: Does this product offer any benefits over what I am prescribing now? Will it be more effective? Will this new drug be safer? Will it solve any tricky clinical problems, such as drug interactions, or reduce side effects that prevent a medication from being used properly? The physician may also ask: What is the evidence that this new drug is an improvement? Can I trust the evidence? Where can I get access to accurate, reliable information and data on this drug?
Pre-approval drug research must provide answers to these fundamental questions.
I will now focus on two particular issues of concern to practising physicians with regard to clinical trials:
* First, what is being compared to what? Clinical trials may be sufficient for Health Canada's regulatory purposes, but may provide only part of the information a physician needs. For example, is a new cholesterol drug effective on all patients, or only on some of them? Would other patients derive equal benefit from an already existing drug, or from a lifestyle change such as diet or exercise? The CMA recommends that researchers compare a new product to other drugs on the market - and to other interventions, as well.
* Second, is timely, reliable and objective information available on all clinical trial results, not just the positive ones? Canadians need to be informed when a drug has performed disappointingly in trials if they are to make informed decisions about their health care. The CMA, therefore, recommends the results of all clinical trials, not just those with positive results, be made available to health professionals and the public.
I would like to add that the current documentation is not very user-friendly. We recommend that Health Canada prepare summaries of the most essential data, not only for physicians, but for all Canadians to be able to access this information.
The Drug Approval Process
Turning now to the drug approval process, the CMA believes the following principles should apply:
* The primary criteria for approval should be whether the drug improves health outcomes and offers an improvement over products currently on the market.
* The review process should be as timely as is consistent with ensuring optimal health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
* The review process should be impartial and founded on the best available scientific evidence.
* The review process should be open and transparent.
* Finally, approval of a drug is not an endpoint, but rather one step in that drug's life cycle. It is not uncommon to identify serious safety hazards after a drug has been approved, because that's when it first goes into wide use. It is important that the approval process be complemented by a rigorous and vigilant post-market surveillance process. We look forward to presenting our recommendations on this subject to your Committee at a future session.
Before closing, I would like to briefly address two other matters:
First, the issue of drugs for rare disorders. We are aware that the current clinical trial and approval processes, which place a high value on studies with large population samples, may be unable to adequately capture the value of drugs that are prescribed to only a handful of people. Some patient groups active in the area of rare disorders, such as the Canadian MPS Society and Alpha-1 Canada, have shared their concerns about this with us. These groups, along with the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, have been advocating for years for a fair process for evaluating drugs for rare diseases. Because Canada doesn't have a rare disorders strategy, Canadian patients have access to fewer therapies than patients in other developed countries. The issue of how to approve drugs for rare disorders merits closer consideration. The CMA recommends that the federal government develop a policy on drugs for rare disorders that encourages their development, call for ongoing evaluation of their effectiveness, and ensures fairness so that all patients who might benefit have reasonable access to them.
The second matter is that Health Canada's review process provides little guidance on another question which physicians are increasingly asking: Can my patient afford this drug? It is not sufficient that the Common Drug Review conducts reviews of the cost effectiveness of drugs and that provincial/territorial formularies undertake similar studies, as the fact remains that cost is one of the factors physicians need to consider when deciding whether to prescribe a new drug. This is especially true in the case of new biologics, which are very expensive. Canadian doctors believe that the difficulty of making effective prescribing decisions without information about cost needs to be overcome. This only underscores the necessity of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.
The Canadian Medical Association welcomes the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to Health Canada's Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, published in the Canada Gazette, Part I on December 15, 2012.
CMA provided comments on the proposed changes when Health Canada first announced them in June 2011. Our position on these changes, and indeed on the entire Medical Marihuana Access Program (MMAP), has been consistent since the program was initiated. We remain deeply concerned that, though the program has made a physician's authorization the key to a patient's access to medical marijuana, physicians and other health professionals have little to no evidence-based information about its use as medical therapy. As our President, Dr. Anna Reid, noted in December, the regulatory proposals are "equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded."
Health Canada gives two reasons for its regulatory proposal: first, to address concerns about the safety of home grow-ops; and secondly, to reduce the cost of administering a program that has proven more popular than anticipated. Neither of these reasons is related to improving patient care or advancing our clinical knowledge of marijuana as a medical treatment.
CMA understands that many Canadians suffer constant pain from chronic or terminal illnesses and are searching for anything that will provide relief. We know that some patients find that use of marijuana relieves their symptoms and that some health professionals also believe it has therapeutic value. However, we are concerned that these claims remain inadequately supported by scientific research. Controlled studies of medical marijuana have been published recently and some have shown benefits. However, these studies are few in number, of short duration and with small samples, and knowledgeable clinicians say that more research is required. In addition, some say that marijuana has become more potent since it became a popular recreational drug in the 1960s, though others disagree,1 and growers say they can develop strains tailored to the needs of individual medical users.2 Though these claims are part of the popular understanding of medical marijuana, there is no scientifically valid evidence that supports them.
What Physicians Have Told Us
In May 2012, CMA surveyed members of its "e-panel" of physicians to obtain more information about their attitudes and needs regarding medical marijuana. The survey received just over 600 responses out of more than 2,200, for a 27 per cent response rate. Among the findings:
* About 70 per cent of respondents had been asked by patients to approve medical marijuana, though only four per cent said they were asked to do so "often." Of those who were asked, one-third reported that they "never" supported such requests, while 18 per cent "usually" did so.
* 64 per cent of respondents were concerned that patients who request medical marijuana may actually be using it for recreational purposes;
* A large majority of respondents said they would find more information on the appropriate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and on its therapeutic benefits and risks, useful or very useful.
* About two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel more comfortable if:
o Physicians wishing to use medical marijuana in their practices were required to undergo special training and licensing; and,
o Health Canada offered them protection from liability.
* In open-ended questions, some respondents expressed favourable views on marijuana's medical benefits. However, a larger number expressed concern over its harmful effects, such as: psychotic symptoms, especially in younger people; potential for addiction and dependency; and the risks to lung health from smoking it or any other substance.
Marijuana is Not Like Other Therapeutic Products
Theoretically, marijuana, when used for medicinal purposes, is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act. However, because of its unique legal position, Health Canada has exempted it from the applications of the Act and its regulations, and it has not undergone the scrutiny of benefits and risks required of other therapeutic products approved for use in Canada, be they prescription-only or over-the-counter.
According to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), all drugs requiring a health professional's authorization must be approved for use by Health Canada, based on evidence of effectiveness obtained from controlled clinical trials, which remain the best currently available means of validating knowledge. In addition, Health Canada has a system of post-market surveillance to keep track of problems that arise with prescription drugs in real-world use. Though the CMA has been critical of some aspects of this system,3 we acknowledge that it has added to our body of knowledge on drug safety risks. If marijuana were not an illegal product, it might have been assessed through some form of pre-approval and post-approval surveillance. By exempting marijuana from the FDA's pre-approval and post-approval requirements, Health Canada has lost an opportunity to improve our knowledge of the drug's therapeutic uses.
The Views of Canadians
A recent online survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the CMA provides insight into the views of Canadians on Health Canada's regulatory proposal.4 The survey found:
* 92 per cent of Canadians think it is very or somewhat important that Health Canada not remove itself from its oversight role until guidelines are put in place for physicians;
* 90 per cent believe that research on the effectiveness, safety and risks of medical marijuana is needed before Health Canada removes itself from the authorization process;
* 85 per cent of Canadians believe medical marijuana should be subject to the same rigorous testing and approval standards as other medicines;
* 79 per cent agree that Health Canada has a responsibility to maintain its role in the authorization process.;
The Role of the Physician
The CMA cannot with certainty predict the consequences of these regulatory changes for the practising physician (and, if the regulations are approved, for the nurse practitioner as well). However, we have several causes for concern:
* The gatekeeper role of health professionals: The most significant change, from our point of view, is that Health Canada is removing itself from the approval process, making it a transaction between the patient, the practitioner and the licensed producer. In addition, Section 125 of the regulatory proposal would reduce the content of the authorization form, from its current two-page format to a brief document requiring little more information than is required for a standard medical prescription.
We are concerned that these changes will put an even greater onus on physicians than do the current regulations. The CMA agrees with the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities that the lack of evidence to support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes signifies that it is not a medical intervention. In our opinion, putting physicians in the role of gatekeeper for access to marijuana is inappropriate and may be an abdication of responsibility on Health Canada's part.5 Such a move could increase physicians' liability risk and put them at odds with their medical regulatory authorities, which have no choice but to continue to advise physicians to exercise extreme caution.
The CMA believes, as does the Canadian Medical Protective Association, that a drug's approval under the Food and Drugs Act does not impose a legal obligation on physicians or nurse practitioners to authorize its use if, in their judgment, it is clinically inappropriate. The Ontario Court of Appeal reached a similar decision recently in the case of R. v. Mernagh.
* Protection of Physician Privacy. Under the proposed regulations, health information and physician data - such as the patient's name and date of birth, or the provider's licence number - will be collected by licensed producers who may not be subject to the same regulatory and privacy constraints as the health care sector. The draft regulations also indicate that the licensed producer is expected to confirm that the data on the "medical document" is correct and complete - in other words, health providers who authorize medical marijuana use will receive correspondence from the producer. We are very concerned about the risks this would pose to the privacy of patient and health care provider information. We believe Health Canada should conduct a privacy impact assessment of its proposed regulations or, if it has done so, to share the results.
* Physicians as Dispensers. Section 124 of the proposed regulations would allow authorized health care practitioners to "sell, provide or administer dried marijuana." This is contrary to Article 46 of the CMA Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry, which states that "Physicians should not dispense pharmaceuticals or other products unless they can demonstrate that these cannot be provided by an appropriate other party."6
* Other possible consequences. We are also concerned about other potential consequences of the regulatory changes. Will more people go to health professionals requesting an authorization, on the assumption that the new regulations will make it easier to get? Will entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to establish "dispensaries" whose intended clientele are not those in legitimate medical need, as recent news stories have suggested?7 Will medical marijuana advocates put increased pressure on physicians to authorize its use?
Meeting the Information Needs of Physicians
In one respect, Health Canada has listened to physicians' concerns regarding the lack of evidence about medical marijuana, and acknowledged the need to remedy this problem. Though it is not addressed in the draft regulations, Health Canada has established an Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) to help provide comprehensive information to health professionals. The CMA has attended meetings of this committee in an observer capacity, suggested the names of practising physicians to serve as members, and made a presentation to the committee at its meeting in November 2012.
If the EAC follows the CMA's suggestions, it will consider actively supporting the following activities:
* Funding of scientific research on the clinical risks and benefits of marijuana;
* Knowledge translation activities to convert this research into accessible, user-friendly tools for education and practice;
* Development of best practice guidelines in the therapeutic use of marijuana. Though this guideline would of necessity be based on "C" level evidence, it would be an improvement on what now exists; and
* Support for a compulsory training and licensing program for physicians wanting to authorize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The CMA believes that the EAC should be given the mandate and resources to undertake these activities.
Health Canada's stated mission is to help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health. The CMA believes that if Health Canada wants its Medical Marihuana Access Program to serve this mission, it should not withdraw from administering the program, leaving it to health professionals working within a large knowledge gap. Rather, it should support solid research into the use of marijuana as medication and make a commitment to share this knowledge with the health professional community and to support best clinical practices.
1 Bonsor K: "How marijuana works". Accessed at http://science.howstuffworks.com/marijuana5.htm
3 CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health: Post-Market Surveillance of Prescription Drugs (February 28, 2008). Accessed at http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2008/brief-drug-en-08.pdf
4 Online survey of 1,000 Canadians the week of Feb. 24, 2013 conducted by Ipsos-Reid. Summary report of the poll can be accessed at www.cma.ca/advocacy/cma-media-centre.
5 Letter to Health Canada from Yves Robert, MD, President of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, November 4, 2011.
6 CMA. 2004. Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry. Guideline can be accessed online: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf
7 Lee J. "Ross Rebagliati to Open medical marijuana franchise." Vancouver Sun. January 23, 2013. Accessed at http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ross+Rebagliati+open+medical+marijuana+franchise/7860946/story.html
Question 1: Economic recovery and growth (What federal measures are required for sustained economic recovery and growth?)
The health sector has an important role in sustaining Canada's economic recovery and enhancing economic growth beginning with supporting a healthy and productive workforce and providing over one million high value jobs, representing about 10 per cent of the labour force.
Despite the importance of the sector, there is general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. While the OECD's 2011 Health Data ranks Canada 7th highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the performance of Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries.
Health spending accounts for an increasing proportion of provincial and territorial budgets, and many warn of increasing future demands on the overall system. In his Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report of May 17, 2012, the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that "the provincial-territorial long-term fiscal situation has deteriorated." Taken together, these issues highlight significant potential for the health sector, through efficiency improved gained by health care transformation, to support long-term economic recovery and growth in Canada.
While the provinces and territories have initiated positive steps to collaborate on sharing best practices, there are key responsibilities under federal leadership that would contribute to these efforts by addressing the overall performance of the health care system in Canada. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system and that it implement a requirement for all cabinet decision-making to include a Health Impact Assessment (see Question 5 for more detail).
- Further to the comments by the Health Minister following the new fiscal arrangement announcement, the federal government should prioritize federal-provincial-territorial engagement focused on accountability and undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
Question 2: Job creation (What federal actions should be taken to promote job creation in a context of enhanced internal and international trade?)
A high performing health care system across the country will help support labour mobility and job creation. An effective, comprehensive public health care system provides an important international competitive advantage. The contribution of Canada's health care system to the international competitiveness of our economy has been repeatedly demonstrated in KPMG's Competitive Alternatives report.
However, there are several signs that indicate health care services and coverage are not keeping up with Canadians' needs and vary depending on where one lives in Canada. For instance, long wait times for medical care can be found in smaller provinces, while drug coverage and services for seniors are particularly poor in Atlantic Canada. Wide variation in access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity in our health care system-all Canadians should have a basic level of drug coverage. These variations are growing and will hinder job creation in some regions, serving as barriers to labour mobility for Canadians wishing to seek work elsewhere in the country. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances.
Recognizing the contribution of the health care system to Canada's international competitive advantage, improvements in Canada's health care system would further support job creation. The federal government should focus its efforts towards supporting the transformation of our health care system to better meet the objectives of better care, better health and better value. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government, in consultation with provincial, territorial and other stakeholders, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
- The federal government, together with the provinces and territories, develop and implement a pan-Canadian strategy for continuing care which would integrate home care and facility- based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within health care systems.
Question 3: Demographic change (What federal measures should be implemented to help address the aging population and skills shortages?)
The CMA remains concerned about the status of Canada's retirement income system and the ability of Canada's seniors to adequately fund their long-term and supportive care needs. Steps need to be taken to ensure that Canada is prepared to handle the long-term care needs of its citizens, including the funding of necessary infrastructure and additional support for both health care providers and informal caregivers.
The availability of long-term care facilities has an important role in the efficiency of the overall health care system. For example, in its most recent report, the Wait Time Alliance noted that dementia is a key diagnosis related to the rise in alternate-levels-of-care (ALC) patient stays in hospitals. This is yet another issue facing all provinces and territories for which the federal government is well positioned to coordinate a pan-Canadian strategy. In addition, as part of the next long-term infrastructure program, the federal government should include a targeted health sector infrastructure fund for long-term care facilities as part of a pan-Canadian strategy to redirect care from the hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where better care is provided at a lower cost.
The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government establish programs to encourage Canadians to save for their long- term care needs by pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance, such as an RESP- type savings vehicle.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long- term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
The CMA has supported the federal government's efforts to expand retirement savings options by establishing the Pooled Retirement Pension Plans. However, as highlighted by federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers, this is only one component of a larger pension reform framework to address the retirement income adequacy needs of Canadians. The CMA encourages the federal government to continue working with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to implement all elements of this framework.
Question 4: Productivity (What federal initiatives are needed to increase productivity in light of labour market challenges such as the aging of Canada's population?)
An effective and comprehensive health care system supports the productivity of the Canadian workforce. Failure of our health care system to respond to workers' health needs, on the other hand, leads to loss of productivity and high costs both in terms of lost income for Canadian families as well as foregone tax revenues for governments. Numerous studies have pointed out the enormous cost of waiting (in the billions of dollars per year) affecting both individuals and the economy.
Another related issue that has the potential to increasingly affect productivity is the burden of providing care to family members. Without adequate provision of long-term care resources and support for home care, Canada's labour force may experience a productivity drag through increased leaves and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The 2011 federal budget took a first step at providing tax relief for informal caregivers through the Family Caregiver Tax Credit. However, this credit of a maximum of $300 per year by no means provides sufficient support for informal caregivers.
A 2004 Canadian study estimated that the annual cost of a caregiver's time at market rates for moderately to severely disabled home care clients ranged from $5,221 to $13,374 depending on the community in which they reside. An increase to the Family Caregiver Tax Credit is positive for the development of one aspect of the necessary support informal caregivers require but the CMA believes other enhancements will also be needed in the coming years.
In order to meet the needs of our country's aging population, the CMA recommends that:
- The federal government expand the relief programs for informal caregivers to provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations, as well as increase the Family Caregiver Tax Credit to better reflect the annual cost of family caregivers' time at market rates.
- That a targeted health infrastructure fund be established as part of the government's long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of this fund would be to address infrastructure shortages in the health sector that prevent the optimization of health human resources and exacerbate wait times.
Question 5: Other challenges (Who is facing most challenges, what are they and what federal action is required?)
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. These negative outcomes can have a significant impact on the prosperity of the country as health is necessary for individuals to lead a prosperous and autonomous life. Research suggests that 50 per cent of population health is determined by our social and economic environment. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to medicare alone will not improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
What is needed is a process to address the social determinants of health that can be barriers or enablers to health, a process to ensure healthy public policy for all Canadians. A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a systematic process for making evidence-based judgments on the health impacts of a policy and to identify and recommend strategies to protect and promote health. HIA is used in several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and the United States. HIA is also used in Canada, most extensively for policy appraisals in Quebec.
HIA is necessary for ensuring that all government departments are able to consider the health impacts of their work. Such a tool would have been very beneficial in assessing cuts to program spending to ensure the impact on health would not be counterproductive (i.e., lead to higher overall costs to society once the health impact is taken into account). The adoption of an evidence-based HIA is one way in which the federal government can play a leadership role in health care. The CMA recommends that:
- The federal government include a Health Impact Assessment as part of its policy development process to ensure that the health of Canadians is a key factor in every policy decision it makes.
- The federal government recognize the relationship of the social determinants of health on the demands of the health care system.
As previously indicated in the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition's (RIIC) letter to the Minister of Finance on August 10, 2011, the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by establishing a legislative and regulatory framework to permit pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs).
The CMA is concerned that as currently proposed, the PRPP framework, including Bill C-25 and the proposed legislative amendments to the Income Tax Act, would limit the potential for PRPPs to contribute to expanding access to, and investment in, pensions for self-employed individuals.
With respect to the pension framework, a critical issue, two principles are central to the CMA's membership of over 76,000 physicians. These are, to encourage the federal government to: 1) ensure that self-employed Canadians can retire with an appropriate level of retirement income (e.g., a 70% of pre-retirement income target); and, 2) expand the retirement savings options that are available to self-employed Canadians. The CMA's comments herein on the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act are in support of these two principles.
As elaborated below, the CMA encourages the federal government to:
1. Increase the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by raising the combined limit for RRSPs;
2. Expand the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; and,
3. Clarify the eligibility criteria of "PRPP administrators" to include professional associations.
1. Increase the combined contribution limit for PRPPs and RRSPs
As proposed, it is our understanding that the core benefit of the PRPP framework is in providing smaller businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. While the CMA recognizes the value of, and supports, this objective, this proposal in effect maintains the status quo for self-employed individuals.
Under Clause 10 of the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act, the contribution limit to PRPPs would be calculated as an additional component of the current registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) contribution limit. As outlined in the Explanatory Notes, "an employer's contributions to an individual's PRPP account [and...] an individual's PRPP contributions in a taxation year will immediately reduce the individual's ability to make deductible RRSP contributions in that same year."
While individuals with employer contributions stand to benefit from increased retirement savings via employer contributions, self-employed individuals are merely provided with access to an alternate retirement savings vehicle. As explained in the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Researchi, "[h]igher income groups tend to exhibit a greater tendency to substitute one form of saving for another since they tend to be bound by limits...[I]f newly introduced plans are included in limitations imposed on the degree to which contributions may be deductible for tax purposes, saving may not increase for individuals who are constrained (i.e. saving up to their limit), since they would more likely substitute one type of saving for another (e.g., RRSP for a private pension plan)."
Therefore, the CMA encourages the federal government to consider increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by raising the combined limit for RRSPs and PRPPs.
2. Include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans
As noted under Clause 12, the registration criteria for PRPPs will be established by the PRPP Act, Bill C-25. Of concern, Bill C-25 limits PRPPs to defined contribution pension plans by specifically excluding from eligibility of registration: (a) a pension plan as defined by 2(1) of the Pension Benefits Standards Act; (b) an employees' or a deferred profit sharing plan; (c) an RRSP or a retirement compensation arrangement defined by 248(1) of the Income Tax Act; and, (d) any other prescribed plan or arrangement.
As highlighted by the Summary Report on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, "defined benefit pension funds and annuities enable investors to share longevity risks as well as pool risky investments to diversify risk." By pooling risk, defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans provide more secure savings vehicles than defined contributions plans. The CMA encourages the federal government to expand the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans. While the CMA will advance this recommendation to the House of Commons Finance Committee during its consultation on Bill C-25, we include it as part of this submission as modifications to the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act would be required.
3. Clarify the eligibility criteria of "PRPP administrators" to include professional associations
Further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator. As noted under Clause 12, an administrator of a PRPP is authorized under the PRPP Act. As Bill C-25, the PRPP Act, is still in the legislative process, the CMA will elaborate on this issue during the formal Parliamentary consultation.
However, as it stands, further clarification is required on the eligibility criteria proposed by Bill C-25. While Bill C-25 can be interpreted to extend administrator eligibility to organizations that are able to fulfill the criteria established by the PRPP Act, Finance Canada's Framework for PRPPs states that eligibility of administrators would be limited to "regulated financial institutions that are capable of taking on a fiduciary role". Well-governed professional organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the proposed limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they also provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to the Income Tax Act and to once again advance recommendations to Finance Canada on the PRPP framework.
i Prepared for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional comments and recommendations as part of Finance Canada's 2012 pre-budget consultations.
The health sector provides essential services and high value jobs supporting communities across Canada. Statistics Canada reports that employment in the health sector accounts for 10% of the Canadian labour force.i In considering possible additional economic stimulus measures that build on the success of Canada's Economic Action Plan, the CMA encourages the federal government to consider investments that target efficiency improvements in the health sector. Efficiency improvements in the health sector yield benefits to all orders of government and Canadians.
The following recommendations are advanced for Finance Canada's consideration:
* In order to improve the delivery of better care, better health, and better value, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, developed by the CMA together with the Canadian Nurses Association and since endorsed by over 60 organizations, as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
* Recognizing the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health outcomes and the health care system together with the effectiveness of national public reporting in demonstrating accountability, the CMA recommends that the federal government undertake efforts towards identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health care expenditures to comparable health outcomes.
* As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
* While, as previously indicated, the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs), the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians. Specifically, addressing the limitations would include: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) appreciates the opportunity to provide additional recommendations to the Government of Canada as part of its 2012 Pre-Budget consultation. Building upon the CMA's recommendations to the House of Commons' Finance Committee, this submission focuses on three issues: (1) improving accountability and patient-centred care in the delivery of new federal health care funding; (2) coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines; and (3) addressing limitations in the federal framework for pension reform.
1. Accountability and patient-centred care
"Raising sufficient money for health is imperative, but just having the money will not ensure universal coverage. Nor will removing financial barriers to access through prepayment and pooling. The final requirement is to ensure resources are used efficiently." World Health Organization (2010)
As the federal government finalizes the Strategic and Operating Review and considers other measures to eliminate the deficit, including scaling down the Economic Action Plan, it must be recognized that improved health systems and the resultant improved productivity pay economic dividends for the country; and, further, that "health" by today's standards is not just the assessment and treatment of illness, but also the prevention of illness, and the creation and support of social factors that contribute to health should also be considered.
With the recent announcement by Minister Flaherty with respect to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) and Canada Social Transfer (CST), the financial parameters for future health care funding have been established.
Consistent with previous public opinion research, recent polling by Ekos Research Associates shows that 76% of Canadians identify improving health care as the leading priority for the federal government, ahead of reducing the national debt and deficit.ii However, as we have learned with the 2004 Health Accord, funding alone is not sufficient to ensure Canadian taxpayers benefit from improvements in health care, health outcomes, and value for money.
Despite laying out laudable objectives, progress to improve our health care system has been slow following the 2003 and 2004 agreements. There is a general agreement that Canada's health care system is no longer a strong performer when compared to similar nations. The OECD's Health Data, 2011 ranks Canada eighth highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, the second highest in hospital spending per discharge, and the seventh lowest in the number of physicians per capita. While Canada outperforms the U.S. on most measures, we fall below the median performance of the OECD on common health quality and system measures. With the new health care funding commitment to 2024, it is now time to plan how to transform the health care system.
Principles-based approach is required
The CMA is advocating built-in accountability mechanisms to ensure Canada's health care system is focused on delivering improved patient outcomes. Developing a system that is accountable and patient-centred depends on continuously striving to achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value. Launched in 2007, the IHI Triple Aim initiative was designed to direct the improvement of the patients' experience of care (including quality, access, and reliability) while lowering the per capita cost of care.
It was with the Triple Aim objectives in mind that the CMA jointly developed Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation in Canada with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). It is our strong belief that discussions about the future of health care in Canada must be guided by these principles.
The CMA-CNA principles are summarized as follows:
* Patient-centred: Patients must be at the centre of health care, with seamless access to the continuum of care based on their needs.
* Quality: Canadians deserve quality services that are appropriate for patient needs, respect individual choice and are delivered in a manner that is timely, safe, effective and according to the most currently available scientific knowledge.
* Health promotion and illness prevention: The health system must support Canadians in the prevention of illness and the enhancement of their well-being, with attention paid to broader social determinants of health.
* Equitable: The health care system has a duty to Canadians to provide and advocate for equitable access to quality care and commonly adopted policies to address the social determinants of health.
* Sustainable: Sustainable health care requires universal access to quality health services that are adequately resourced and delivered across the board in a timely and cost-effective manner.
* Accountable: The public, patients, families, providers and funders all have a responsibility for ensuring the system is effective and accountable.
In order to ensure that future federal funding delivers on the Triple Aim objectives of better care, better health and better value, a model for accountability and patient-centred care is required. Such a model would expand upon the CMA-CNA Principles through the development of a set of measurable indicators related to each principle that can be used for setting national standards, monitoring progress and demonstrating accountability to Canadians.
The CMA therefore urges the federal government to facilitate discussions with the provinces and territories to identify how resources will be used to improve patient care and health outcomes across the country. To this end, the CMA has urged the Minister of Health to move quickly to engage the provincial and territorial health ministers on transforming the health care system.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provinces and territories, in consultation with national health sector stakeholders, to develop a model for accountability and patient-centred care. The CMA encourages the federal government to adopt the CMA-CNA Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation as the basis of a pan-Canadian model for accountability and patient-centred care.
Improving public reporting: The cornerstone of accountability
The federal government has a significant stake in national public reporting on the health of Canadians and on the performance of the health care system. As required by the Canada Health Act, the Minister of Health must publicly report administration, operation and adherence to the Act each year. Further, as the largest contributor to the single-payer system, the federal government has a unique role in demonstrating value for money and reporting on strategies to improve the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of the health care system. To facilitate public reporting, in addition to Statistics Canada, the federal government is supported by the Health Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, both established as government-funded non-profits, however, with distinct mandates.
Despite pan-Canadian efforts such as provincial health quality councils and federal and non-governmental reporting, there remains significant room for improvement in the area of monitoring and reporting, both on health outcomes and system performance. As noted in the Commonwealth Fund's report on international health care systems, "reporting on health system performance [in Canada] varies widely across the provinces and territories...there is so far little connection between financial rewards and public reporting of performance." Not surprising, this issue was also identified by the Health Council of Canada in its Progress Report 2011. It highlights the challenges in reporting progress and explains the difficulties inherent to the current patchwork, "[w]here provinces and territories had set and publicized targets, it was easier for us to track progress. Where we could not find targets, assessing progress was more difficult."
The CMA has long supported improved pan-Canadian public reporting on health and health care. Most recently, the CMA hosted a symposium with health reporting stakeholders to discuss the current status of national reporting and the need for the development of a pan-Canadian reporting framework. As recognized by the symposium's participants, there is a great deal of excellent data collection work occurring across the country. However, these efforts are largely uncoordinated and do not tell the full story of the health of Canadians or adequately assess the performance of the health care system. Indeed, despite an abundance of metrics and measurement, in many cases, data is not necessarily usable by the public or decision-makers and, unfortunately, is not necessarily comparable between jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends that the federal government recognize the significance of nationally comparable metrics on health and the health care system and national public reporting in demonstrating accountability (i.e. better health, better care, and better value). In achieving these objectives, the CMA recommends that the federal government mandate an appropriate national organization, such as the Health Council of Canada, to undertake a consultative process with the aim of identifying pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that will link health expenditures and comparable health outcomes.
2. Coordinate the development of pan-Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines
As the federal government prepares to engage with the provinces and territories to further map out improvements to Canada's health system, the CMA strongly encourages consideration be given to the federal role in coordinating the development of pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Such a role would build upon the commitment made by the provinces and territories under the auspices of the Council of the Federation to collaborate on the development of three to five CPGs over the coming year.
CPGs are systematically developed, evidence- or consensus-based statements to assist health care providers in making decisions about the most appropriate health care to be provided in specific clinical circumstances. There is compelling evidence in the literature, supported by the experience of other countries, that well-designed and disseminated CPGs can enhance the clinical behaviour of providers and provide a positive impact on patient outcomes.
The principle argument in support of CPGs is their ability to enhance quality of care and patient outcomes. In addition, CPGs have been found to:
* Provide publicly accessible descriptions of appropriate care by which to gauge health care performance;
* Help to reduce inappropriate variations in care across diverse geographical and clinical settings;
* Offer the potential of empowering patients as to appropriate care expectations; and,
* Contribute to public policy goals, such as cost containment, through encouraging more appropriate provider use of resources.
However, in the absence of a pan-Canadian approach, CPGs across Canada are of uneven quality and even excellent guidelines may not be effectively disseminated or implemented. In contrast to Canada, peer-nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have committed at a national level to support the development and dissemination of CPGs.
In November 2011, the CMA, together with leading national medical and health sector stakeholders, convened a Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines Summit, attended by representatives of the federal and most provincial and territorial governments, to explore key components of a pan-Canadian strategy on CPGs. Emerging from this summit was a clear consensus that it was the federal role to provide the infrastructure support necessary to facilitate the development and dissemination of high-quality CPGs, customizable to the needs of all jurisdictions in Canada.
Guideline development and implementation is a complex, lengthy and resource-intensive process. In the absence of federal coordination in Canada, guidelines are produced by disparate, disease-specific groups, often funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This creates an obvious potential for conflict of interest where the guideline development process is far from transparent. Many guidelines are published without disclosure on conflict of interest or methodology applied. Concern over the quality of guidelines presents one the most persistent barriers to adoption by physicians of the recommended practice. The resulting underutilization of CPGs in Canada is widely documented. Clearly, the development and dissemination of pan-Canadian CGPs present a unique and significant opportunity for improvement in Canada's health care system.
The CMA recommends that as part of further discussions with the provinces and territories, the federal government commit to working with the provinces, territories and health sector stakeholders towards the development of a pan-Canadian clinical practice guideline initiative. In particular, the CMA recommends that the federal government commit support for the infrastructure necessary for the development, maintenance, and active dissemination of relevant, high-quality clinical practice guidelines.
3. Address the limitations proposed under the pension reform framework
As previously indicated in the August 2011 submission to Finance Canada by the Retirement Income Improvement Coalition (RIIC), the CMA supports the federal government's proposal to expand access to pensions, specifically by developing pooled registered retirement plans (PRPPs).
While we are currently assessing the package of proposed Income Tax Act amendments and will provide more detailed comments as part of the legislative process, the CMA is concerned that the framework, as proposed, limits the potential for PRPPs to expand physician access to, and investment in, pensions.
Based on preliminary analysis, it is our understanding that the core benefit of the PRPP framework is in providing small businesses access to low-cost pension plans, thereby providing a vehicle to encourage employers to establish, and contribute to, pensions for their employees. Given that a significant proportion of physicians are self-employed, they would not benefit from employer contributions to a PRPP. Further, as proposed, the contribution limit to PRPPs would be calculated as an element of the current RRSP and pension contribution limit. Finally, further clarification is required on the type of organization that may qualify as a PRPP administrator. Well-governed organizations that represent a particular membership should be able to sponsor and administer RPPs and PRPPs for their own members, including self-employed members.
While the CMA supports the proposed PRPP framework in principle, the limitations to PRPPs should be addressed to ensure that they provide value to self-employed Canadians, including physicians.
The CMA recommends that Finance Canada consider amendments to the proposed Income Tax Act amendments to address limitations to PRPPs, specifically: (1) expanding the PRPP framework to include defined benefit and targeted benefit pension plans; (2) increasing the retirement savings capacity of self-employed individuals by either raising the RRSP limit or providing a distinct limit for PRPPs; and, (3) ensuring the PRPP framework expands the eligibility of administrators beyond financial institutions.
The comments and recommendations provided herein represent the CMA's priority recommendations for targeted federal funding towards the achievement of efficiency improvements in Canada's health sector.
It is the CMA's position that these measures will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy by contributing to better care, better health and better value in the health care system.
Once again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide these additional comments and recommendations.
i 2006 Census data