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
The CMA brief contains seven recommendations to address pressing needs in the health care system.
Before I get to those, I'd like to highlight why, from my perspective, our health care system is in need of the federal government's attention.
Yesterday, at the Ottawa Hospital, where I am Chief of Staff:
* Our occupancy was 100 per cent.
* 30 patients who came to the emergency department were admitted to the hospital, but we had beds for only four of them.
* 10 are still waiting on gurneys in examining rooms within the emergency department.
* Six patients were admitted to wards and are receiving care in hallways.
* Three surgeries were cancelled - bringing the number of cancellations this year to 480.
* But while all this was happening, we had 158 patients waiting for a bed in a long-term-care facility.
Equally, a few blocks from here and in communities across the country, the health status of our poorest and most vulnerable populations is comparable to countries that have a fraction of our GDP - despite very significant investments in their health.
This is just my perspective. Health care providers of all types experience the failings of our system on a daily basis.
We as a country can do better and Canadians deserve better value for their money.
Canada's physicians are calling for transformative change to build a health care system based on the principles of accessibility, high quality, cost effectiveness, accountability and sustainability.
Through new efficiencies, better integration and sound stewardship, governments can reposition health care as an economic driver, an agent of productivity and a competitive advantage for Canada in today's global marketplace.
The Health Accord expires in March 2014, and we strongly urge that the federal government begin discussions now with the provinces and territories on how to transform our health care system so that it meets patients' needs and is sustainable into the future.
Canadians themselves also need to be part of the conversation.
To help position the system for this transformative change, the CMA brief identifies a number of issues that the federal government should address in the short term:
First, our system needs investments in health human resources to retain and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Although we welcome measures in the last budget to increase the number of residency positions, we urge the government to fulfill the balance of its election promise by further investing in residencies, and to invest in programs to repatriate Canadian-trained physicians living abroad.
Second, we need to bolster our public health e-infrastructure so that it can provide efficient, quality care that responds more effectively to pandemics.
We recommend increased investment:
* to improve data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices,
* for local health emergency preparedness, and
* for the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy for responding to potential health crises.
Third, issues related to our aging population also call for action.
As continuing care moves from hospitals into the home, the community, or long-term care facilities, the financial burden shifts from governments to individuals.
We recommend that the federal government study options for pre-funding long-term care - including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance - to help Canadians prepare for their future home care and long-term care needs.
And, as much of the burden of continuing care for seniors also falls on informal, unpaid caregivers, the CMA recommends that pilot studies be undertaken to explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work, and to expand programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations.
Finally, the government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
Mr. Chair, a fuller set of recommendations is contained in our report -- Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works. Care that Lasts.
These include universal access to prescription drugs; greater use of health information technology; and the immediate construction of long-term care facilities.
We urge the Committee to consider both our short-term recommendations - and our longer term vision for transforming Canada's health care system.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Thank you Madame Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As mentioned, I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I am a family physician by training and a member of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Medical Isotopes.
The working group was created to advise the Minister of Health in 2008 when the first major sustained shutdown of the Chalk River occurred. When I agreed to join the group, I certainly didn't expect it to still be going over two years later. And, while I am a member of the working group, I want to be clear, that today I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our more than 72,000 physician members across the country.
My comments are a reflection of the Working Group's June 2008 Lessons Learned report and I regret to say that a good portion of our observations are still true today.
I congratulate the Senate for looking specifically at the AECL proposals and for looking at implications for patients. While the CMA is not taking a specific position on the proposal in
Bill C-9 for Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL), in whole or in part, to be sold off to the private sector, we do believe that it is in the best interests of our patients that Canada remains a leader in the sector.
As well, Canada's doctors strongly believe that the impact on individual patient care must be considered and factored into any decisions that might result in disruptions of the supply of medical isotopes.
The CMA acknowledges that the federal budget did include $48 million over two years for research, development and application of medical isotopes and alternatives. Further, there was another allocation of $300 million on a cash basis for AECL's operations in 2010/11 to cover anticipated commercial losses and support the corporation's operations to ensuring a secure supply of medical isotopes and maintaining safe and reliable operations at the Chalk River Laboratory.
However, the CMA remains preoccupied with Canada's ability to ensure a long-term, stable and predictable supply of medically necessary isotopes. That is why we are uneasy about the federal government's exit strategy from the isotope production sector.
The report of the federal government's Expert Panel on the Production of Medical Isotopes, (December 2009) and the federal government's response to that report, (March 2010) appears to focus on the viability of this specific sector of the nuclear industry and has not alleviated our concerns. The government's response to the Panel Report was disappointing to the medical community. The government's decision to abandon Canada's long-standing international leadership in this sector is disheartening.
Of particular concern is the absence of both immediate and medium-term solutions to address the current and impending challenges facing nuclear medicine. This is simply unacceptable.
The CMA, along with our colleagues in the medical community, continues to assert that ensuring access to safe and reliable medical procedures and the provision of high-quality patient care must be the fundamental consideration of government decisions. While the production cost of isotopes cannot be ignored, particularly in times of global fiscal challenges, the medical application and benefits received are of paramount importance and must be neither discounted nor dismissed.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key factors in successful outcomes in cardiac and cancer cases. Without early diagnosis and treatment, patients have an increased risk of needing greater medical intervention later on. With more intensive treatment comes a corresponding increase in costs to the health care system and, most importantly, poorer outcomes for patients.
Specific concerns identified by the CMA and the medical community include, but are not limited to the following:
* Canada's current dependence on international reactors, without a practical back-up plan should these reactors experience difficulties, or shutdown for routine maintenance.
This is especially worrisome as the international agency, the Association of Imaging Producers & Equipment Suppliers (AIPES) warns of the unprecedented level of shortages, in a large part due to the Canada's Chalk River nuclear reactor remaining off line until August 2010 or beyond. In a recent Supply Crisis Update, AIPES points out that with a number of international reactors off-line for scheduled maintenance, the remaining reactors -the OPAL (Australia), Maria (Poland) and REZ (Czech Republic) reactors-are producing Mo99, but their combined output is limited to 15 - 20 % of the world requirements.
* The abandonment of Canada's international responsibilities and world leadership in this sector is counter to the government's own innovation and productivity agenda.
* A growing reliance on emerging technology, cyclotrons and liner accelerators that have yet to be proven as a suitable secure alternative source of radiopharmaceutical.
* A projected future supply chain that is reliant on external sources, rather than domestic production, in times of domestic supply shortages. As well, we are concerned that the federal government is leaving it to the marketplace, solely relying on current distributors to identify external sources supply, rather than searching to identify alternative safe sources of supply.
* Basing Canada's supply strategy on relicensing of the Chalk River reactor five years past its current license with no current guarantees that the plant will return and remain in production, let alone meet relicensing standards.
* The apparent lack of a federal contingency plan if, in 2016, alternative sources of supply and alternative emerging technology does not meet clinical needs.
* An analysis of the overall costs to the health care system as a result of the increased costs incurred during the prolonged period of shortages of isotopes supply and the rising costs as the demand for the alternative diagnostic and treatment models is not apparent.
* Initiatives to help mitigate increased costs for governments and particularly for nuclear medicine facilities do not exist.
The just released survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that two-thirds of nuclear medicine facilities reported that they experienced an increase in the cost of isotopes and that they were managing but exceeding their budget due to vendor surcharges. Only 2% reported that the isotope supply disruptions had no economic impact.
Canada's medical community therefore strongly urges that consideration be given to:
* investing in a mixed-use reactor for research and isotope production, as per the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Isotopes Production report of December, 2009;
* putting in place appropriate strategies and contingency plans to meet the health needs of Canadians; in particular consider a national deployment of PET technology for cancer detection and follow up.
* enhancing transparency by the government that provides more information on the short and medium-tern detailed plans to address isotope shortages;
* increasing the direct consultation with the official representatives of the nuclear medicine and medical community;
* making a public commitment to keep the Chalk River NRU reactor operational beyond the arbitrary date of 2016, as long as necessary and until secure alternative supplies of isotopes or alternative radiopharmaceuticals are proven and are in place; and,
* ensuring that the CNSC resurrects the external medical advisory council to facilitate communication between the medical community and the commission. Prior to 2001, members of the council provided CNSC staff with insight into how operational and policy decisions would affect patient care across the country.
Canada's doctors believe that the federal government must maintain a leadership role in this sector and must not compromise the medical needs of Canadians.
CMA's Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology as part of its study on prescription pharmaceuticals: Federal levers to address unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals and support public health, quality care, and patient safety
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for consideration as part of its study on prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada. In this phase, the Committee is studying the unintended consequences of pharmaceuticals, and witnesses to date have identified a broad range of such consequences.
In recognition of the important role of prescription medication in patient care, the CMA has developed an extensive body of policy on pharmaceutical medication and prescribing-related issues, some of which we have shared with this Committee on previous occasions. Physicians are concerned that all Canadians have access to medically-necessary medication that is safe, effective, affordable, appropriately prescribed and administered, and part of a comprehensive, patient-centered health care and treatment plan.
In this brief, the CMA identifies and discusses five issues that are unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals related to public health, quality care and patient safety. These are: addressing shortages in the supply of prescription pharmaceuticals; addressing the abuse and misuse of prescription medication; improved post-market surveillance and reporting tools; supporting optimal prescribing; and, addressing gaps in insurance coverage.
1) Addressing shortages in the supply of prescription medication
Over the past few years Canada's doctors have become deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of prescription medication.
Drug shortages have serious consequences for patient care. For example, if a patient on long-term therapy has been stabilized on a drug which becomes unavailable, and is switched to another drug that produces poorer results, this can lead to a decline in health status. The cost of the substitute medication might be beyond a patient's financial capacity. In some cases a therapeutic alternative may not be available at all.
The CMA has participated on a Multi Stakeholder Working Group on Drug Shortages, with Health Canada, the pharmaceutical industry and health professional organizations, to establish a Canadian drug shortage reporting website. Although a drug shortage reporting website has been established, there is significant room for improvement. While this website may provide information on products in shortage, it is not clear that all shortages are reported, no mechanism for redress is identified, and most importantly drug shortages are persisting.
The CMA supports an investigation into the underlying causes of prescription drug shortages in Canada. One frequently cited reason for shortages is product manufacturing disruptions, such as the 2011 production stoppage at a Sandoz facility in Quebec which resulted in a scramble to find alternate sources of many essential medications. Such disruptions are of particular concern when the drugs in question have been "single sourced" due to government bulk purchasing policies, and no clear substitutes are available. Therefore, the CMA supports the development of strategies at the provincial/territorial and federal level to discourage single source purchasing decisions.
The CMA continues to call on governments and manufacturers to take meaningful action to address the impacts of shortages includingdeveloping appropriate mitigation strategies to reduce the number of drug shortages in Canada and their impact on patient health and patient care.
To support this goal, the CMA recommends that the Committee extend its study on prescription pharmaceuticals to explore the root causes of shortages in the supply of prescription medication in Canada and strategies to mitigate the impacts on patients and patient care.
2) Addressing the misuse and abuse of prescription medication
The use of prescription opioid pain relievers is on the rise, in Canada and internationally. Latest reports indicate that Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States. The misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a serious problem and because of its complexity, requires a complex and multifaceted solution.
Canada's physicians are concerned about the abuse and misuse of prescription medication for a number of reasons. For one, physicians need to assess the condition of patients who request the medication, and consider whether the use is clinically indicated and whether the benefits outweigh the risks. This can be challenging as there is no objective test for assessing pain, and therefore the prescription of opioids rests to a great extent on mutual trust between the physician and the patient. For another, physicians may need to prescribe treatment for patients who become addicted to the medications. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge their signatures or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested.
Opioid prescription pharmaceuticals are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, such as pain management or palliative and end-of-life care. However, they may also be used for recreational purposes or to feed an addiction. It must be recognized that it is addiction which drives the drugs' illegal acquisition through means such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers or the Internet.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse in Canada. Such a strategy should include:
a) Programs to prevent misuse: The aim of prevention programs should be to reduce both recreational use and inappropriate therapeutic use. Awareness programs and social marketing campaigns could include:
* Information on the benefits and harms of prescription drug misuse, and signs of abuse, addiction or overdose;
* Instructions regarding safe storage and disposal. This is important since young recreational users frequently report that they obtain drugs from the family medicine cabinet. CMA supports national prescription drug "take back" days, and recommends that patients be educated about the importance of returning unused prescription drugs to the pharmacy.
b) Measures to reduce the risk of overdose: Overdose deaths due to opioid use have grown dramatically over the past ten years. The risk of harm from overdose may be compounded if recreational users are afraid to call for emergency assistance for fear of facing criminal charges. However, opioid overdoses can be prevented with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response.
c) Access to treatment services: A national strategy should also improve patient access to specialized pain management services, and to treatment for opioid addiction. Many believe that if specialized pain treatments were widely available, patients and prescribers would be less likely to rely solely on medication to treat their often debilitating pain.
d) A pan-Canadian prescription monitoring program: Programs to monitor the prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances exist in most provinces, but they vary in quality, in the nature of the information they require, and in the purpose for which data is collected. The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance. This should include the development of national standards for prescription monitoring, to ensure that all jurisdictions across Canada are collecting the same information in a standard way.
Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can have a number of positive effects, including:
* Identifying fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers.
* Deterring inter-provincial fraud.
* Supporting professional regulatory bodies actively monitor and intervene, as needed, with practitioners suspected of over-prescribing or over-dispensing frequently-misused medications.
* Finally, supporting researchers gather consistent data to improve our knowledge of the problem, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues.
We are pleased that federal, provincial and territorial health ministries have expressed interest in working together on prescription drug abuse issues, and we hope that this will result in a coherent national system for monitoring and surveillance, and thus to improved knowledge about the nature of the problem and its most effective solutions.
3) Improving post-market surveillance and reporting tools
Health Canada has traditionally approved drugs for general use based on clinical trials that tend to be of short duration and have relatively few participants. As a result, when a prescription pharmaceutical comes on the market there is still limited information about its safety or effectiveness, and there is a need to keep gathering information from people who are using it in "real-world" conditions. As a consequence, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are all too common in Canada; according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, one in 200 patients over 65 are hospitalized because of adverse reactions to their medication. As such, CMA once again recommends that Health Canada work to strengthen the capacity of its post-market surveillance system by ensuring that it includes:
a) Comprehensive processes for gathering drug safety and effectiveness data: Since most safety data reaches Health Canada in the form of spontaneous adverse drug reaction (ADR) reports, reporting processes should make it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report ADRs voluntarily, by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Ideally, ADR reporting could be incorporated directly into the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) as this is developed. Spontaneous reports could be augmented with information gathered through other, more systematic means such as formal post-market studies.
b) A capacity for rigorous and timely data analysis to identify significant threats to drug safety: The monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction (ADR) report has been received are critical elements of the post-surveillance system. Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis that can sort "signal from noise" - in other words, sift through the reports, find the ones that indicate unusual events, investigate their cause, and isolate those that indicate a serious public health risk. It also requires that the analysis be timely: we note that in 2011 the Auditor General was particularly critical of Health Canada's post-market surveillance timeliness, noting that it could take several years for reports to be reviewed internally.
c) Communication of useful information to health care providers and the public: When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that physicians and other health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information to physicians and other health professionals, which they can absorb quickly and incorporate into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available.
The CMA supports the expanded ministerial authorities of recall proposed in Bill C-17, the Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, and the intent to address the short-comings of Canada's post-market surveillance system. We will be providing comments on this legislation in the near future.
4) Supporting Optimal Prescribing
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the medications that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm. The CMA encourages collaborative efforts toward the achievement of this ideal.
For example, medication misuse among seniors is a major concern. According to a 2011 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 62% of seniors on public drug programs use five or more drug classes, and nearly 30% of those 85 and older have claims for 10 or more prescription drugs. Heavy medication use by people over 65 has a number of consequences:
* The risk of adverse drug reactions is several-fold higher for older patients than for younger;
* Medication regimes, particularly for those taking several drugs a day on different dosage schedules, can be confusing and lead to errors or non-adherence; and,
* Patients may receive prescriptions from multiple providers who, if they have not been communicating with each other, may not know what other medications have been prescribed. This increases the risk of duplicate prescriptions, harmful drug interactions and other medication errors.
It is to address such concerns that the CMA developed its 2010 position statement: "A Prescription for Optimal Prescribing This statement recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
This strategy should include, among other elements:
a) Provision of Relevant, Objective Information: The CMA supports the development and dissemination of information for prescribers that is based on the best available scientific evidence, relevant to clinical practice, and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's daily workflow.
At present, physicians receive much of their information from pharmaceutical manufacturers. Since manufacturers have generous budgets to support their information dissemination, their campaigns are impressive and effective; but their impartiality has frequently been called into question. Objective, evidence-based information to health professionals on prescription drugs and their uses could be disseminated in the following ways:
* Well-crafted online continuing medical education (CME), funded by objective sources.
* Academic detailing, in which teams of experts visit prescribers to provide impartial prescribing advice. Academic detailing programs have demonstrated success; but because they are expensive and labour intensive, it has often been difficult to persuade governments to invest in them.
* Making drug information available to prescribers at the point of care, through such means as mobile phone apps and electronic health records.
* Programs that monitor a prescriber's habits and compare them to those of peers. CMA encourages such programs if their purpose is to educate rather than to enforce a certain behaviour.
Information for prescribers should be augmented by unbiased, up-to-date, practical information for consumers about prescription drugs and their appropriate use.
b) Support e-prescribing. Electronic prescribing has the potential to dramatically improve drug therapy. For example an effective e-prescribing system could:
* List all the drugs a patient is taking, and identify duplicate prescriptions for the same drug from different providers, thus helping to reduce medication error and prescription fraud;
* Incorporate decision-support tools; for example, a warning could appear on the screen if a physician proposes to prescribe a drug that interacts harmfully with another the patient is already taking.
* Improve decision making and communication between providers, providing all of a patient's caregivers access to a common, comprehensive medication profile; and
* Increase convenience for the patient and eliminate illegible handwriting, which is a major cause of medication error.
The CMA recommends that governments, health care leadership and clinical organizations in all jurisdictions commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015, and ensure the policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing.
5) Addressing gaps in insurance coverage for prescription medication
Finally, another consequence of the increased role of pharmaceuticals in health care is that, because they are not generally covered by the Canada Health Act, many Canadians, particularly those in the lowest income groups, are unable to afford them. Data from the 2007 Community Health Survey estimate that 1 in 10 Canadians does not adhere to their prescription regimes for reasons of cost.
The CMA recommends that 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.
As previously mentioned, CMA has focussed its discussion of unintended consequences on recommendations to support public health, quality care, and patient safety.
The CMA commends the Committee for making this issue the subject of study, and hope that our recommendations, and those of other witnesses, will lead to action to address the unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada.
Summary of Recommendations
1) The CMA recommends that the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee extend its study on prescription pharmaceuticals to explore the root causes of shortages in the supply of prescription medication in Canada and strategies to mitigate the impacts on patients and patient care.
2) The CMA recommends that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse in Canada.
3) The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance.
4) The CMA recommends that Health Canada continue to improve the capacity of its post-approval surveillance system to:
* Make it easier for health professionals to submit voluntary ADR reports
* Analyze the data that has been gathered, in a rigorous and timely manner; and
* Communicate essential information to health care providers and the public in a timely and user-friendly manner.
5) The CMA recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
6) The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
* based on the best available scientific evidence;
* relevant to clinical practice; and,
* easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
7) The CMA calls on governments to support and deliver funding for impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
8) The CMA recommends that governments, health care leadership and clinical organizations in all jurisdictions commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015, and ensure the policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing.
9) The CMA recommends that 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.
In its Economic Action Plan 2011(Budget 2011), the Government of Canada committed to consult stakeholders on the next long-term plan for public infrastructure which would extend beyond the expiry of the current framework, the Building Canada Plan, on March 31, 2014.
The CMA’s 2012-13 pre-budget brief recommends that the federal government ensure health infrastructure is eligible for funding as part of the next long-term plan for public infrastructure. The purpose of which is to address a particular health infrastructure deficit that is preventing the optimization of health care resources and exacerbating wait times and ensure that Canadian communities are able to meet the current and emerging care needs of their older seniors. The CMA has prepared this brief to provide further details on the scope of the proposed infrastructure funding for the health sector, its rationale and economic benefit, and how it could be applied.
2. Overview of proposal
The CMA recommends that the federal government ensure health sector infrastructure for long-term care facilities is eligible for funding under the next long-term infrastructure program. This funding should be applicable both for new capital projects and for renovating/retrofitting existing facilities.
This recommendation, and the recognition of the need for additional capacity in the long-term care sector, is part of a pan-Canadian approach to redirect alternate level of care patients from hospitals to homes, communities and long-term care facilities, where they can receive more appropriate care at a lower cost. It costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed. If ALC patients were moved to more appropriate care settings, in this case, from hospital to long-term care, this would save the health care system about $1.4 billion a year.
For the purposes of this recommendation, long-term care facilities include long-term care residential homes, assisted living units and other types of innovative residential models that ensure residents are in the setting most appropriate to their needs. The long-term care sector is facing significant change due to increasing numbers of older seniors and their increasingly complex care needs. These pressures not only relate to the construction of new facilities but apply to the need to maintain existing facilities, including retrofitting to meet higher regulatory requirements, as well as struggling to meet higher care needs of their increasingly elderly population.
The CMA’s recommendation to ensure that long-term care infrastructure qualify under the next long-term infrastructure plan is one component of the association’s Health Care Transformation initiative and would support a pan-Canadian approach for continuing care, which would integrate home care and facility-based long-term, respite and palliative care services fully within the health care system.
The rationale behind the recommendation for health infrastructure to qualify for the next long-term infrastructure plan is based primarily on the care needs of Canada’s growing seniors’ population and its impact on Canada’s health care system. Communities across Canada face a common problem of a lack of resources to properly meet the housing and care needs of their seniors population. Demographic trends indicate this problem will only intensify. However, as demonstrated below, investing in seniors can generate substantial direct and indirect economic benefits.
Meeting the needs of Canada’s growing seniors population and their changing care needs
While all advanced countries are expected to age over the coming decades, the Canadian population is projected to age more rapidly than that of most other OECD countries, according to a recent report from Finance Canada. Statistics Canada reports the number of seniors (65+) in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million in 2005 to 9.8 million in 2036, with their share of the total population increasing from 13.2 per cent to 24.5 per cent. The number and proportion of older seniors – those 75 and older – are expected to increase significantly as well. Ontario’s population of people aged 75 and up is expected to grow by almost 30 per cent between 2012 and 2021. According to Statistics Canada’s medium-growth population projection scenario, the population aged 80 years or over will increase 2.6 times by 2036 – to 3.3 million persons.
While the rate of residency in long-term care facilities among seniors has been declining, as the aging of Canada’s population accelerates, the demand for residential care will nonetheless increase significantly over the near term due to higher numbers of elderly seniors.
Not only is the size of the elderly population increasing, but their health needs are changing too, particularly among those requiring residential care. Long-term care residents are older today than in previous years and have more complex health needs than ever before. A Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) comparison of home care clients and seniors who are living in residential care found that “seniors in residential care were more likely to require extensive assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing and toileting (74 per cent versus 18 per cent). They were also more likely to have moderate to severe cognitive impairment (60 per cent versus 14 per cent). The number of residents with dementia is expected to increase. In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with cognitive impairment, including dementia – that’s 14.9 per cent of Canadians 65 and older. By 2031, this figure will increase to 1.4 million. At the request of the House of Commons Finance Committee, the CMA submitted a national dementia strategy. This proposal to fund long-term care facilities supports such a strategy.
Many existing residential facilities are poorly equipped to meet the care needs of their residents, which are more complex now than when these facilities were originally built. For example, many facilities do not meet current building safety standards and the limited provincial and municipal funding available is usually insufficient to bring them up to code. Also, there is a lack of units with shared space to better support residents with dementia, as well as a shortage of appropriate units to care for residents who are disabled or obese. Renovations are also required to make better use of long-term care beds for other purposes such as providing short-stay respite care or transitional care. According to the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres, the lack of physical facilities necessary for care was the reason most often given by homes for declining to admit a long-term care wait-list client.
Opportunity to improve health care efficiency and reallocate existing program spending
We recognize that addressing the current gap in long-term care residency options is only one strategy to improve the effectiveness of Canada’s health care system. However, we believe it is a critical component of an integrated continuum of care strategy that provides for increased home and community supports. Improving options for seniors will have a positive cascading effect on many other elements of the system. Not only will seniors reside in more appropriate and safer settings but acute care resources will be better used. Consider that about 45 per cent of provincial and territorial governments’ health care spending in 2009 went toward those 65 years and older, while this group constituted only 14 per cent of the population.
A major issue facing Canada’s health care system is the high number of alternate level of care patients (ALC) who occupy acute care beds. ALC patients are those who have completed the acute care phase of their treatment but remain in an acute care bed or who are admitted into a hospital bed due to the lack of a more appropriate care setting. In most cases, these people would be better served living in their own home with the appropriate level of supports or in a long-term care residence.
The high number of ALC patients in hospitals is a problem experienced across the country. The total number of hospital bed days for ALC patients in 2007-2008 (latest figures) was 1.7 million.
Furthermore, the lack of options for ALC patients also contributes to a high percentage of these patients being readmitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge (see Appendix A). According to CIHI figures, 85 per cent of ALC patients were older than age 65, with almost half waiting for placement in long-term care. A high percentage of ALC patients suffer from dementia.
It costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed. If ALC patients were moved to more appropriate care settings, in this case, from hospital to long-term care, this would save the health care system about $1.4 billion a year. The presence of ALC patients in hospitals also lead to longer surgical wait times and longer delays in the emergency department as acute care beds remain unavailable. In fact, the Wait Time Alliance – an alliance of 14 national medical organizations and specialties – has said “the most important action to improve timely access to specialty care for Canadians is by addressing the ALC issue.”
Available wait-time data (See Appendix B) for long-term care show that wait times to access a long-term care bed can often be measured in, not months or days, but years. Data from Ontario for 2004 to 2008 found that less than 50 per cent of seniors with high or very high needs were placed in a long-term care facility within a year of being put on a wait list. The average wait time for placement in Quebec is 13 months (ranging between five months and four years). The most recent report by Ontario’s Auditor General found that 15 per cent of patients on the provincial wait list for long-term care passed away while waiting for placement.
The wait to access residential care can vary immensely depending on where one resides. Often the wait is longer for residents in small, rural and northern communities. Sometimes the only route to securing a placement is for the resident to move to a facility in another community.
According to Statistics Canada, there are 261,945 long-term care beds in operation in Canada (latest figures, 2009/10.) How many residential beds will be required in the future to meet the growing number of elderly seniors?
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a bed forecast tied to the growth of the population aged 75 and over and based on a decreased bed ratio demand of 0.59 per cent per year to reflect the greater shift to community-based services and supportive housing options being advanced at the provincial level. This bed ratio demand is described by the Canadian Healthcare Association as representing a modest shift from the current reliance on long-term care to community services. Based on these assumptions, it has been estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,535 new beds per year over the next 35 years, for a total of 637,721 beds by 2047. Demand would vary over the 35-year period, peaking between 2022 and 2040 (See Appendix C). The five-year projection for beds is as follows:
Table 1: Projected shortage in long-term care beds, 2014 to 2019
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
Year Number of additional beds required
Projected 5-year shortage 29,693
As shown, there is a projected shortage of 29,693 beds over the next five years. For the purposes of longer-term planning, the gap in beds required for the following five-year period (2019-2023) is as follows:
Table 2: Projected shortage in long-term care beds, 2019 to 2023
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
Year Number of additional beds required
As previously outlined, the rising gap in bed numbers is affected by the increased numbers in people aged 75 and older anticipated over the next 35 years.
The estimated cost to construct 10,535 beds (the average number of beds required to be built per year from 2013 to 2047) is $2.8 billion, based on a cost estimate of $269,000 per bed. This figure could include both public and private spending.
The purpose of this bed projection is to provide a sense of the immense challenge Canada faces in addressing the needs of a vulnerable segment of its older seniors population. It is important to note that this forecast does not include the significant investments required to renovate and retrofit the existing stock of residential facilities, not only to meet the current standards but to effectively respond to the complex care needs of residents requiring long-term care today and in the future. Similarly, the potential facility capacity expansions through retrofit or renovation are not included. Moreover, innovative capital investment in residential facilities can provide opportunities for their greater use by other members of the community. They can, for example, provide short-stay respite to support families and convalescent care programs such as those found in the United Kingdom. We also recognize that supportive housing and healthy aging programming are important components of an integrated solution to the ALC issue and to ensuring seniors reside in the most appropriate place.
4. How the funding would work
Health infrastructure could qualify under a communities component of the next long-term infrastructure plan where this federal funding can be leveraged with provincial and and / or municipal investment (e.g. 1/3 federal component matched by + 2/3 provincial and / or municipal). This funding allocation could also include the use of public-private partnership models.
Investing in Canada’s Continuing Care Sector Provides a Wide Range of Economic Benefits
Construction of new residential care models and renovating/retrofitting existing facilities will provide significant economic opportunities for many communities across Canada (See Appendix E for detailed figures).
Based on Conference Board of Canada estimates, the construction and maintenance of 10,535 long-term care beds (the average number of new beds needed per year from 2013 to 2047) will yield direct economic benefits on an annual basis that include $1.23 billion contribution to GDP and 14,141 high value jobs during the capital investment phase and $637 million contribution to GDP and 11,604 high value jobs during the facility operation phase (based on an average annual capital investment); and close the significant gap between the projected long-term care bed shortages and current planned investment.
When indirect economic contributions are included, the total estimated annual contribution to Canada’s GDP reaches almost $3 billion, yielding 37,528 new jobs (construction, care providers and other sectors). Details on these economic benefits are provided in Appendix F, but a summary is presented below:
Table 3: Average annual total economic contribution of new residential care facilities
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE]
(10, 535 new beds per year at market prices)
GDP (in 2013 $millions)
Number of jobs created
Average direct contribution to GDP of investing in new facilities (construction)
Average direct contribution to GDP of operating the new facilities
Average indirect contribution to GDP of investing in new facilities (construction)
Average indirect contribution to GDP of operating the new facilities
TOTAL (both direct and indirect)
For every 100 jobs created in the construction of long-term care facilities, an additional 72 jobs would be created in other sectors, while for every 100 jobs created in the long-term care sector, 14 jobs would be created in other sectors.
The numbers provided above reflect the annual average contribution. On a time specific level, covering the five-year period between 2014 and 2018, an estimated 167,840 jobs would be created, based on the construction of 29,693 new beds.
Another important economic benefit is the return in government revenues. The increase in construction and operating spending per average year will provide over $425 million in federal government revenues and over $370 million in provincial revenues (See Appendix G).
As previously identified, an improved stock of long-term care beds will provide many other economic spinoffs, including savings in health care costs that can be reallocated to better meet Canadians’ health care needs and to provide greater support for families in their role as caregivers. Without adequate provision of long-term care resources, Canada’s labour force may experience a productivity drag through increased leaves and absenteeism to care for elderly relatives.
The aging of our population touches all Canadians – from seniors who need the services to families who serve as caregivers and/or contribute financially to the care of aging relatives. Recent data show that 32 per cent of caregivers who provide more than 21 hours of care per week report distress in their role – four times the proportion of distressed caregivers who provide less than 10 hours of informal care per week.
The federal government has a long history of allocating capital investment in the health sector. Previous examples include the Hospitals and Construction Grants Program in 1948, the Health Resources Fund established in 1966 and, more recently, the funding of capital projects at research hospitals under the Canada Foundation for Innovation Leading Edge and New Initiatives Funds in 2012.
All communities across Canada are strongly affected by the social and health care needs of their growing senior and long-term care populations (see Appendix H for a sample of recent news stories.) Federal capital investment will help narrow the significant gap between the projected long-term care bed shortages and current planned investment in the area of residential care facilities. Further, it would have a cascading effect leading to a more effective and efficient Canadian health care system.
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the federal government allocate $2.3 billion over a five-year period in the next long-term infrastructure plan for the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities. Long-term care facilities include long-term care residential homes, assisted living units and other types of innovative residential models that ensure residents are in the most care setting most appropriate to their needs. This funding could be delivered as part of the communities component of the next long-term infrastructure plan.
1 Department of Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's aging population. Ottawa, 2012.
2 Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. 2012 annual report. 2012. http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_en/en12/2012ar_en.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
3 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. June 2010. 91-520-X
4 Alzheimer's Society Ontario. Facts about dementia. http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/Dementias/What-is-dementia/Facts-about-dementia. Accessed 01/30/13.
5 Canadian Medical Association. Toward a Dementia Strategy for Canada. Ottawa, 2013. http://www.cma.ca/submissions-to-government Accessed 01/30/13.
6 Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors. Proposals for the Ontario Budget. Fiscal Year 2012-13. March 2012.
7 David Walker. Caring for our aging population and addressing alternate level of care. Report Submitted to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. June 30, 2011. Toronto.
8 Long Term Care Innovation Expert Panel. Why not now? A bold, five-year strategy for innovating Ontario's system of care for older adults. March 2012. http://www.oltca.com/axiom/DailyNews/2012/June/LTCIEPFullREport_web_jun6.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
9 For an example of an integrated continuum of post-acute care model see CARP, One Patient: CARP's Care Continuum. http://www.carp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/One-Patient-Brief-Updated-Oct-18.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
10 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Improving the accessibility, quality and sustainability of long-term care in Canada. CLHIA Report on Long-Term Care Policy. June 2012.
11 Wait Time Alliance. Time out! Report card on wait times in Canada. 2011. http://www.waittimealliance.ca/media/2011reportcard/WTA2011-reportcard_e.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
12 Correspondence with officials from Bruyère Continuing Care in Ottawa. January 2013.
13 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health care in Canada, 2011 2011. .
14 Rapport du Vérificateur général du Québec à l'Assemblée nationale pour l'année 2012-2013.
15 Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. 2012 annual report. 2012.
16 The .59 per cent decrease in bed ratio is presented as Scenario 2 in Lazurko, M. and Hearn, B. Canadian Continuing Care Scenarios 1999-2041, KPMG Final Project Report to FPT Advisory Committee on Health Services, Ottawa. 2000. Presented in Canadian Healthcare Association, New Directions for Facility-Based Long-Term Care. 2009. http://www.cha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CHA_LTC_9-22-09_eng.pdf. Accessed 01/30/13.
17 Canadian Institute for Health Information, Health Care in Canada, 2011.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to commend the multi-party group of Members of Parliament who have come together to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.
The challenge we face today in caring for our aging population is only going to get greater. Statistics Canada has projected a rapid increase in the proportion of seniors in the population. The first wave of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year. By 2031, seniors will account for roughly one-quarter of the population, nearly double the 13.9% observed in 2009.1
Canadians are clearly concerned about their ability to cope with future health care expenses, either their own or those of their parents. Respondents to the CMA's 2010 Annual National Report Card on Health Care survey anticipate a range of implications associated with our aging population:
* 29% reported that they will likely alter their retirement plans (e.g., work longer) to help pay for their own future costs or those of their parents;
* Almost one in five (19%) anticipates moving their parents into their own home and supporting them financially; and
* One in six (16%) anticipates paying for their parents to live in a nursing home.2
The CMA believes that the federal government could play a key role in allaying Canadians' concerns about the future by leading negotiations with the provinces and territories and taking direct action on extending access along the continuum of care. These actions should focus on three priority areas:
* Increasing access by all Canadians to affordable prescription drugs;
* Supporting informal caregivers; and
* Increasing access to palliative care at the end of life.
If nothing is done to extend Medicare to cover more of the continuum of care, it will erode over time as a national program. When the Canada Health Act (CHA) was passed in 1984, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this had declined to 42% as of 2009.3 While there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (more than 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care, these programs are not subject to the CHA principles and coverage across the provinces and territories varies significantly.
Access to Prescription Drugs
The federal government missed an excellent opportunity to modernize Medicare in July 2004 when Premiers called on it to upload responsibility for drug programs. The Premiers stated that "a national pharmaceutical program should immediately be established. The federal government should assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug plan for all Canadians, and be accountable for the outcomes."4
The federal government did not give this offer even fleeting consideration. Instead, the September 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care contained a watered-down version of the First Ministers' 2003 commitment to ensure that all Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by the end of 2005/06.
The 2004 Accord reduced this commitment to the development of costing options for pharmaceutical coverage, as part of a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS).5 Costing options were included in the 2006 progress report of the NPS but they included estimates of the cost of catastrophic coverage wildly exceeding those of Romanow and Kirby, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion.6 Nothing further has been heard about the NPS since stakeholder consultations were held in fall 2007.
As recently as September 2008, the provinces and territories (PTs) were still interested in federal participation in pharmaceuticals. In the communiqué from their annual meeting, the PT health Ministers called for a three-point funding formula to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage, including:
* PT flexibility and autonomy in program design;
* Prescription drug costs not to exceed 5% of net income; and
* Federal and PT governments to cost share 50/50, estimated at $2.52 billion each in 2006.7
Again there was no reaction from the federal government. Since then the PT governments have appeared to be giving up hope of federal participation in access to pharmaceuticals. At their June 2009 meeting, the western Premiers announced they would develop a joint western purchasing plan for pharmaceuticals,8 and more recently at the August 2010 meeting of the Council of the Federation, Premiers agreed to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance for common drugs, medical supplies and equipment.9 Health Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at their September 2010 meeting.10 One can speculate that had the federal government taken up the Premiers' offer in 2004, many aspects of the NPS would be in place by now.
Meanwhile, access to prescription drugs presents a hardship for many Canadians. In the CMA's 2009 National Report Card survey, nearly one in six (14%) reported they had either delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs. This ranged from more than one in five (22%) with annual incomes of less than $30,000 to just over one in 20 (7%) of those with incomes greater than $90,000.11
The wide geographic disparity in out-of-pocket drug expenditures is shown in the table below, which is compiled from Statistics Canada's 2009 Survey of Household Spending. Table 1 shows the percentage of households spending more than 3% and 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs, by province, in the year prior to the survey.
[Note - see PDF for correct display of table information]
% of Households Spending Greater than 3% and 5% of After-tax Income
on Prescription Drugs, Canada and Provinces, 2008
Geography >3% >5%
Canada 7.6 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 11.6 5.4E
Prince Edward Island 13.3 5.8E
Nova Scotia 8.9 3.8
New Brunswick 9.1 4.1E
Quebec 11.6 3.3
Ontario 4.7 2.2E
Manitoba 12.0 5.2
Saskatchewan 11.5 5.9
Alberta 4.6E 2.2E
British Columbia 7.5 3.6
E - Use with caution - high coefficient of variation
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 109-5012
Under both thresholds there is a more than two-fold variation across provinces in the incidence of catastrophic drug expenditures. At the 5% threshold the range is from 2.2% of households in Ontario and Alberta to 5.8% in PEI and 5.9% in Saskatchewan. With the growing availability of more expensive drugs, this variation is only likely to be exacerbated in the years ahead.
The federal government should negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with the provincial/territorial governments.
This program should be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies. Such a program should include the following elements:
* A mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* Uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income);
* Federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both;
* Group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size; and
* A continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs).
In negotiating this plan, consideration should be given to the following:
* Establishing a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
* Assessing the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
* Provision of adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans; and
* Provision of comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada.
Supporting Informal Caregivers
As the population ages, the incidence of diseases associated with dementia is projected to increase dramatically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada has reported that the 2008 level of an estimated 103,728 new dementia cases is expected to more than double to 257,811 per year by 2038. Over this period, the demand for informal caregiving will skyrocket. In 2008, the Alzheimer Society reports, the opportunity cost of unpaid care giving was estimated at almost $5 billion. By 2038 this cost is expected to increase by 11-fold, to reach $56 billion, as the overall prevalence of dementia will have risen to 1.1 million people, representing 2.8% of the Canadian population.12
The burden of informal care giving extends beyond the costs related to dementia. Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey has documented the extent to which Canadians are providing unpaid assistance to family, friends or other persons with a long-term health condition or physical limitation.
Nationwide, 1.4 million adults aged 45 or over living in the community were receiving care in 2007. Of this number almost one in two (46.9%) were receiving both paid and unpaid care, almost three in 10 (27.4%) were receiving unpaid care only, and just under one in five (18.8%) were receiving paid care only. This underscores the importance of the informal sector.
In terms of who was providing this care, an estimated four million Canadians were providing care, of whom one million were aged 65 or over, while almost two million (1.8) were in the prime working age range of 45 to 54. The provision of unpaid care represents a significant time commitment.
The caregivers who reported helping with at least one activity spent an average 11.6 hours in a typical week doing so. Those providing care reported significant personal consequences. One in three reported spending less time on social activities (33.7%) or incurring extra expenses (32.7%), almost one in five cancelled holiday plans (18.7%) or spent less time with their spouse (18.7%), and more than one in 10 (13.7%) reported that their health had suffered.
The 2.5 million informal caregivers who were in the paid labour force were likely to report that caregiving had had a significant impact on their jobs. Almost one in four (24.3%) reported missing full days of work and one in six (15.5%) reported reducing hours of work.
Compared to the total population, informal caregivers were more likely to report stress in their lives. Almost three in 10 (27.9%) reported their level of stress on most days to be either quite a bit or extremely stressful compared to fewer than one in four (23.2%) of the total population.13
As the demand for informal care grows, it seems unlikely that the burden of informal caregiving will be sustainable without additional support.
The federal government took the positive step in 2004/05 of introducing Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits for people who are away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and at risk of dying within 26 weeks.14 So far, however, this program has had limited uptake. In 2007/08, 5,706 new claims were paid.15 This pales in comparison to the 235,217 deaths that year (although not all of these would be candidates for this type of care).16
The federal government should implement measures within its jurisdiction, such as the use of tax credits, to support informal caregivers.
Increasing Access to Palliative Care at the End of Life
The Senate of Canada, and Senator Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided exemplary leadership over the last 15 years in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. The Senator's 2005 report Still Not There noted that only an estimated 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care and that for children the figure drops even further to just over 3%.17 The 2005 report repeated the 1995 call for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. To date, palliative care in Canada has primarily centred on services for those dying with cancer. However, cancer accounts for less than one-third (30%) of deaths in Canada.
Diseases at the end of life, such as dementia and multiple chronic conditions, are expected to become much more prevalent in the years ahead. The demand for quality end-of-life care is certain to increase as the baby boom generation ages. There will be an estimated 40% more deaths a year by 2020. While the proportion of Canadians dying in hospital has been decreasing over the past decade, many more Canadians would undoubtedly prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of their lives than current capacity will permit.
In the 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers built on their 2003 Accord by agreeing to provide first dollar coverage for certain home care services by 2006, including end-of-life care for case management, nursing, palliative-specific pharmaceuticals and personal care at the end of life. Seven years later we have no comprehensive picture of the availability of end-of-life care across Canada.
The Health Council of Canada's last detailed reporting on the implementation of the 2003 Accord was in 2006. At that time, the only province to report comprehensive end-of-life care was British Columbia.18 For most other jurisdictions, end-of-life care was discussed under "next steps." Since then, the Health Council has ceased comprehensive reporting on the Accord.
In the 2007 National Physician Survey, doctors across Canada were asked to rate the accessibility of the range of services for their patients. Just one in three (32%) rated access to palliative care services as either excellent or very good.19
In 2006, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Home Care Association jointly issued a 35-point "gold standard" for palliative home care, covering the areas of case management, nursing care, pharmaceuticals and personal care, which they commended to governments.20
In its April 2009 report, the Special Senate Committee on Aging recommended a federally funded national partnership with provinces, territories and community organizations to promote integrated, quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, the application of gold standards in palliative home care to veterans, First Nations and Inuit, and federal inmates, and renewed research funding for palliative care.21
In 2010, the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCC), of which the CMA is a member, released its Blueprint for Action 2010 to 2020. The four priorities are:
* Ensure all Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative end-of-life care;
* Provide more support for family caregivers;
* Improve the quality and consistency of hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada; and
* Encourage Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life.22
This blueprint embodies the sound ideas that have emerged over the past decade.
In June 2010, Senator Carstairs released her latest report Raising the Bar, which, while acknowledging some of the achievements that have been made in palliative care, repeats her previous calls for a national role and active engagement of the federal government.23
A wide range of stakeholders either have, or should have, a significant stake in the issue of palliative care. They include patients and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, caregivers (both formal and informal), the institutional and community health sectors, and the employer/business community.
The CMA urges the federal government to collaborate with the provincial and territorial governments to convene a national conference in 2011 to assess the state of palliative care in Canada.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. Catalogue no. 91-520-X. Ottawa. Minister of Industry, 2010.
2 Canadian Medical Association. 10th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2010/report_card/2010-National-Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
4 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers' action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federation. July 30, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/850098004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
5 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
6 Health Canada. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
7 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual Conference of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. September 4, 2008. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
8 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers taking action on pharmaceuticals. June 18, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo09/850114004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
9 Council of the Federation. Premiers protecting Canada's health care systems. http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/pdfs/PremiersProtectingCanadasHealthCareSystem.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. P/T health Ministers work together to advance common issues. September 13, 2010. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/860578004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
11 Canadian Medical Association. 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2009/report_card/Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
12Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rising tide: the impact of dementia on Canadian society. http://www.alzheimer.ca/docs/RisingTide/Rising%20Tide_Full%20Report_Eng_FINAL_Secured%20version.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
13 Statistics Canada. 2007 General Social Survey: Care tables. Catalogue no. 89-633-X. Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2009.
14Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Information for health care professionals: EI Compassionate Care. http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/publications_resources/health_care/ei_ccb.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
15 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Table 2.12 Compassionate care benefits. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/employment/ei/reports/eimar_2009/annex/annex2_12.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
16 Statistics Canada. Deaths 2007. The Daily, Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
17 Carstairs S. Still not there. Quality end-of-life care: a status report. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Still%20Not%20There%20June%202005.pdf. Accessed 09/24/09.
18 Health Council of Canada. Jursdictional tables on health care renewal. Companion document to Health care renewal in Canada Measuring up? Annual report to Canadians 2006. Toronto, ON, 2007
19 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian Medical Association. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2007. Q25a. Please rate the accessibility of the following for your patients. http://www.nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/nps/2007_Survey/Results/ENG/National/pdf/Q25/Q25aALL.only_NON.CORE.only.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
20 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Canadian Home Care Association. The pan-Canadian gold standard for palliative home care. http://www.chpca.net/resource_doc_library/pan-cdn_gold_standards/Gold_Standards_Palliative_Home_Care.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
21 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. April 2009. http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/rep-e/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
22 Quality End -of-life Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2020. http://www.chpca.net/qelccc/information_and_resources/Blueprint_for_Action_2010_to_2020_April_2010.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
23Carstairs S. Raising the bar: a roadmap for the future of palliative care in Canada. June 2010. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Raising%20the%20Bar%20June%202010%20(2).pdf. Accessed 09/29/10.
The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. In fulfillment of this mission, the CMA’s role is focused on national, pan-Canadian health advocacy and policy priorities.
As detailed in this brief, the CMA is gravely concerned that by capturing group medical structures in the application of Section 44 of Bill C-29, the federal government will inadvertently negatively affect medical research, medical training and education as well as access to care.
To ensure that the unintended consequences of this federal tax policy change do not occur, the CMA is strongly recommending that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction in Section 44 of Bill C-29.
Relevance of the Canadian Controlled Private Corporation Framework to Medical Practice
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country’s knowledge economy. Due to the design of Canada’s health care system, a large majority of physicians – more than 90% – are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners.
As self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits, although they are responsible for these benefits for their employees. Access to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework and the Small Business Deduction (SBD) are integral to managing a medical practice in Canada. It is imperative to recognize that physicians cannot pass on any increased costs, such as changes to CCPC framework and access to the SBD, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
In light of the unique business perspectives of medical practice, the CMA strongly welcomed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to maintain the existing small business framework and the subsequent federal recognition in the 2016 budget of the value that health care professionals deliver to communities across Canada as small business operators. Contrary to this recognition, the 2016 budget also introduced a proposal to alter eligibility to the small business deduction that will impact physicians incorporated in group medical structures.
What’s at risk: Contribution of group medical structures to health care delivery
The CMA estimates that approximately 10,000 to 15,000 physicians will be affected by this federal taxation proposal. If implemented, this federal taxation measure will negatively affect group medical structures in communities across Canada. By capturing group medical structures, this proposal also introduces an inequity amongst incorporated physicians, and incentivizes solo practice, which counters provincial and territorial health delivery priorities.
Group medical structures are prevalent within academic health science centres and amongst certain specialties, notably oncology, anaesthesiology, radiology, and cardiology. Specialist care has become increasingly sub-specialized. For many specialties, it is now standard practice for this care to be provided by teams composed of numerous specialists, sub-specialists and allied health care providers. Team-based care is essential for educating and training medical students and residents in teaching hospitals, and for conducting medical research.
Put simply, group medical structures have not been formed for taxation or commercial purposes. Rather, group medical structures were formed to deliver provincial and territorial health priorities, primarily in the academic health setting, such as teaching, medical research as well as optimizing the delivery of patient care. Over many years, and even decades, provincial and territorial governments have been supporting and encouraging the delivery of care through team-based models.
To be clear, group medical structures were formed to meet health sector priorities; they were not formed for business purposes. It is equally important to recognize that group medical structures differ in purpose and function from similar corporate or partnership structures seen in other professions. Unlike most other professionals, physicians do not form these structures for the purpose of enhancing their ability to earn profit.
It is critical that the federal government acknowledge that altering eligibility to the small business deduction will have more significant taxation implication than simply the 4.5% difference in the small business versus general rate at the federal level. It would be disingenuous to argue that removing full access to the small business deduction for incorporated physicians in group medical structures will be a minor taxation increase. As demonstrated below in Table 1, the effect of this federal taxation change will vary by province.
Table 1: Taxation impacts by province, if the federal taxation proposal is implemented
In Nova Scotia, for example, approximately 60% of specialist physicians practice in group medical structures. If the federal government applies this taxation proposal to group medical structures, these physicians will face an immediate 17.5% increase in taxation. In doing so, the federal government will establish a strong incentive for these physicians to move away from team-based practice to solo practice. If this comes to pass, the federal government may be responsible for triggering a reorganization of medical practice in Nova Scotia.
Finance Canada Grossly Underestimating the Net Impact
The CMA is aware that Finance Canada has developed theoretical scenarios that demonstrate a minimal impact to incorporated physicians within group medical structures. Working closely with our subsidiary, MD Financial Management, the CMA submitted real financial scenarios from real financial information provided to the CMA from incorporated physicians in group medical structures. These real examples demonstrate that there will be a significant impact to incorporated physicians in group medical structures, if this federal tax proposal will apply to them.
The theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada conclude the net financial impact to an incorporated physician in a group medical structure would be in the magnitude of hundreds of dollars. In stark contrast to the theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada, the CMA submitted financial scenarios of two incorporated physicians in group medical structures. The financial calculations undertaken by the CMA is based on the real financial information of these two physicians. The examples revealed yearly net reduction of funds of $32,510 and $18,065 for each of these physicians respectively.
Projecting forward, for the first physician, this would represent a negative impact of $402,330 based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return1. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $39.4 million.2
1 Source: MD Financial Management
2 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
3 Source: MD Financial Management
4 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
For the second physician, projecting forward, this would represent a negative impact of $223,565, based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return3. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $13.4 million.4
Unprecedented Level of Concern Expressed by Physicians
Following the publication of the 2016 federal budget, the CMA received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership expressing deep concern with the proposal to alter access to the small business deduction for group medical structures. The level of correspondence from our membership is quite simply unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
As part of the CMA’s due diligence as the national professional organization representing physicians, we informed our membership of Finance Canada’s consultation process on the draft legislative measures. In response, the CMA was copied on submissions by over 1,300 physicians to Finance Canada’s pre-legislative consultation.
In follow up, the CMA surveyed these physicians to better understand the impacts of the budget proposal. Here’s what we heard:
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group structure would dissolve;
. Most respondents (54%) said they would stop practicing in their group structure and that other partners would leave (76%);
. A large majority (78%) indicated that the tax proposal would lead to reduced investments in medical research by their group;
. Almost 70% indicated that the tax proposal would limit their ability to provide medical training spots; and,
. Another 70% indicated that the tax proposal will mean reduced specialty care by their group.
The full summary of the survey is provided as an appendix to this brief.
To further illustrate the risks of this proposal to health care, below are excerpts from some of the communiques received by the CMA from its membership:
. “Our Partnership was formed in the 1970s…The mission of the Partnership is to achieve excellence in patient care, education and research activities….there would be a serious adverse effect on retention and recruitment if members do not have access to the full small business deduction…The changes will likely result in pressure to dissolve the partnership and revert to the era of departments services by independent contractors with competing individual financial interests.” Submitted to the CMA April 15, 2016 from a member of the Anesthesia Associates of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus
. “The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is an academic health care institution dedicated to patient care, research and medical education…To support what we call our “academic mission,” cardiologists at the institute have formed an academic partnership…If these [taxation] changes go forward they will crippled the ability of groups such as ours to continue to function and will have a dramatic negative impact on medical education, innovative health care research, and the provision of high-quality patient care to our sickest patients.” Submitted to the CMA April 19, 2016 from a member of the Associates in Cardiology
. “We are a general partnership consisting of 93 partners all of whom are academic anesthesiologists with appointments to the Faculty of the University of Toronto and with clinical appointments at the University Health Network, Sinai Health System or Women’s College Hospital…In contrast to traditional business partnerships, we glean no business advantage whatsoever from being in a partnership…the proposed legislation in Budget 2016 seems unfair in that it will add another financial hardship to our partners – in our view, this is a regressive tax on research, teaching and innovation.” Submitted to the CMA April 14, 2016 from members of the UHN-MSH Anesthesia Associates
The CMA recommends that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction, as proposed in Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2.
Below is a proposed legislative amendment to ensure group medical structures are exempted from Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2:
Section 125 of the Act is amended by adding the following after proposed subsection 125(9):
125(10) Interpretation of designated member – [group medical partnership] – For purposes of this section, in determining whether a Canadian-controlled private corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician is a designated member of a particular partnership in a taxation year, the term "particular partnership" shall not include any partnership that is a group medical partnership.
125(11) Interpretation of specified corporate income – [group medical corporation] – For purposes of this section, in determining the specified corporate income for a taxation year of a corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician, the term "private corporation" shall not include a group medical corporation.
Subsection 125(7) of the Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:
"group medical partnership" means a partnership that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice;
"group medical corporation" means a corporation that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice.
"medical practice" means any practice and authorized acts of a physician as defined in provincial or territorial legislation or regulations and any activities in relation to, or incidental to, such practice and authorized acts;
"physician" means a health care practitioner duly licensed with a provincial or territorial medical regulatory authority and actively engaged in practice;
Incorporation Survey, October 2016
*Totals may exceed 100% as respondents were allowed to select more than one response
% Distribution by Province of Practice
Academic health sciences centre
Private office / clinic
Emergency department (in community hospital or AHSC)
Community clinic/Community health centre
Non-AHSC teaching hospital
Free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic
Free-standing walk-in clinic
Nursing home/ Long term care facility / Seniors' residence
Administrative office / Corporate office
% Distribution by Work Setting
Most frequently mentioned hospitals where respondents work in group medical structures
Group medical structure will dissolve
Stop practice in your group medical structure
Partnering members leave the group medical
Reduced investments in medical research
Reduced medical training spots
Reduced provision of specialized care
Physicians perceptions about the likelihood of the following outcomes
Likely or very likely
Unlikely or very unlikely
The federal government is advancing a tax proposal that will alter access to the small business deduction. If implemented, this proposal will affect incorporated physicians practicing in partnership group medical structures. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is actively advocating for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the application of this tax proposal.
Importance of Exempting Group Medical Structures from the Tax Proposal
Important or very important
Unimportant or very unimportant
To support the effectiveness of its advocacy efforts, the CMA conducted an online survey seeking input from members who had voiced their concerns about this issue directly with the Department of Finance and who had copied the CMA on their submissions.
Sample: physician type, province, and work setting
The survey was sent to 1089 CMA members, of which 174 responded (15.9% response rate). All sample respondents were incorporated and practiced in a group medical structure; 26% were family physicians (N=45) and 74% were specialists (N=129). Most respondents indicated practicing primarily in Ontario (65%) and Alberta (13%).
With respect to practice settings, the majority reported working in an academic health sciences centre (65%), followed by a private office/clinic (28%), university (22%), community hospital (15%), emergency department (9%), community clinic/community
health centre (8%), non-AHSC teaching hospital (8%), research unit (6%), and free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic (6%).
In total, respondents worked in 79 hospitals spread around 36 cities.
Likelihood of outcomes resulting from the federal tax proposal
When asked about the possible consequences of the proposed changes, the largest share of respondents (78%) felt a reduction in investments in medical research was likely or very likely. Almost as many (76%) also felt that partnering members would likely leave the group medical structure.
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group medical structure would be likely or very likely to dissolve if the federal tax proposal to change access to the small business deduction was implemented. Less than one-third (30%) felt unsure while only a few (9%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than half of respondents (54%) indicated that they would be likely or very likely to stop practicing in their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. More than one-third (36%) were unsure while only a few (10%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) indicated that other partnering members would be likely or very likely to leave their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. About 20% remained unsure while only 5% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 8 in 10 respondents (78%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce investments in medical research for their group medical structure. 16% remained unsure while 6% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Approximately two-thirds of respondents (67%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce the ability of the group medical structure to provide medical training spots. About a quarter (23%) remained unsure and 1 in 10 reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 7 in 10 respondents (68%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce provision of specialized care by their group medical structure. Almost a quarter (24%) remained unsure while 8% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
Importance of exempting group medical structures from the tax proposal
More than 9 in 10 respondents (94%) felt that it is important or very important for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the tax proposal to avoid negatively affecting health care delivery in their province. The remaining respondents were unsure (2%) or considered it unimportant or very unimportant (4%).
Other Impacts – Write-in Question
Before submitting the survey, respondents were given the chance to provide additional comments about other potential impacts that the proposed changes might produce. Most responses touched upon a few and inter-related themes, including:
1. Impact on education and research will be detrimental and will eventually affect patient care:
o “Without the group medical structure, we cannot adequately support teaching education and research activities. Physicians in academic health sciences centres will be forced to use their time to see patients, in order to bill fee-for-service to make a living. Very little time will be left over to
spend doing the research that is critical to advancing medical science, to supporting our university, and our nation’s prominent place in the world of medicine”
o “Support is given to the academic health sciences centres by the provincial government in order to facilitate research and education. The federal government's changes will penalize physicians who already dedicate much of their time to providing the stepping stones to advance medicine forward. These physicians generally make less income than physicians working in private practice. They are willing to take this monetary hit because they love what they do. However we all need to support our families and put food on the table. With the government's changes, this may not be possible in the current system, and these group medical structures will need to be dissolved and the physicians working will have much less time to dedicate to research and education.”
o “Less education, research activity to focus on fee-for-service procedures to compensate for higher taxes.”
o Our ability to provide teaching for medical education and research, which are currently not remunerated, would be curtailed. There would be no incentive but rather a significant disincentive to provide these activities because we would be financially penalized compared to physicians in the same specialty that are not in group medical structures.”
o “As the main teaching practice structure, we will lose full time faculty who provide the backbone to the program. They currently earn much below the average for Family Physicians in the province and our ability to support education and research will be compromised.”
2. Discourages practice in academic centres:
o “Working in an academic center as a general pediatrician means that we already make substantially less money than our community colleagues. There is very little incentive to remain in academic practice if we not only earn less, but are then not entitled to the same tax savings. I would leave academic practice and I suspect many of my colleagues would as well. I think we could see the end of the current group medical structure, as it would no longer support a financially viable model for academic practice.”
o “Creates a further divide between working in an academic centre and in the community. It will continue to be more advantageous to work in a smaller community - more money, less cost of living, less administrative and academic hassles, less research funding. Why bother working at an academic centre with such disadvantages.”
o “This policy seems to target academic physicians in groups disproportionately. These physicians currently support research and education by reallocating our own funds generated from clinical care. It is puzzling as to why the Federal Government is waging this war on the academic physician workforce.”
3. Physician retention and recruitment will be challenging:
o “I will retire sooner than otherwise.”
o “At the present time it is very difficult to recruit family doctors who are interested in teaching, research and administration of academic family medicine. This tax change will make it increasingly more difficult to recruit such individuals.”
o “I'm concerned that the proposed changes erase any benefits from a corporation structure and leave me with a loss. Work is so stressful and demanding that if I find myself in a disadvantaged situation financially as well, this would be another factor encouraging me either to retire or move outside of Canada. If I'm going to be faced with losses and more stress, why not instead focus on my quality of life instead?”
o “It would severely restrict our ability to recruit research and specialty physicians. We would not be able to compete with community centres and would see a dramatic decline in our ability to provide for teaching and research activities now funded through the group structure.”
o “I am a dual citizen and would seriously entertain moving to the USA.”
o “It will basically force me to go to a free standing walk in clinic.”
o “It would be less likely to recruit the best quality of medical staff to academic practice as there will be a significant financial disincentive, especially compared to what that same individual could earn on their own
in a community practice. This is on top of the fact that academic practitioners tend to earn less to start with.”
4. Discourages team-based collaborative care:
o “The bill sets up an unfair system where it is more attractive to be a solo MD rather than to collaborate and be part of a team.”
o “This creates an every person for themselves philosophy.”
o “The provision of our group services is required to ensure best patient care. It is wrong to penalize this model of comprehensive care.”
5. Practice will close and services will be limited in certain areas:
o “Any reduction in research, administration, academic activity, and members would affect patient care at our facility and therefore be a threat to patient safety. e.g., if multiple physicians leave, then we won't have enough physicians to cover the emergency department appropriately, wait times will increase, and serious patient safety concerns will arise.”
o “Reduces productivity of the doctors concerned and hence quality of service provided. Access will also be affected!”
o This would be unattractive for some, and they may leave (or others may not join.) If partners leave, the overhead will go up and we would likely close. Because our overhead is already borderline unacceptable. Shared between fewer docs would make it economically impossible. And this could easily happen if docs leave.
o “Reduced physician coverage if members opt out of group medical structure, which would have an impact on greater access and the quality of care.”
o “Our ability to have a large interdisciplinary team to assist in serving our patients could not continue to exist. Our ability to continue to provide 24/7 on-call and after hours clinics would decrease due to a change in the structure leading to less practitioners.”
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance discusses the important role of the federal government in ensuring Canada's health care system is cost-effective, accountable and accessible in order to support the country's economic advantage. As in other leading industrialized countries, the federal government has an important role in the effective allocation of health-related resources and the health outcomes of Canadians.
The purpose of this brief is to provide decision-makers with recommendations on areas within existing federal mandates in which the Government of Canada can contribute to advancing Health Care Transformation and improving the health of Canadians and the health care system - an issue Canadians consistently rank as their top concern. These recommendations focus on federal investment in a seniors care strategy, the social determinants of health and health sector innovation and productivity.
Summary of Recommendations
Recommendation # 1
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada collaborate with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to establish and invest in a pan-Canadian strategy for seniors care.
Recommendation # 2
The CMA recommends that funding for health infrastructure qualify under the next Building Canada Plan to support the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities.
Recommendation # 3
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada invest $25 million per year over five years toward a pan-Canadian dementia strategy.
Recommendation # 4
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish a Canada-wide injury prevention strategy to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources that will enable them to be disseminated nationwide.
Recommendation # 5
In support of a pan-Canadian palliative care strategy, CMA recommends that the Government of Canada undertake research to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources so that they can be replicated nationwide.
Recommendation # 6
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process.
Recommendation # 7
The CMA recommends that the federal government, in consultation with the provincial and territorial governments, health care providers, the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
The CMA recommends that the Government of Canada establish and invest in a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities.
The CMA recommends that the federal government rescind changes made to the Interim Federal Health Program until appropriate consultation and program review occur.
As in other leading industrialized countries, the federal government has an important stewardship role in the effective allocation of health-related resources and health outcomes of Canadians; this is central to a productive workforce and a strong economy.
This brief provides tangible, actionable recommendations on how the federal government can contribute to transforming Canada's health care system and improving the health of Canadians. The focus is on three critical areas for federal investment: a senior's care strategy; the social determinants of health and health equity; and health sector innovation and productivity. The recommendations in these areas are aligned with the CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative, the principles of which have been endorsed by 134 organizations, representing millions of Canadians.1
1. Contributing to a National Seniors Care Strategy
Issue: Engagement and investment from the Government of Canada is essential to meet the increasing needs of Canada's aging population.
It is expected that by 2036, a quarter of Canada's population will be over the age of 65. The number of people in the oldest age group - the age group most likely to experience serious health problems - is expected to increase at an even faster rate: Statistics Canada predicts that in 2036 there will be 2.6 times as many people 80 years old or over as there are today. 2
Already, patients age 65 or older account for nearly half of Canada's health care spending (45% in 2009).3 Canada's governments are rightly concerned about how to provide sustainable, high-quality health care to all Canadians as the country's population ages. The Canadian public shares this concern. In an Ipsos Reid public opinion survey done for CMA in July 2013, 83% of respondents said they were concerned about their health care in their retirement years.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada collaborate with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to establish and invest in a pan-Canadian strategy for seniors care.
As elaborated below, the CMA recommends that this strategy include adequate investment in long-term care, home care, as well as palliative and end-of-life care to ensure access to the continuum of care. In addition, there should be investment in programs to address age-related health risks of particular concern, notably dementia and injuries due to falls. These areas, including recommendations for immediate investment by the Government of Canada are discussed in greater detail below.
i) Ensure continuing care qualifies under the new Building Canada Plan4
Addressing the gap in long-term care residency options is a critical component of an integrated continuum of care strategy that provides for increased home and community supports. Communities across Canada face a common problem of a lack of resources to properly meet the housing and care needs of their seniors population. While the percentage of older Canadians who live in long-term care facilities is declining, as the aging of Canada's population accelerates, the demand for residential care will increase significantly.
The current wait times in the long-term care sector are contributing to the high number of alternate level of care patients (ALC) who occupy acute care beds; a major issue facing Canada's health care system. At more than 3 million ALC days, the high number of ALC patients in hospitals is a problem experienced across the country.5 Based on the difference between the average cost of care in hospital versus long-term care, if ALC patients were moved from hospital to long-term care this would save the health care system about $2.3 billion a year.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a bed forecast tied to the growth of the population aged 75 and over and based on a decreased bed ratio demand to reflect the greater shift to community-based services and supportive housing options being advanced at the provincial level. Based on these assumptions, over the five-year period ending in 2018, an estimated 29,693 additional beds will be required, representing a pan-Canadian investment of $7.98 billion.
It is evident that the existing and planned schedule of provincial projects will be unable to meet the estimated demand. Based on a review of provincial budgets, current capital investments already committed at the provincial level represent at least $861 million allocated over the next 10 years, representing approximately 3,200 new beds. The shortfall between our projected gap (29,693) and our calculation of provincial committed projects is 26,493 beds, at a cost of $7.1 billion.
The CMA recommends funding for health infrastructure qualify under the next Building Canada Plan to support the construction, renovation and retrofitting of long-term care facilities.
ii) Invest in a national dementia strategy
About three quarters of a million Canadians currently live with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and cognitive impairment. Our knowledge of how to prevent dementia is limited. We do not fully understand its causes and there is no known cure. People with dementia may live for years with the condition and will eventually need round-the-clock care. Dementia currently costs Canada roughly $33 billion per year, both in direct health care expenses and in indirect costs such as lost earnings of the patient's caregivers.
Given that the prevalence of dementia will unquestionably increase with the aging of Canada's population, the Alzheimer Society of Canada predicts that by 2040 the annual cost to the country will reach $293 billion. 6
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada invest $25 million per year over five years toward a pan-Canadian dementia strategy.
This $25 million investment would be distributed as follows:
- $10 million to support research on key aspects of dementia, including prevention, treatment options, and improving quality of life.
- $10 million in increased support for informal caregivers. This includes both financial support and programs to relieve the stress experienced by caregivers such as education, skill-building and provision of respite care and other support services.
- $5 million toward knowledge transfer, dissemination of best practices and education and training to support:
- an integrated system of care facilitated by effective co-ordination and case management
- a strengthened dementia workforce, which includes development of an adequate supply of specialists and improving diagnosis and treatment capabilities of all frontline health professionals.
iii) Establish an injury prevention strategy for Canada
Falls are the primary cause of injury among older Canadians; they account for 40% of admissions to nursing homes, 85% of injury-related hospitalizations and nearly 90% of all hip fractures. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that injuries among seniors cost Canada approximately $2 billion a year in direct health care costs.7 They are also a major contributor to alternate level of care patients in hospitals given the shortages in the home care, rehabilitation or long-term care sector.
Falls can be prevented, and a growing number of regional programs across Canada are identifying and modifying risk factors for falls in their client population specific to seniors.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish a Canada-wide injury prevention strategy to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources that will enable them to be disseminated nationwide.
iv) Support the expansion of palliative care in Canada
Experts believe that a palliative-care approach - when combined with treatment - leads to better outcomes by reducing the length of stay in hospitals and the number of deaths in acute care. In Canada, according to Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), only 16% to 30% of patients have access to hospice palliative and end-of-life services.8 These services tend to be delivered in institutional settings on a tertiary or intensive model; and like falls prevention programs, they tend to be delivered locally.
The CMA strongly supports an approach that integrates palliative care with chronic care in the community, earlier in the patient's condition. In support of a pan-Canadian palliative care strategy, CMA recommends that the Government of Canada undertake research to identify successful programs and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and resources so that they can be replicated nationwide.
2. Social Determinants of Health and Health Equity
Issue: Addressing the social and economic determinants of health is critical to ensuring improved health outcomes for Canadians.
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.9 While a strong health care system is vital, changes to our health system alone will not be sufficient to improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
Addressing the social and economic determinants of health has an important role in ensuring the sustainability of the health care system. It is estimated that one in five dollars spent on health care in Canada can be attributed to socio-economic disparities. These are the avoidable health costs linked to issues such as poverty, poor housing, health illiteracy, and unemployment among others. In 2012 health care dollars, these potentially avoided costs represented $40 billion in public spending. 10
Many of these social and economic determinants fall within the jurisdiction of the federal government such as tax policy. The section below elaborates on how the federal government can contribute to addressing the social determinants of health and reduce health inequity.
i) Ensure healthy public policy
Recognizing that the social and economic determinants of health have an important role in the health of Canadians, the policy decision-making process across departments must include a consideration of health. This can be accomplished by establishing health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process to ensure that the health promoting aspects of policies and programs are strengthened while potential negative impacts can be avoided or mitigated. In short it will ensure healthy public policy.
Not only could health care costs be reduced, but ensuring healthy public policy has the potential to provide significant benefits for the Canadian economy. Healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.11
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish health as a required consideration in the Cabinet decision-making process.
ii) Address access to prescription pharmaceuticals
Universal access to prescription drugs is widely acknowledged as part of the "unfinished business" of Medicare in Canada. What exists today is a public-private mix of funding for prescription drugs. As of 2011, CIHI has estimated that 44% of prescription drug expenditures were public, 38% were paid for by private insurance and 18% were paid out of pocket.12 At present, Quebec is the only province to have universal prescription drug coverage for its residents, either through private insurance or a public plan, introduced in 1997.
Of serious concern, there is evidence of wide variability in levels of drug coverage across Canada. According to Statistics Canada, almost one in 10 (7.6%) of households spent greater than 3% of after tax income on prescription drugs in 2008. Across provinces, this ranged from 4.6% in Alberta and 4.7% in Ontario to 13.3% in PEI.13 Further, 10% of the Canadian respondents to the Commonwealth Fund's 2010 International Health Policy Survey said they had either not filled a prescription or skipped doses because of cost issues.14 Research conducted by Ipsos Reid in 2012 showed that almost one in five households (18%) does not have supplementary insurance coverage that would cover prescription drugs.15
Statistics Canada's 2011 Survey of Household spending clearly shows the burden on seniors and low-income Canadians. Households headed by a person aged 65 and older spent 50% more, on average, on prescription drugs when compared with all households.16 Those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill needed prescriptions.17 This has consequences not only for their health but for the health care system as well. Individuals who are unable to manage treatable conditions often end up hospitalized at a great cost to the health care system.
The CMA recommends the federal government, in consultation with the provincial and territorial governments, health care providers, the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
iii) Address health disparities experienced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit
During a cross-country town hall consultation in Winnipeg on Feb. 4, 2013, the CMA heard about the adverse effects of inequalities and disparities and their impact on the health and wellness of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. As elaborated below, the inequalities and disparities in the social determinants of health can have a significant impact on the health of the population.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada experience higher rates of chronic disease, addictions, mental illness and childhood abuse. The Health Council of Canada reports that the crude mortality rate for First Nations is higher and life expectancy lower than the Canadian average.18 In 2009, UNICEF reported that the infant mortality rate for First Nations on reserve was seven times higher than the national average.19 First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples suffer much higher rates of infectious and chronic diseases. Tuberculosis rates are six times higher in First Nations populations and 17 times higher in Inuit communities as compared to the rest of Canada.20 Diabetes rates are higher among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples - 15.5% vs. just over 4.7% for the non-Aboriginal population,21 and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities face higher rates of heart and circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, and mental health disorders.22
Housing is a key area of concern for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. It is estimated that there will be a backlog of 130,000 housing units in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities between 2010 and 2031, with 44% of existing units needing significant repairs and 18% requiring complete replacement.23 This inadequate housing can lead to serious health problems. The quality of housing stock directly affects health through exposure to lead, mold and other toxins that are harmful to health. Action is needed to develop an appropriate housing strategy for Canada's First Nations, Métis and Inuit that includes consideration of expiring social housing arrangements on and off reserve.
Access to health care also plays a role in determining health. This can be a challenge for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care.24 Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges between federal and provincial delivery of health services. First Nations, Métis and Inuit living in Canada's urban centres also face significant barriers to accessing health care. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Utilizing the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program can be problematic for some First Nations. It is the CMA's understanding that funding constraints can lead to decreased quality of services, treatment delays or even in some cases denial of services. While the federal government has committed to continuing payments for the NIHB program the CMA is aware of concerns with current funding is inadequate to account for the growing native population, the addition of other beneficiaries, and the higher health care utilization as a result of the poor health status of many of Canada's First Nations.25
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada establish and invest in a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of First Nations, Metis and Inuit that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, and Aboriginal communities.
iv) Restore coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program
The CMA, together with other medical, health and social organizations, have recommended that the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program be rescinded until appropriate consultation is undertaken. The purpose of this consultation would be to identify opportunities to achieve the Government of Canada's cost saving objectives while maintaining the scope of health care coverage for the program recipients. To date, this consultation has not occurred.
One of the primary rationales for the program changes was an estimated cost savings of $20 million per annum in health care costs covered by the federal government. As evident by the recent statements of provincial health ministers following the Oct. 3 Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial Health Ministers Meeting, these projected cost savings are not likely to be realized.
The CMA is concerned that the costs of the program have been downloaded on the provincial health systems, the charitable sector, and other public programs and organizations that provide the uninsured with benefits. Further, there has been significant confusion that has resulted in an increased administrative burden on the health sector following continual changes in this program.
The CMA recommends the federal government rescind changes made to the Interim Federal Health Program until appropriate consultation and program review occur.
3. Improving Health Care Productivity and Innovation
The CMA supports federal engagement to advance a health sector innovation and productivity framework, the purpose of which would be to support the introduction and expansion of innovation in health technology and processes of delivery to yield better health outcomes and productivity. As part of this framework, the CMA encourages federal focus on accountability measures and health information technology, as elaborated below.
i) Accountability mechanism to improve productivity and quality care
Despite the importance of the health care sector to Canada's economy and quality of life, it is generally agreed that in health care, Canada is no longer a strong performer relative to similar nations. For instance, OECD Health Data 2012 ranks Canada seventh highest of 34 member states in per capita health care spending, while Canada's health care system continues to rank below most of our comparator countries in terms of performance. 26 According to the latest forecast report by CIHI, public spending on health care was to surpass $200 billion in 2012.
According to the OECD, if the Canadian health sector was to become as efficient as the most efficient countries, we could save 2.5% of GDP in public expenditure by 2017.27 The need to improve system performance will only intensify as demand for health care services increases and the system is pressed to effectively manage the rising number of Canadians with chronic diseases.
While the provinces and territories have initiated steps to collaborate on the sharing of best practices in health care, federal leadership is necessary to address the overall performance of the health care system in Canada. This includes collaborating with the provinces and territories on the identification of pan-Canadian metrics that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes and system performance.
CIHI does develop and collect data on numerous health indicators and has developed a performance measurement framework with an initial set of indicators coming out in the near future. However, there is currently no pan-Canadian process to set targets and monitor outcomes and system performance, the purpose of which is to demonstrate accountability to Canadians, improve health outcomes and health sector performance.
The CMA recommends the federal government engage the provinces and territories in a collaborative process to identify pan-Canadian metrics and measurements that link health expenditures to nationally comparable health outcomes and system performance.
ii) Maximizing the value of Electronic Medical Records
The digitization of our health care system is central to quality, safety and the continuity of patient care for all Canadians. Canada continues to make progress in the adoption of health information technology (HIT). It is forecast that 70% of physicians will have an electronic medical record (EMR) system in place by 2014. Almost 90% of the most common radiology examinations and reports in Canada's acute care hospitals are now digital, up from approximately 38% only six years ago.
However, there is still a long way to go in order to share information more effectively among caregivers, enable patient access to clinical information, and optimize the use of these systems. Areas where progress has stalled include: specialist EMR needs, applied research, local interoperability, decision support tools, and analytical tools.
Stalled progress in these areas has meant Canadians are not benefiting at the point of care such as allowing comparisons between patients within a practice, comparing across practices, facilitating sentinel disease surveillance and a population health approach to primary care, and allowing patients to get consistent, more understandable information from their providers electronically through portals, emails and other e-routes.
As we look to the future - and in particular the next three years - there's a need to reframe the discussion from building HIT infrastructure to deriving benefits. To this end, investment is required to ensure that the efforts to date are fully utilized and support improved patient outcomes. A committee comprised of CMA and Provincial Territorial Medical Associations representatives considered this issue and developed recommendation for targeted investment in HIT; these are outlined below.
The CMA recommends the Government of Canada allocate $545 million as follows:
* $200 million to support an additional 10,000 physicians not covered by current programs.
* $200 million to support change management for EMR adoption.
* $10 million to support data migration (i.e. clinics have to move to new products).
* $100 million to support local interoperability solutions.
* $5 million to support the Standards Collaborative.
* $20 million to support research into HIT effectiveness.
* $5 million to support solutions for the integration of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs).
* $5 million for applied research on patient portal.
This additional investment would benefit patients, providers and governments through improved patient care and improved performance of health care systems. In addition, the appropriate use of health information technology will contribute toward a more effective health care system supporting Canada's economic competitiveness.
Working with the provinces and territories and health care providers in delivering better health care to all Canadians through enhancing productivity and innovation is a policy challenge requiring federal leadership and engagement.
The CMA believes the Government of Canada should act upon the recommendations included in this brief and collaborate with stakeholders to ultimately contribute to optimal health outcomes for Canadians, and health services that are delivered in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
1 For the latest update on the Principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, visit: www.cma.ca/cma-media-releases
2 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. June 2010. 91-520-X
3 CIHI. Health Care in Canada, 2011, 1.
4 CMA. The need for health infrastructure. Submission to the Minister of Infrastructure, March 1, 2013. www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2013/Health-Infrastructure_en.pdf .
5 CIHI. 2012. Health Care in Canada, 2012: A focus on wait times.
6 Alzheimer Society of Canada. A New Way of Looking at Dementia in Canada. Based on a study conducted by RiskAnalytica. C. 2010
7 PHAC. The Safe Living Guide - A guide to home safety for seniors. 2005. Revised 2011.
8 CIHI. 2013. End-of-life hospital care for cancer patients.
9 Keon, Wilbert J. & Lucie Pépin (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Available at: www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
10 Public Health Agency of Canada (2004) Reducing Health Disparities-Roles of the Health Sector: Discussion Paper. Available at: publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/HP5-4-2005E.pdf
11 Munro, Daniel (2008) "Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the Socio-Economic Determinants of Health." The Conference Board of Canada. Available at: www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/dec2008_report_healthypeople.sflb
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug expenditure in Canada, 1985 to 2011. Ottawa.
13 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 109-5012 - Household spending on prescription drugs as a percentage of after-tax income, Canada and provinces. www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/pick-choisir;jsessionid=4FF8F1A5D604C73873F71D9FDE6141C5. Accessed 12/10/12.
14 Commonwealth Fund. 2010 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey. www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Surveys/2010/IHP%202010%20Toplines.pdf Accessed 12/10/12.
15 Ipsos Reid. Supplementary health benefits research. www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2012/ CMA-Benefits-Research-Survey_en.pdf. Accessed 12/10/12.
16 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 203-0026. Accessed 06/18/13.
17 Mikkonen, Juha & Dennis Raphael (2010) Social determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Available at: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf
18 Health Council of Canada, "The Health Status of Canada's First Nations, Métis And Inuit Peoples", 2005, online: http://healthcouncilcanada.ca.c9.previewyoursite.com/docs/papers/2005/BkgrdHealthyCdnsENG.pdf Accessed October 20, 2010.
19 National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health & UNICEF Canada "Leaving no child behind - national spotlight on health gap for Aboriginal children in Canada" 2009, online: www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/s_140.asp Accessed November 20, 2009
20 Health Council, supra note 34.
21 NWAC, 2009, supra note 39.
22 Canada, Health Canada, First Nations, Inuit and Aboriginal Health, (Ottawa: Health Canada), online: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/pubs/index-eng.php Accessed November 4, 2009
23 Assembly of First Nations (2013) Taking Action Together on Shared Priorities Towards a Fair and Prosperous Future: AFN Submission to the Council of the Federation. Available at: www.afn.ca/uploads/files/13-07-23_afn_submission_to_cof_2013.pdf
24 Bowen, S. Access to Health Services for Underserved Populations.
25 Assembly of First Nations (2011) Structural Transformation & Critical Investments in First Nations on the Path to Shared Prosperity. Pre-Budget Submission, 2011. Available at: www.afn.ca/uploads/files/2011-pre-budget-submission.pdf
26 OECD Health Data 2012 - www.oecd.org/health/healthgrowthinhealthspendinggrindstoahalt.htm
27 OECD, Economic Survey of Canada 2012. www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/economicsurveyofcanada2012.htm
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study on the health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana.
Marijuana, or cannabis, is a Schedule II drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and growing, possessing, distributing and selling marijuana is illegal, subject to penalties.
Despite that, according to the latest Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey1, about 10% of Canadians ages 15 years and over had used marijuana at least once in the past year. It is the second most used substance, following alcohol (at 78%). Even though there has been a decrease in marijuana use among youth (ages 15 to 24) in recent years, usage is still double that of the general population, at 20%. A quarter of youth that had used marijuana in the past 3 months, used it daily, however most use is infrequent and experimental. The average age of initiation is 16.1 years, and it is very concerning that continued use is most common among those who initiate use early. In some provinces, about 50% of students in grade 12 have reported using marijuana in the past year.2
The 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health3 reported that 1.3% of people aged 15 and over met the criteria for cannabis abusea or dependenceb - double that of any other drugs. The lifetime risk of dependence is estimated at about 9%, increasing to almost 17% in those who initiate use in adolescence.4 Similar estimates for other substances are 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin and 32% for nicotine.
CMA has longstanding concerns about the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. While our comments have more recently been made in the context of medical marijuana, the core issue is the same: marijuana usage poses serious health risks5. Teenagers are particularly at risk for marijuana-related harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development.
It is estimated that marijuana contains more than 400 active chemicals, including over 60 cannabinoids, of which delta-9 tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC) is the most often studied due to its psychoactive properties. The concentration of the various chemicals varies for different plants, batches and growth locations, and has varied over time. There is the potential for contamination by pesticides or other substances. Rates and quantities of components absorbed will also vary depending on whether the drug is smoked, used in food, inhaled with a vaporizer or applied topically. This is challenging for research on the health effects of marijuana.
When marijuana is smoked, THC and other components are inhaled and absorbed through the lungs, rapidly entering the bloodstream. Effects are perceptible within seconds and fully apparent in a few minutes. The main feature of its use is that it produces a feeling of euphoria (or 'high') and sensory alterations, but it is also sought out to reduce pain, relieve anxiety, decrease vomiting and increase appetite.
Adverse reactions can occur, such as drowsiness, sedation, blurred vision, photophobia, difficulty breathing and vomiting. However, its acute toxicity is extremely low, as no deaths directly due to acute cannabis use have been reported. Toxic dose-related effects that can occur include anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia or psychosis. Acute impairment typically clears 3-4 hours after use.
Marijuana slows reaction times, impairs motor coordination and concentration as well as the completion of complex tasks. Marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Young people, particularly males, are more likely to drive after using marijuana. The Cross-Canada Student Alcohol and Drug Use6 report states that 14-21% of students in Grade 12 reported having driven within an hour of using marijuana, and more than 33% of Grade 12 students reported having been a passenger in a car where the driver had used the drug.
Chronic use is more common among those that start using as young teens; those that are tobacco smokers and heavy alcohol consumers and have used other illegal drugs. People with a number of pre-existing diseases who are chronic smokers of marijuana are probably at increased risk of exacerbating the symptoms of their diseases. For example, adults with hypertension, ischaemic or cerebrovascular disease could be at increased risk due to the cardiovascular stimulatory effects of marijuana.
There is an increased risk of psychosis, depression and anxiety, particularly among those who have a personal or family history. A persistent lack of energy in chronic users has been referred to as an "amotivational syndrome". Although cognitive impairments (loss of memory, focus and the ability to think and make decisions) are likely reversible a few weeks after discontinued use, this seems not to be true for those who began using in early teen years, while the brain is still developing.
Smoke from marijuana preparations contains many of the same compounds as tobacco cigarettes including increased levels of tar. Smoking marijuana may be more harmful than tobacco, as it often involves unfiltered smoke and deeper, longer inhalation. Chronic users often have shortness of breath after exercise, coughing and chest tightness. It is probably associated with bronchitis and emphysema and may have risks for chronic lung disease and lung cancer, comparable to cigarette smoking. This is less of a problem for those that use vaporizers, as a harm reduction strategy.
The use of marijuana during pregnancy has been shown to affect the development and learning skills of children, more noticeably from the age of three, with these effects lasting into the teen years. Studies have shown an increase in hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. These children will be more prone to addiction and mental health issues as well as decreased cognitive functioning, and could require supports when in school. Some studies point to a lower birth weight.
Besides health concerns, marijuana use can lead to social and interpersonal problems, including difficulties at school, in relationships and with the law.
Awareness of Canadians of the harms of marijuana is generally low. 7 Youth tend to emphasize the drug's ability to help them focus, relax, sleep, reduce violent behaviour and improve creativity. There were also many myths, such as that it would counter cigarette effects, preventing cancer. Many stated that they did not consider marijuana as a drug because it was "natural" and relatively benign compared to other drugs. It is concerning that some teens said that marijuana actually made people better drivers by increasing their focus.
There seems to be skepticism around prevention programs which aim exclusively at abstinence. Feedback has been that effective approaches would involve providing more fact-based information at an earlier age and using programs that aim at reducing the harms of using marijuana. It is essential that youth and users from other age groups be involved in the conceptualization and development of any such programs.
CMA makes the following recommendations to the Committee:
1) Public Health Approach to Psychoactive Substance Use
The CMA recommends that the federal government adopt a public health approach to increase the focus on preventing drug abuse, on treatment of addiction, on monitoring, surveillance and research and on harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, relapsing chronic disease, and substance use is a complex behaviour influenced by many factors. Therefore, a comprehensive multi-factorial strategy is necessary, and lessons can be learned from work that has been done to decrease tobacco and alcohol use and to reduce the harms related to these substances.
A public health approach would place an increased focus on preventing drug abuse and dependence; on the availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those who wish to stop using; and on harm reduction to increase the safety for those that are using. It would seek to ensure the harms associated with enforcement are not out of proportion to the direct harms caused by substance abuse. Individuals with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation.
The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public health strategies, particularly for youth.
A public health approach also includes efforts around the monitoring, surveillance and research of marijuana use to better inform the strategy. This is essential to better understand the short and long term harms as well as policy options to address prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.
2) Comprehensive Education and Awareness Program to Address Marijuana Use
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, a comprehensive education and awareness program to minimize marijuana use.
A comprehensive program to minimize marijuana use should include, but not be limited to:
- Education and awareness raising of the known and potential harms of marijuana;
- Strategies to prevent early use in adolescence;
- Support for programs that decrease stigma associated with mental health and addiction; and
- Support for health professionals' awareness and evidence-informed practice in the prevention, management and treatment of drug use.
A specific focus on youth is essential, as they are not only more likely than adults to engage in risky drug use, particularly boys, but also disproportionately experience greater harms from that use. It is also particularly important for women of child bearing age, due to the risk to the fetus during pregnancy.
Information that is tailored to the needs of specific populations will help people make informed choices. Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay the use of marijuana could result in a reduction of suffering and costs to the health care system.
Health professionals must be involved and supported in this area, and it is important to ensure the availability of evidence informed clinical practice guidelines, practice tools and continuing medical education resources.
3) Driving Under the Influence Prevention
The CMA recommends that the federal government continue to support, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, strategies for the prevention of impaired driving.
The CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education constitute the most effective approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers due to marijuana.
Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay marijuana use, especially in youth, are particularly important. Education is also important as many are not aware that marijuana affects driving ability or even that there are procedures that the police can use to identify impairment due to psychoactive substances.
The CMA supports a similar multidimensional approach such as has been adopted with alcohol and driving. However, the specificities of impairment due to marijuana must be understood and investments made in research. Collaboration with key stakeholders such as schools, drivers' education and licensing bodies, as well as enforcement organizations is essential.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association reiterates the concern of Canada's physicians around marijuana use, particularly by young people. We are committed to working with governments and stakeholders to address this issue.
a Abuse is characterized by a pattern of recurrent use where at least one of the following occurs: failure to fulfill major roles at work, school or home, use in physically hazardous situations, recurrent alcohol or drug related problems, and continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs.
b Dependence is when at least three of the following occur in the same 12 month period: increased tolerance, withdrawal, increased consumption, unsuccessful efforts to quit, a lot of time lost recovering or using, reduced activity, and continued use despite persistent physical or psychological problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs.
1 Health Canada (2013) Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS). Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/drugs-drogues/stat/_2012/summary-sommaire-eng.php
2 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf
3 Statistics Canada (2013) Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130918/dq130918a-eng.htm
4 Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf
5 Beirness, D.J., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Cannabis use and driving. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11789-2009.pdf.
Diplock, J., & Plecas, D. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Respiratory effects of cannabis smoking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11797-2009.pdf.
Gordon, A.J., Conley, J.W. & Gordon, J.M. (2013) Medical consequences of marijuana use: a review of the current literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep 15:419.
Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf
Holmes, E., Vanlaar, W. & Robertson, R. (2014) The problem of youth drugged driving and approaches to prevention: a systematic literature review: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Youth-Drugged-Driving-technical-report-2014-en.pdf
Kalant, H., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2012). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2012%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Medical-Use-of-Cannabis-2012-en.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2013). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Highlights. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2013%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Clearing-Smoke-on-Cannabis-Highlights-2013-en.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009a). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Chronic use and cognitive functioning and mental health. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0115422009_e.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009b). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Maternal cannabis use during pregnancy. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0117832009_e.pdf.
6 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf
7 Cunningham, J.A., Blomqvist, J., Koski-Jannes, A., & Raitasalo, K. (2012). Societal Images of Cannabis use: Comparing Three Countries. Harm reduction journal, 9(1), 21-7517-9-21. Retrieved from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1477-7517-9-21.pdf
Porath-Waller, A., Brown, J., Frigon, A., & Clark, H. (2013). What Canadian youth think about cannabis: Technical report. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-What-Canadian-Youth-Think-about-Cannabis-2013-en.pdf
Racine, S., Flight, J., & Sawka, E. (Eds.). (2006). Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS): A national survey of Canadians' use of alcohol and other drugs: Public opinion, attitudes and knowledge. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/349980/publication.html
The Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) pre-budget submission is based on the premise that healthier Canadians are more productive Canadians. It also recognizes that the delivery of quality health care, in a timely manner, is paramount and is not mutually exclusive of any productivity agenda. With the recent release of its Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change That Works. Care That Lasts. policy document, the CMA declared its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. Physicians are reaching out to the Canadian public, opinion and business leaders, governments, interested parties and stakeholders to find ways to improve our health care system and to make sure that the upcoming reforms will focus on better serving patients.
Canada's health care system cannot continue on its current path, especially as pressure grows from an aging population. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. We must work together toward a common vision of what we aspire for our health care system.
The CMA commends the federal government for publicly stating it will honour its previous commitment of a 6% annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer through to 2014. This sustained predictable funding has brought some long-term stability to the publicly financed health care sector. However, the CMA believes that the health care system must be capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressure. Capacity and innovation strategies need to be developed and implemented to meet emerging health necessities.
In this brief, the CMA identifies a number of key issues related to health human resources and infrastructure that require immediate attention if the Canadian economy is to retain its competitive position in the global economy. Pressure is mounting on the system and there is a need to move beyond data collection to interdisciplinary collaboration. Including health care providers in the decision-making process would lead to better health public policy decisions, and result in much needed pan-Canadian health human resource planning. By making strategic direct investments in health human resources, public health and retirement savings, the federal government would retain its leadership role and contribute to the sustainability of a patient-centred health care system.
Health care's contribution: A more productive and innovative economy
The health care system in Canada employs over a million people, or 7.5% of the labour force. In 2009, Canada invested $183 billion in health care, representing 11.9% of our GDP. The benefits of health care investments not only contribute to a higher quality of life for all Canadians, but the economic multiplier effect of the initial investment is estimated to create an additional $92 billion in economic activity, such as in the high technology sector, financial services and R&D jobs.i Further federal investments in the health care system contribute to ensuring a more productive and innovative economy.
Better Health, Improved Productivity
The Conference Board of Canadaii, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) iii, the World Health Organizationiv, the Commonwealth Fundv, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policyvi all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" as well as efficiency. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better. We know that investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
Our proposals are informed by regular consultations with our 72,000 physician members and reflect what they believe are the most pressing gaps that exist in our health care system today. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians, but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come.
* Please note that the sum of the following recommendations would add less than 0.5% to the current $25 billion Canada Health Transfer that is committed to the provinces.
Recommendations for the 2011 Federal Budget:
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
1. The federal government should fulfill the balance of its 2008 election promisevii of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
2. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
3. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
4. The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crises.
C. Improving retirement savings options for the self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
5. The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
6. The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
7. The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists and further waits for advanced diagnostics and treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada and the lack of long-term pan-Canadian planning to ensure needs are met.
Canada ranks 26th of 30 OECD member countries in physician-to-population ratio. The lack of physicians in Canada puts the system under pressure and the impact of this is being felt by patients across the country. A Centre for Spatial Economics studyviiicommissioned by the CMA, found that the Canadian economy is expected to lose $4.7 billion in 2010, as a result of excessive wait times for just four procedures: joint replacements, MRIs, coronary artery bypass surgery and cataract surgery. When people wait too long for care businesses face increased human resource costs to replace lost or affected employees. There is a loss in output and especially productivity. The reduction in output would lower federal and provincial government revenues in 2010 by $1.8 billion. The econometric model in the report used to calculate these costs also estimates that to cut wait times to government recommended benchmarks would require a $586 million investment or just 2% of the current Canada Health Transfer. This investment would boost GDP by $6.2 billion.
The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, and other health professionals are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside Canada.
The CMA commends the federal government for recently announcing the Northern and Remote Family Medicine Residency Program in Manitoba, which constitutes an investment of just over $6.9 million. The program will provide extensive medical training for 15 additional family medicine residents over the next four years. We urge the government to build on this announcement and honour its full commitment. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working abroad, including approximately 9,000 Canadian-trained physicians. We know that many of the physicians who do come back to Canada are of relatively young age, meaning that they have significant practice life left. While a minority of these physicians return on their own, many more can be repatriated in the short term through a relatively small but focussed effort by the federal government, led by a secretariat within Health Canada.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promiseix of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the Public Health Agency of Canada should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." Seven years later, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system.
Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. During the H1N1 outbreak, real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Greater adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care and better public health electronic health records (EHRs), with the ability to link systems, will augment existing surveillance capacity and are essential to a pan-Canadian system. International strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could provide annual system-wide savings of $6.1 billion. A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded their pre-existing constrained resources. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crises eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crisis.
C. Improved retirement savings options for self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
With the aging Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Of keen interest to the medical profession are measures to help self-employed Canadians save for their retirement. Physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older. Self-employed physicians, like many other self-employed professionals, are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes them more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehiclesx. The recent economic downturn has shown that volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short-and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to sell at a low price.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report, Mr. Mintz wrote that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits and the government should consider raising these limits.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
According to Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the population (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to between 23% and 25% by 2031xi. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act (CHA) first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs. These needs are an important part of the retirement picture as the federal government considers options for ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system.
Additional information is contained in CMA's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance during its study on Retirement Income Security of Canadians (May 13, 2010).
Recommendation 6: The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than a million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities, and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers. Canada lags behind several countries, including the U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S. in terms of supporting informal caregivers.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
The CMA encourages the federal government to consider the recommendation found in the report entitled; Raising the Bar:A Roadmap for the Future of Palliative Care in Canada supported by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.
The recommendations contained in the CMA's pre-budget submission represent our priority recommendations for federal investments that will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come. As the federal government's commitment to the provinces through the 2004 Health Care Accord expires in 2014, it is imperative that investments are made that not only provide better care but are also sustainable for our country's economy.
Appendix Table 1
i The additional economic activity generated by the health care sector is based on a conservative 1.5 multiplier. The CMA is pursuing precise estimates of the benefits of health care investments in Canada. Please see:
Economic Footprint of Health Care Services in Canada Prepared for: Canadian Medical Association by Carl Sonnen
with Natalie Rylska Informetrica limited January 2007 In economics, the multiplier effect or spending multiplier is the idea that an initial amount of spending (usually by the government) leads to increased consumption spending and so results in an increase in national income greater than the initial amount of spending. The existence of a multiplier effect was initially proposed by Richard Kahn in 1930 and published in 1931. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_multiplier Snowdon, Brian and Howard R. Vane. Modern macroeconomics: its origins, development and current state. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005. ISBNS 1845422082, 9781845422080. p. 61.
ii How Canada Performs 2008: A Report Card on Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
iii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
iv World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.
v Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Davis, Schoen, Schoenbaum, Doty, Holmgren, Kriss, Shea
vi Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008, Health Consumer Powerhouse, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, FC Policy Series No. 38 see:www.fcpp.org/pdf/ECHCI2008finalJanuary202008.pdf
vii Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
viii The economic cost of wait times in Canada, the Centre for Spatial Economics, July 2010.
ix Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
x A more detailed outline of the issues surrounding pension reform can e found in CMA's Submission on Pension Reform Backgrounder for the Standing Committee on Finance, May 13, 2010. www.cma/submissions-to-government
xi Statistics Canada. Populations projections. The Daily, Thursday, December 15, 2005.