The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health with respect to its study of Canada’s Food Guide. The CMA supports access to healthy foods to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population.1
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Obesity in Canada: Causes, consequences and the way forward. Ottawa: CMA; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-12.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
2 Colapinto C, Graham J, St. Pierre S. Trends and correlates of frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption, 2007 to 2014. Health Reports. 2018 January;29(1):9-14. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2018001/article/54901-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
3 Van Vliet B, Campbell N. Efforts to reduce sodium intake in Canada: Why, what, and when? Can J Cardiol. 2011;27(4):437–445.
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Early childhood development. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health equity and the social determinants of health: A role for the medical profession. Ottawa: CMA; 2013. Available http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
6 Health Canada. Eating well with Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2007. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/view_eatwell_vue_bienmang-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
7 Collier R. Calls for a better food guide. CMAJ. 2018 November 18;186(17):1281. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4911 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
8 Ministry of Health of Brazil. Dietary guidelines for the Brazilian population. 2nd ed. Brazil: Ministry of Health of Brazil; 2014. Available: http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Brazilian-Dietary-Guidelines-2014.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
9 Report of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Obesity in Canada. A whole-of-society approach for a healthier Canada. Ottawa: Senate of Canada; 2016 March. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/soci/rms/01mar16/Report-e.htm (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
10 Health Canada. Evidence review for dietary guidance: summary of results and implications for Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2015. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/publications/eating-nutrition/dietary-guidance-summary-resume-recommandations-alimentaires/alt/pub-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
11 Government of Canada. Guiding principles [Canada’s food guide consultation]. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017 April 5. Available: https://www.foodguideconsultation.ca/guiding-principles-detailed (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
The CMA has been active on nutritional issues for many years, both directly through its policy and government advocacy as well as through membership in various coalitions. Some of the issues addressed include the nutrition facts table, front-of-package labelling, a ban on the marketing of food and beverages to children younger than 16 years of age, and a levy on the manufacturers of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Canadians’ self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite public education efforts concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are consuming fewer than the recommended number of servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and they are exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.2,3
The protection of vulnerable populations including children is of paramount concern to the CMA. Access to nutritious food is essential in early childhood development in support of later adult health.4 The availability of food security programs is a key element in preventing children from developing dietary deficiencies that would lead to an increased risk of chronic disease and greater difficulty in disease management later in life.5
The Food Guide has historically been a valued resource for Canadians, and physicians have found it useful in counselling their patients about healthy eating. However, there are serious concerns with the present Food Guide,6 which was released in 2007, and physicians have increasingly called for it to be reviewed.7
Other countries have made significant changes to their dietary guidelines. Brazil, for example, has developed a guideline that incorporates simple-to-follow, common-sense messaging, such as encouraging Brazilians to prepare meals from scratch and promoting the value of family meals.8
A new, modern Canadian guide is needed. Witnesses appearing before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology characterized the current version as being “at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.”9
Health Canada is in the process of revising the Food Guide, having done an extensive review of the evidence10 and releasing Guiding Principles.11
Recommendations for a revised Food Guide
A new approach to a food guide that addresses the larger picture, beyond daily nutrient consumption recommendations, is fundamental to the effort to improve the health of all Canadians and to the larger goal of developing a food policy for Canada. Indeed, “coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.”12
12 Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). Principles for health care transformation in Canada. Ottawa: CMA and CNA; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD1113.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
13 Nexus H. Primer to action: Social determinants of health. Toronto: Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance; 2007. Available: http://www.ocdpa.ca/sites/default/files/publications/PrimertoAction-EN.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
14 Tarasuk V, Mitchell A, Dachner N. Household food insecurity in Canada. Toronto: PROOF; 2016. Available: http://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/proof-annual-reports/annual-report-2014/ (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
15 Rao M, Afshin A, Singh G, et al. Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e004277. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3855594/pdf/bmjopen-2013-004277.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
16Lee A, Mhurchu CN, Sacks G, et al. Monitoring the price and affordability of foods and diets globally. Obes Rev. 2013 Oct;14 Suppl 1:82–95.
17 Food Banks Canada. Hungercount2016: A comprehensive report on hunger and food bank use in Canada, and recommendations for change. Toronto: Food Banks Canada; 2016. Available: https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/hungercount2016 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
18 Raine K. Improving nutritional health of the public through social change: Finding our roles in collective action. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2014;75(3):160-164. Available: https://doi.org/10.3148/cjdpr-2014-017 (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
19 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s Support for Bill S-228: An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).Ottawa: CMA; 2017.Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-07.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
20 Howard, C., Culbert I., Food Guide revamp encouraging plant-based, low-meat diet is good for people and the planet CBC February 11, 2018 Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/opinion-canada-food-guide-1.4530058 (accessed 2018 Feb 12)
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
Food insecurity does not affect all Canadians equally, and there are very clear social patterns of vulnerability.13 Analyses of population survey data consistently identify low income as a predictor of household food insecurity. In addition, rates of food insecurity are highest among Aboriginal Canadians, households reliant on social assistance, households headed by single mothers, and those renting rather than owning a home.14 More research is needed to understand decisions surrounding the purchase of healthy foods versus unhealthy foods.15,16
Food Banks Canada reported that in March 2016, 863,492 people received food from a food bank, an increase of 1.3% over 2015, with eight of 10 provinces showing an increase.17 As the report notes, “approximately 1.7 million Canadian households, encompassing 4 million people, experience food insecurity each year” with 340,000 of them experiencing severe food insecurity.17
Other determinants of healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.15
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
With unhealthy diets consistently linked with chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and with an estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children being overweight or obese, there is a need for evidence-based approaches in the development of healthy eating policies and practices in Canada.
As the links between nutrition and disease and other impacts of nutrition on the health of our society are revealed and better understood, it is more important than ever to identify what influences healthy eating behaviours.18 Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, including one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
The Food Guide needs to incorporate emerging research on nutrition and health, for example, by emphasizing the need to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, as opposed to focusing on total fats. It also must take into account the changes in consumer behaviour and in the food supply.
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
Canadians must be able to trust Canada’s Food Guide as a source of unbiased information, based on evidence. The Food Guide must be part of a larger coordinated approach that also looks at other critical issues, such as the role of the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.19 CMA is concerned that conflict-of-interest situations have arisen in the past where recommendations might favour certain products or food groups over others.20 Canadians must have confidence that their health and wellness is the primary focus of an evidence-based revision process.
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
Canadian society is more ethnically diverse than in the past, so it is necessary to keep in mind cultural preferences. The current food groups do not always take into account an understanding of traditional foods and cultural eating practices. These are intrinsically linked to identity and culture and contribute to overall health. Advice needs to be tailored to different ages and cultural groups.
There is also a need to emphasize patterns of eating, as opposed to a focus almost exclusively on nutrient requirements. It is important to promote eating as a social undertaking, recognizing the essential role that food has in bringing people together.
It is also important to support the development of basic, practical culinary skills, which will reduce Canadians’ dependence on restaurant meals and ultra-processed foods.
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
The production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower income countries. Highly or ultra-processed food tends to contain less protein and dietary fibre than less processed foods and include high proportions of free sugar, total saturated fat, trans fat and salt. Typically, processed foods are energy dense (high in calories) but have fewer beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and proteins.
Most processed foods encourage unhealthy ways of eating and have become popular because of their accessibility and convenience. These features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared with unprocessed foods: increased “grazing,” eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving.
In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form. Physicians are concerned with the Food Guide’s support for fruit juices, given the plethora of sugar-sweetened beverages, including milk and milk alternatives. There should be a maximum amount of juice recommended for children, and the Food Guide should instead support the consumption of actual fruit.
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
Reliable, trustworthy sources of information are essential to support healthy eating. However, the new Food Guide must not be just another set of rules and lists or a long, cumbersome document. The challenge will be to take the evidence around nutrition and health and make it meaningful and useful. This is the only way that the Food Guide will actually be able to support and even provoke change.
To do that it must focus on the needs of the Canadians, with tools that personalize information for different age and cultural groups. It should also be useful to people with certain health conditions who require regulation of their diet to improve health (e.g., people with diabetes or hypertension). It should support couples during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There can’t be only one set of guidance; rather, various versions should be produced that are adapted to different audiences.
The Food Guide needs to be practical and simple to use. The concept of the number and size of servings of different foods, for example, has been very confusing. Research has shown that Canadians do not weigh or measure their foods and serving sizes are often underestimated, promoting overconsumption. The Food Guide must support Canadians in deciphering food labels and making informed choices about what they consume. The use of technology will allow information to be more accessible.
The guidance must be sensitive to issues related to the social determinants of health and food security, with attention to the cost and accessibility of foods. A focus on good sources of proteins, for example, as opposed to red meats and dairy, could allow for more choice. The Food Guide should provide guidance to food banks and other programs that seek to provide food to low-income families in terms of what foods they should procure for their clients.
As one of the most trusted sources of health information, physicians also need to be able to access the latest evidence in a user-friendly manner. Resources must be succinct and easy for physicians to access in a busy practice. They should allow a physician to go into more depth should that be required. As well, point-of-care tools that help clinicians explain technical facts to their patients in an accessible manner are needed.
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the Government of Canada's consultation on ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system. Ensuring sufficient income in retirement is a concern for CMA's more than 72,000 physician members and the patients they serve. With the aging of the 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. Two areas in need of government attention are tax-assisted savings vehicles for high-earning and self-employed Canadians, and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Like the Canadian population at large, physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older - for whom retirement planning is an important concern. In addition, the vast majority of CMA members are self-employed physicians and, as such, they are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes physicians more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehicles. As we saw during the recent economic downturn, the 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 low'.
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 on Retirement Income Adequacy Research, Mr. Mintz reported 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, which is why the government should consider raising these limits.
The CMA supports exploring ways to expand tax-assisted options available for retirement saving, particularly measures that would allow organizations to sponsor RPPs and Supplementary Employee Retirement Plans (SERPs) on behalf of the self-employed.
Such changes could allow the growing ranks of self-employed Canadians to benefit from the security and peace of mind already available to Canadians with workplace pensions. CMA members favour a voluntary approach, both for employers/plan sponsors in deciding whether to sponsor such plans and for potential plan participants in choosing whether or not to participate.
Just as the government should explore ways to modernize the rules governing registered pension plans to account for today's demographics and employment structures, so too should it explore ways to help Canadians save for their continuing care - including home care and long-term care - needs. When universal, first-dollar coverage of hospital and physician services-commonly known as 'medicare' - was implemented in Canada in the late-1950s and 1960s, health care within an institutional setting was the norm and life expectancy was almost a decade shorter than it is today. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs.
The attached backgrounder highlights the pressing need for greater support for home and long-term care in Canada, as well as some principles and options for governments to help Canadians pay for these services. It should be noted that the introduction of Tax-free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in the 2008 federal budget created a new savings vehicle to support Canadians' continuing care needs. The CMA was pleased to see its introduction.
Government action on these two related issues would benefit all Canadians. Expanding retirement-saving options for physicians would provide a strong incentive for physicians to stay in Canada. Similarly, by helping Canadians save for their own continuing care needs, governments could contribute to the health of elderly citizens and ease the demand on unpaid caregivers and government-funded continuing care.
Ensuring that Canadians have the tools at their disposal to save for their continuing care needs and that Canada's physicians have the right tools to save for retirement are important issues for the CMA. Canada's physicians have long been active on these issues and government action on these files would benefit all Canadians. We are pleased to take part in Finance Canada's consultations and would welcome any further opportunities to participate.
Anne Doig, MD, CCFP, FCFP
Dear Mr. Rodrigue:
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the consultation on the proposed front-of-packaging labelling (FOP) as posted in the Canada Gazette Part One on February 9, 2018.1 This new requirement will “provide clear and consistent front-of-package information and updated nutrient content claims to help protect Canadians from the risks of chronic diseases” related to the intake of foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fat.2
1 Canada Gazette Part One. Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Food and Drugs Act (Nutrition Symbols, Other Labelling Provisions, Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Vitamin D) Department of Health Vol. 152, No. 6 — February 10, 2018
2 Ibid pg.1
3 Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Nutrition Labelling, Canadian Medical Association, March 3, 2011 accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca
The CMA believes that governments have a responsibility to provide guidance on healthy eating that can be easily incorporated into daily lives, and that the federal government has a continuous obligation to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support healthy food and beverage choices; provide user-friendly consumer information including complete nutritional content and accurate advertising claims; and increase the amount of information provided on product labels. We also commend Health Canada for its current work on revising the Canada Food Guide.
The CMA has supported a standard “at a glance” approach to FOP food labelling that can reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices since 2011.3 FOP labelling on packaged foods will help Canadians make healthier food and beverage choices. It will draw attention to those ingredients to be avoided in higher levels and can reinforce public health messaging on healthy eating. An added benefit may be an incentive to the food industry to reformulate processed foods with lower amounts of those nutrients highlighted in FOP labelling.
The CMA supports the placement of the proposed symbol on the upper and/or right hand side of the packaging, covering 25% of the principal display surface. The symbol
must be clearly delineated from the product packaging so that it stands out and can be located with relative ease. It is important for the symbol to convey to the consumer that there is a certain degree of risk involved in consuming these foods, hence the colours used and the shape will be important.
Of the four symbols proposed by Health Canada, our preference is for the one displayed here but with a more defined, thicker border, that includes a small outer buffer (in white). It will be essential for Health Canada to ensure that the symbol design has been tested thoroughly with consumers and is effective in conveying the intended “high in” message.
As such, manufacturers will need clear guidance about the constraints on the use and placement of these symbols to ensure they cannot be misconstrued and to prevent the use of configurations that will diminish their effectiveness. Manufacturers must not be permitted to place voluntary nutrient content or health claims below or near the main symbol that would distort the message and create confusion.
Foods to be exempted from front-of-package nutrition labelling
There will be foods that are exempt from the labelling requirements and consumers will need clear explanations with respect to those that are exempt and why; some will be obvious, some will not. The CMA supports the proposed exemptions for eggs, fruits, vegetables and unsweetened, unsalted plain milk, and whole milk. However, we do not believe flavoured and/or seasoning salts and “sea salts” should be exempted from the requirement to have an FOP symbol on the package. Health Canada will need to undertake an education program to explain to consumers that these products are actually high in sodium.
Nutrient thresholds for sodium, sugar & saturated fat
CMA policy has encouraged governments to continue to work to reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans-fat and calorie content of processed foods and prepared meals.4 The nutrient levels chosen will therefore be critical in that regard. The CMA supports the proposed levels to identify foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fats. The CMA believes that it is important that there is consistency across all nutritional and healthy eating information and advice for Canadians. Ensuring consistency between the “high in” threshold and the 15% “a lot” daily value (DV) message delivers a clear message of concern.
4 Healthy Behaviours: Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating, Canadian Medical Association Policy, 2014, accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca.
While we understand the rationale behind increasing the nutrient threshold for prepackaged meals to 30% of the DV, we recommend that the threshold for “high in”
sugar of 30 grams or more total sugars per serving of stated size may be too high and should be reconsidered. It should also be noted that the different thresholds on prepackaged foods and prepackaged meals may cause confusion for consumers and should be introduced with some consumer education.
Nutrient content claims, in relation to Front-of-Packaging Labelling symbol
Allowing a food that qualifies for a “high in” sugar FOP symbol to also display a “no added sugars” claim would be very confusing to consumers. The product label information would appear as quite contradictory; therefore the CMA does support not allowing “no added sugar” claims on these foods. The CMA would suggest that a food that is high in two or more of sugar, sodium or saturated fats not be allowed to display any content claims to avoid any consumer confusion.
High-intensity sweetener labelling
Canadians have come to rely on easy-to-recognize information that alerts them that food may contain artificial sweeteners. Therefore, we do not support the elimination of the labelling requirement for artificial sweeteners on the principal display panel. For products that have high intensity sweeteners added and which bear claims such as “unsweetened” or “no sugar added,” a declaration of “artificially sweetened” should be clearly visible on the FOP. The specific sweetener does not need to be identified so long as it is declared in the list of ingredients. As long as quantity is displayed on the nutrition facts table it doesn’t need to be on the principal display.
Further, while we recognize that harmonizing with USA labelling regulations is desirable, we recommend strongly against the use of the term “phenylketonurics.” The proper approach would be to use the phrase “people with phenylketonuria” for any warnings on products containing aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.
For many Canadians, their diet can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle. Determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. The CMA supports the government’s Healthy Living Strategy and their efforts to create a healthier food environment. The addition of FOP nutrition labelling is an important tool to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-president, Medical Professionalism
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide input on the proposed regulations of the federal monitoring of Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada.
The CMA fully supports the proposed intent of the regulations, in particular, public accountability and transparency and safeguards for vulnerable patient populations. Tracking trends and carrying out research is very important to monitor the implementation and implications of medical assistance in dying.
The CMA further supports the intent to provide electronic reporting and guidance documents, and to leverage any synergies between the federal and provincial/territorial governments, especially to prevent duplication and to promote consistency in reporting across the country.
The CMA would like to raise the following critical areas for your consideration:
1. Definitions/parameters of terms
There continues to be a need to more clearly define several terms to ensure consistency of reporting. For example:
a. Who constitutes a “practitioner”? One can argue that there is a broad scope of who is “a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner”. Is it the practitioner who provides MAiD? Or he practitioner who first reads a patient’s request for MAiD? Or is the first practitioner? Or second practitioner who assesses the patient?
b. What constitutes a therapeutic relationship (as one of the eight proposed items to be collected about the practitioner)? A therapeutic relationship is not required to access MAiD. This criterion should be removed and if not, given the differences in opinion in the health professions as to what constitutes a therapeutic relationship includes, it should be clearly defined.
c. What constitutes a request, a written request, the receipt of a request? If reporting obligations are “triggered” by a patient’s “written request”, at what point is that request actually triggered? The very first practitioner who receives the patient’s written request? Or the practitioner who conducts the eligibility assessment upon receipt of the written request? Or the practitioner who provides the prescription or carries out the procedure?
d. On a related point, without clear definitions, any future comparative analysis of research or trends will be difficult as there will be no common starting point.
e. There continues to be confusion on how to count or when to start counting the required 10 clear days. There are many reasons why this requires more clarity.
2. Collection and protection of data
We applaud Health Canada for further reducing and revising data requirements. We submit, however, that further reductions are required for several reasons, including adherence to privacy best practices that require the collection of the least amount of data necessary to achieve reasonable purposes. In particular:
a. In view of the quantity and highly personal and sensitive data that will be collected about patients and practitioners, data sharing agreements should be required; for example, agreements between the federal government and provincial/territorial governments or between researchers and others requesting use of the data to facilitate the appropriate sharing of data.
b. Collection of personal information should be limited to what is relevant to the purpose of monitoring medical assistance in dying. Personal information, such as the patient’s full postal code, marital status, or principal occupation is beyond the scope of the eligibility criteria outlined in the legislation and thus beyond the scope of the purpose of monitoring the impact of the legislation.
c. Any “characteristics” of the patient should refer only to the eligibility criteria. If other data will be collected beyond that scope, the justification for doing so, and the characteristics themselves, should be clearly outlined.
d. The scope of the information collected about the practitioner could be narrowed. As is, it is very broad – a list of eight items – while the Quebec regulations, as a comparator, have only three-four items that must be collected in relation to the physician who administers MAiD.
3. Additional requirements
Schedule 4 [section 2(i)] of the proposed regulations requires that the practitioner opine as to whether the patient met, or did not meet, all of the eligibility criteria outlined in the legislation – with two significantly expanded requirements; the requirements that the practitioner: 1) provide an estimate as to the amount of time MAiD shortened the patient’s life; and 2) indicate the anticipated likely cause of natural death of the patient.
These additional requirements are beyond the letter and spirit of the legislation and, in many ways, are in direct contradiction to the legislation. The Legislature was not unaware when it drafted the Act that it did not follow other jurisdictions’ criteria requiring either a terminal illness or a prognosis of time within which the practitioner believed the patient would die, e.g., “within the next 6 months”.
It is specifically the lack of a timeframe that makes the legislation unique and provides flexibility for both patients and practitioners. By adding these two additional criteria for reporting, in effect, they become additional criteria for eligibility which is, as stated above, beyond the scope, and in contradiction to, the legislation.
4. Lack of clarity of reasons for ineligibility
There is a potential for misunderstanding as to whether reasons are required when the patient does not meet the criteria under Schedule 4, section 2(a) – (h). The introduction to section 2 speaks to the practitioner giving an indication as to (a) whether the patient met or (b) did not meet the criteria. However, in the itemized criteria [2(a)-(h)] it only speaks to the practitioner having to provide reasons when the patient meets the criteria (and not when the patient has not met the criteria). It would be helpful to specify that reasons should be required when the patient does and does not meet the criteria. This is also crucial for the publication of the Minister of Health’s annual report requiring that the reasons, and which eligibility criteria were not met, be addressed.
The CMA recognizes the importance of regulations to capture the provision, collection, use, and disposal of information for the purpose of monitoring MAiD. The CMA cautions against introducing reporting requirements that are beyond the scope of the legislation.
As noted in the legislation, practitioners who fail to provide information under the regulations may be found guilty under the Criminal Code and subject to possible imprisonment. It is thus imperative that the federal government drafts clear regulations that respect the legislation, privacy, research ethics, and a de minimus approach.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation on new and innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the federal government’s health-focussed approach to substance use issues through the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)
What sorts of circumstances do you see within your networks, communities or in society that you think contribute to problematic substance use?
There are multiple factors that contribute to problematic substance use. It is a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. However, using the social determinants as a framework, most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the traditional health and medical care services. .
Many Canadians face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which can contribute to problematic substance use, and certain populations are at higher risk given these circumstances. For example, early childhood is a critical time in the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of a person. Experiences in early life can ‘get under the skin’, changing the ways that genes are expressed. Negative experiences such as poverty or family or parental violence can have significant impacts on this important period of development.
What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
Have you seen or experienced programs, practices or models at the local or regional level that could be expanded, or implemented more broadly, to improve circumstances or social determinants of health that influence substance use?
Income is critical to individual health and is closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment. Adequate consideration must be given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. Minimizing poverty should be a top priority.
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
Drug use must not be treated with a criminal justice approach, which does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. More investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system. Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
What needs to change to make sure that opioid medications are being provided and used appropriately, based on the needs of each patient?
Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as problematic substance use, and as such have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use.
Treatment options and services for both problematic substance use as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada. Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies; appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and a focus on patient participation and empowerment.12 Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
It is also important to support clinicians in their practice. The 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines need to be kept current through ongoing funding. Physicians require tools, including those that facilitate monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; and, tapering of problematic or ineffective doses.
How can we make sure that those who require prescription opioids to manage their pain have access to them, without judgement or discrimination?
Governments need to incorporate the identification and elimination of stigma as a quality of care indicator in the ongoing monitoring of health system performance at all levels. They also need to implement and evaluate national public awareness and education strategies to counteract the stigma associated with substance use issues as well as enforcing legislation and regulations to guard against discrimination against people with mental and substance use issues.
Health professionals need to have access to education on pain management and treatment of problematic substance use, recognizing both issues as serious medical conditions for which there are effective treatments.
Which kinds of messages would work best to help Canadians understand the serious harms that can result from stigma around substance use?
A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada cited stigma as “an enormous barrier to individuals seeking and maintaining treatment.” Even though there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, until very recently the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy was heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach with an emphasis on enforcement, as opposed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction.8 This has serious implications in how society views people who use drugs. As noted in the CCSA-Public Safety report, “Language matters. Speak about people first, with compassion and respect.”13
A stigma reduction strategy must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours; thus, a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level. The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
How can we best act to reduce stigma across the country?
Engagement with people who use drugs to help them share their stories and experiences with stigma with the public
What would you recommend to improve substance use treatment services in Canada?
This challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further this aim, Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the other two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant. One of the fundamental principles of health care is that it be patient centred.11 CMA defines patient-centred care as “seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner … that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family and treats the patient with respect and dignity.”
It is essential that patients be core members of the health care team, working with health care providers to address their individual needs, preferences and aspirations and to seek their personal paths to well-being. Physicians and other health professionals can help patients make choices about their treatment and can provide information and support to patients and their families as they seek to cope with the effects of problematic use and live functional lives. The health care provider community needs tools to assist in the reduction of stigma, access to resources and supportive environments.
What obstacles or barriers do people face when they want to access treatment in Canada?
Obstacles to treatment include the lack of publicly-funded treatment centres, access to locations for remote areas, limited number of beds available, the cost of private treatment (lack of insurance), and stigma. The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for treatment that address different needs.12 Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that treatment programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
In addition to current harm reduction initiatives – such as supervised consumption sites, needle exchange programs – what other harm reduction services should governments consider implementing in Canada?
There is a dire need to address harm reduction in prisons. Even back in 2005, the CMA recommended to the Correctional Service of Canada that it develop, implement and evaluate a pilot needle exchange program in prison(s) under its jurisdiction. These services are not widespread and accessible to prison populations. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection because they are denied access to sterile injection equipment as a harm reduction strategy.
Hospitals need to incorporate harm reduction strategies as well, allowing people who use drugs to access much needed health services.
How can we better bring public health and law enforcement together to explore ways to reduce the cycle of involvement for people who use substances with the criminal justice system?
Training for police and other frontline criminal justice and corrections workers in how to interact with people with substance use issues is essential. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach. Changes to the criminal law affecting cannabis must not promote normalization of its use and must be tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention and provides for comprehensive treatment.13
The CMA recognized that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach. The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm.
What further steps can the federal government take to better address current regulation and enforcement priorities, such as addressing organized drug crime and the dangerous illegal drugs like fentanyl being brought into Canada?
The federal government must continue to work closely with the RCMP, local and provincial law enforcement agencies, Canada Post, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Crown attorneys, the Canadian military, and international health officials and law enforcement agencies to address this issue. This topic was covered in the recent CCSA/Public Safety Canada report.10
Recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination, how can all governments work together to address the high rates of problematic substance use faced by some Indigenous communities?
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care. Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems.
While geography is a significant barrier for Indigenous peoples, it is not the only one. Indigenous peoples living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on indigenous programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Canada's indigenous peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status. It is important that problematic substance use programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, problematic substance use and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians.11 Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and substance use is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community health strategies. The establishment of a working groups comprised of First Nations and Inuit health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate strategies and programming in these communities.
What can we learn from Indigenous approaches to problematic substance use, such as using holistic approaches, that may help inform activities under the CDSS?
The federal government must consult First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives to develop programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Indigenous communities.
How can governments, and the health, social, and law enforcement sectors design more effective substance use policies and programs for at-risk populations?
The government must identify and consult those communities and populations most at risk. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives, community advocates, municipalities, and provincial and local public health officers. Data that describes rates of use and issues specific to each at risk group is important to be able to better understand and address needs.
What are effective policies and programs to help improve access to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for at-risk populations?
There are innovative approaches to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. For example, the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/).
What urgent gaps related to substance use (in terms of data, surveillance, and/or research) need to be addressed in Canada?
Improvements are being made in the collection of data in Canada. This is crucial to be able to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes.12 As well, the government must continue to improve the ability of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the chief coroners of Canada and related agencies to collect, analyze and report data.
One such program is the surveillance system in the United States called RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system) that is “a surveillance system that collects product-and geographically-specific data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of prescription drugs.” It surveys data involving opioids including poison control centres, treatment programs, on the “illicit acquisition or distribution of prescription opioids, stimulants, and other prescription drugs of interest from entities investigating drug diversion cases,” among other opioid-related issues.
The CMA has recommended that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary. Further, PMPs are a valuable component in addressing the gaps related to substance use.
How can we use research tools to better identify emerging substance use issues as early as possible?
See above response to question 18 - “RADARS”
Government of Canada. Consultation on strengthening Canada’s approach to substance use issues. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-strengthening-canada-approach-substance-use-issues.html (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Early childhood development. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s recommendations for effective poverty reduction strategies. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-2 An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-11.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed: 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Non-prescription availability of low-dose codeine products. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada consultation on restriction of marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-13.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Joint Canadian Medical Association & Canadian Psychiatric Association Policy - Access to mental health care. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Public Safety Canada, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. 2018 Law Enforcement Roundtable on the Opioid Crisis. Meeting Summary. Ottawa; 2018. Available: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/lw-nfrcmnt-rndtbl-pd-crss-2018/index-en.aspx?utm_source=stakeholders&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=opioidcrisis (accessed 2018 Nov 29).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Study on Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction in Canada: Supplementary Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Ottawa: The Association; 2006. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/BriefPDF/BR2006-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 29).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 2018).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-45: The Cannabis Act. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 28).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Ensuring equitable access to health care: Strategies for governments, health system planners, and the medical profession. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD14-04.pdf (accessed 2018 23 Nov).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Submission to Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 29).
Radars System. 2018. Available: https://www.radars.org/. (accessed: 2018 Nov 29).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015 Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
Sproule B. Prescription Monitoring Programs in Canada: Best Practice and Program Review. Ottawa, ON, 2015 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Monitoring-Programs-in-Canada-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's notice as published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives.1
Tramadol has been marketed in Canada since 2005 and is available only by prescription.1 The CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and should be placed in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, under Schedule 1.2
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that tramadol is one of six opioids accounting for 96% of all opioid prescriptions between 2012 and 2016.3 The report noted that there was a significant increase in tramadol prescriptions and Defined Daily Doses (DDDs) in that same 2012 to 2016 timeframe that may have been due in part to a decrease in prescriptions and DDDs for codeine.
Tramadol is considered a weak opioid and is used to treat "moderate pain that has not responded to first-line treatments."4 It is regarded as having a lower rate of overdose, misuse and addiction than more powerful opioids.4
However, it is not without risks. The addition of tramadol to the CDSA, Schedule 1, is important because, as with any opioid, dependence on tramadol can occur with use over prolonged periods. According to the World Health Organization "dependence to tramadol may occur when used within the recommended dose range of tramadol but especially when used at supra-therapeutic doses."5 Physical dependence is "distinct from addiction, which includes behavioural elements and harm despite continued drug use." Maintenance of patients on opioids sometimes is only to avoid withdrawal symptoms, caused by physical dependence, as opposed to being used to treat pain.6 Tramadol must be tapered under supervision from a health professional.
In addition, tramadol's analgesic effect can be unpredictable depending on a person's genetic capacity to metabolize the drug. Success or failure will be predicated "on it being converted by CYP2D6 to an active metabolite, O-desmethyltramadol."7 If there is a CYP2D6 inhibitor present or if the person's genetic make-up is such that they do not metabolize the enzyme very well, "conversion can be blocked so that little or none of the metabolite is produced and little analgesic effect is achieved."7 These tramadol pathways may also be blocked which could lead to the drug being "present at higher concentrations for longer periods."7 As one expert has noted "when a doctor prescribes tramadol, he or she rolls the dice, not knowing whether the patient will get a bit of opioid, a lot of opioid or none at all."6
The risks associated with tramadol with respect to children are such that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended that tramadol (and codeine) should not be given to children under 12.8 Their concern stems from the potential for tramadol (and codeine) to "cause life-threatening breathing problems in children."9 The FDA also recommended that breast-feeding women not be given tramadol because of the potential harm to the child. As well, teens 12 to 18 should not be given the drug "if there is a history of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, or severe lung disease."9 Further, it warned that it should not "be given to children or adolescents as a pain medication after surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids."9
It is very important for the health and safety of Canadians that tramadol be placed on CDSA's Schedule 1. As described in the Notice of Intent for this consultation, this change will "prevent diversion of tramadol and protect Canadians from the health risks associated with unauthorized use."1 Further, pharmacists will not be able to follow verbal prescriptions and or provide refills of tramadol, and other controls outlined in the Narcotic Control Regulations within the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.10
In conclusion, the CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and carries dangers similar to its stronger counterparts. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as addictions, and as such we have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use. Therefore, as part of our advocacy, the CMA supports Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives. By doing so it will "help dispel the perception that it's somehow safer than other opioids."6
The CMA continues to urge governments to increase access to services and treatment options for addiction and pain management, as well as harm reduction.11
1 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Notice to interested parties - Proposal to add tramadol to Schedule I to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 16 152(24) Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-16/html/notice-avis-eng.html#ne2 (accessed 2018 Jun 25)
2 Young JWS, Juurlink DN. Five things to know about Tramadol. CMAJ May 2013 185(5) Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/185/8/E352.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31)
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pan-Canadian Trends in the Prescribing of Opioids, 2012 to 2016. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2017.
4 Kahan M, Mailis-Gagnon A, Wilson L, et al. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain; clinical summary for family physician. Part 1: general population. Can Fam Physician November 2011 011;57:1257-66. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/57/11/1257.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 30)
5 World Health Organization. Tramadol Update Review Report Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-sixth Meeting Geneva, 16-20 June 2014 Available: http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/quality_safety/6_1_Update.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 1)
6 Juurlink DN. Why Health Canada must reclassify tramadol as an opioid. The Globe and Mail November 27, 2017
7 Flint, A., Merali, Z., and Vaccarino, F. (Eds.). (2018). Substance use in Canada: improving quality of life: substance use and aging. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Substance-Use-and-Aging-Report-2018-en.pdf#search=all%28aging%29 (accessed 2018 Aug 1)
8 Jin J. Risks of Codeine and Tramadol in Children. JAMA 2017;318(15):1514. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.13534 Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2657378 (accessed: 2018 Aug 2)
9 United States Food and Drug Administration. Codeine and Tramadol Can Cause Breathing Problems for Children. Consumer Update April 20, 2017 Available: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm315497.htm (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
10 Minister of Justice. Narcotic Control Regulations C.R.C., c. 1041. Current to July 5, 2018. Last amended on May 20, 2018 Available: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C.R.C.,_c._1041.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
11 Canadian Medical Association. Harms Associated with Opioids and Other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs. CMA Policy, 2015. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 2).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to Health Canada in response to the publication of the Notice of Intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids.1 The CMA is very concerned with the high rates of overdose deaths due to opioids2 and supports a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to address this public health crisis.3
As part of the Government of Canada's strategy, the Minister of Health's 2017 mandate letter committed to "consult with provinces, territories, and professional regulatory bodies to introduce appropriate prescribing guidelines to curb opioid misuse, ensure prescriptions are appropriately tracked in a consistent and patient-centred way, and increase transparency in the marketing and promotion of therapies."4 Health Canada is proposing to further restrict drug manufacturers' advertising of opioids and is consulting on the scope and intent of the restrictions. The Food and Drugs Act defines advertisement as "any representation by any means for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, the sale of any drug or device".5
Opioids are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. These medications have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.3 Any measures to address advertising must not restrict appropriate access. Limiting access without appropriate alternatives and careful tapering can lead to undue suffering and seeking of drugs, potentially tainted, on the illegal market.
However, of great concern, opioid dispensing levels have been shown to be strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.6,7 Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.8
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.9,10 However, there is evidence for pain relief in the short term but insufficient evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.11,12,13 There was also a concerted effort by industry to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain. While stating that the risk of addiction was less than one percent, many studies have shown that the risk varies from 0 to 50% depending on the criteria used and sub population studied.14 Marketing significantly influences the type and amount of opioids consumed.15 Substantial tension exists between the competitive pressures that manufacturers face to expand product sales and support for limited, evidence-based use of most cost-effective available alternatives.16
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.17 Important contributing factors for the increase in opioid prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with patients. Prescriptions also increased due to the availability of new, highly potent opioid drugs.18,19 Addressing advertising is only one component of the issue, and significant efforts need to be made to address issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and treatment of addiction.
Presently, advertising of opioids is prohibited to the public, and only permitted to health care professionals if the claims are consistent with the terms of market authorization by Health Canada. Pharmaceutical industry's marketing practices to health care practitioners "can take many forms of direct and indirect activities and incentives, including, for example, manufacturer-sponsored presentations at conferences, continuing education programs, advertisements in medical journals, and personal visits from sales representatives. It can also include use of promotional brochures, fees for research, consulting or speaking, reimbursement for travel and hospitality expenses to attend industry-sponsored events, and gifts of meals, equipment, and medical journals and texts."1 As well, industry has sponsored advocacy organizations dedicated to the treatment of pain and key opinion leaders.15,20 Studies have shown that marketing influences prescribing patterns.21
Initiatives to regulate advertising and the promotion of prescription drugs have come from industry, nongovernmental organizations and government. The pharmaceutical industry itself is voluntarily self-regulated in Canada through the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB), pre-clearing marketing initiatives based on a Code of Advertising.22 The CMA recommends that marketing initiatives could be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism such as PAAB.
Faced with multiple legal challenges in the U.S., some opioid manufacturers have limited marketing, however, such measures had not been taken in Canada. The federal government has a complaints-based system and hasn't been proactive in the regulation and monitoring of advertising and marketing of opioids.
In recently published regulations amending the Food and Drug Regulations,23 the Minister of Health can require companies to develop and implement risk management plans, which include the preclearance of opioid-related materials to be provided to health care professionals. Product information prepared by manufacturers, summarizing scientific evidence on effects and setting out conditions for use, as well as promotional activities are subject to regulatory approval. The authority conferred to the Minister has the objective of allowing Health Canada to "appropriately monitor, quantify, characterize, and mitigate the risks associated with post-market use" of opioids. CMA supports such actions. As Van Zee has noted in the case of the United States, "modifications of the promotion and marketing of controlled drugs by the pharmaceutical industry and an enhanced capacity of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate and monitor such promotion can have a positive impact on public health".14 This approach would confer a similar benefit for Canada in that, if effective, could contribute to unbiased, evidence-based prescribing.
There are important guidelines and standards in place, developed by physicians, to guide relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. CMA's "Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry"24 were developed as a resource tool both for physicians, medical students and residents, as well as medical organizations, to support decisions as to appropriate relationships with industry, in conjunction with CMA's Code of Ethics.25 In summary, physicians have a responsibility to ensure that their interaction with the pharmaceutical industry is in keeping with their primary obligation to their patients and duties to society, and to avoid situations of conflict of interest where possible, appropriately managing these situations when necessary.
These guidelines include principles for continuing medical education and continuing professional development (CME/CPD) and are the basis for the National Standard for Support of Accredited CPD Activities, developed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Collège des médecins du Québec. According to the Standard, "the interests of organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for the development of accredited CPD activities cannot be assumed to always be congruent with the goal of addressing the educational needs of the medical profession. Therefore, it is essential that the medical profession define and assume their responsibility for setting standards that will guide the development, delivery, and evaluation of accredited CPD activities."26 Physicians must complete CPD credits to maintain their professional license, and the accreditation bodies (such as CFPC, RCPSC) have processes in place to assure that these courses are evidence-based and free from industry bias.
In recognition of the importance of opioid prescribing, and the key role that physicians play in this field, the CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids. This funding could include unconditional contribution from the opioid manufacturers, to ensure independence. The CMA appreciates the role that Health Canada has had in funding evidence-based guidelines.27 This has been a key initiative, which sought to provide physicians with unbiased information. Ongoing funding to maintain their currency would be warranted.
The CMA supports long overdue actions related to the restriction of the marketing of opioids and looks forward to collaboration between Health Canada and the physician community.
The CMA supports Health Canada's efforts to place significant restrictions on the ability of drug manufacturers to advertise opioids to health care practitioners. Marketing initiatives should be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism.
The CMA recommends that the measures chosen to constrain advertising do not unduly restrict access to opioids for appropriate use.
The CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids, and consider unconditional funding from opioid manufacturers.
The CMA recommends that the government support keeping the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines current through ongoing funding.
The CMA recognizes that restricting advertising is only one, overdue, measure to address the opioid crisis, and recommends that issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and addiction treatment urgently be addressed.
1 Government of Canada. Notice of intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/drug-products/announcements/restrict-advertising-opioids.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
2 Public Health Agency of Canada. National report: apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada (released June 2018). Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/national-report-apparent-opioid-related-deaths-released-june-2018.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
3 Canadian Medical Association. Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
4 Trudeau J. Minister of Health mandate letter. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister; 2017 Oct 4. Available: https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-health-mandate-letter (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
5 Government of Canada. Food and Drugs Act. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 1985. Available: http://lois-laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/index.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
6 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2013;22(4):438-42.
7 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q 2011;14(1):22-4.
8 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend 2004;73(2):199-207.
9 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician 2014;17(1):E1-10.
10 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
11 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2014;83:1277-84.
12 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: Findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain 2009;10:147-59.
13 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;(1):CD006605.
14 Van Zee A. The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health 2009;99:221-27.
15 Hamunen K, Paakkari P, Kalso E. Trends in opioid consumption in the Nordic countries 2002-2006. Eur J Pain 2009;13:954-962.
16 Alves TL, Lexchin J, Mintzes B. Medicines information and the regulation of the promotion of pharmaceuticals. Sci Eng Ethics 2018:1-26.
17 Canadian Medical Association. Optimal prescribing. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
18 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health 2008;99(3):182-4.
19 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction 2013;109:177-81.
20 Dyer O. OxyContin maker stops marketing opioids, as report details payments to advocacy groups. BMJ 2018;360:k791.
21 Katz D, Caplan AL, Merz JF. All gifts large and small: toward an understanding of the ethics of pharmaceutical industry gift-giving. Am J Bioethics 2003;3(3):39-46.
22 Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board. PAAB Code. Ottawa: PAAB; 2018. Available: http://code.paab.ca/ (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
23 Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Opioids), SOR/2018-77. Canada Gazette, Part II 2018 May 2;152(9). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-05-02/html/sor-dors77-eng.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
24 Canadian Medical Association. Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
25 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (Update 2004). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Code_of_ethics_of_the_Canadian_Medical_Association_Update_2004_PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
26 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National standard for support of accredited CPD activities. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.royalcollege.ca/rcsite/cpd/providers/tools-resources-accredited-cpd-providers/national-standard-accredited-cpd-activities-e (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
27 Busse JW, Craigie S, Juurlink DN, et al. Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain. CMAJ 2017;189:E659-66.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s proposed regulations entitled Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance) and an Order to amend Schedule 1 to the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act with respect to colouring agents, in Canada Gazette, Part 1.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use and for the past 30 years we have reiterated our long-standing support for the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages in several briefs and policy statements.
The CMA has been a leader in advocating for plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products for many years. We established our position in 1986 in a resolution recommending to the federal government “that all tobacco products be sold in plain packages of standard size with the words "this product is injurious to your health" printed in the same size lettering as the brand name, and that no extraneous information be printed on the package.”
We are pleased to support the proposed regulations and that they will apply to the packaging of all tobacco products and that brand colours, graphics and logos will be prohibited on packages. No exceptions, including for cigars and pipe tobacco, should be considered. These measures will assist in promoting harm reduction efforts and further the goal of reducing and eliminating smoking.
In 2017, 16.2% of Canadians aged 12 and older smoked either daily or occasionally; this is down from 17.7% in 2015. These proposed regulations will be a significant step in the goal of further reducing the smoking rate. However, there are three areas that the CMA would like to see strengthened and are described below.
Slide and Shell Packaging – Minimum package dimensions and warning surface area
The CMA supports strongly the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages. We recommended that only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top” package be removed. This would reduce the permitted style to one type and allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information.
With respect to the draft regulation (s.39) concerning the dimensions of the new packages when closed, the CMA recommends that the measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.1 The Quebec requirement for a warning surface area of 46.5 sq. cm should be the minimum across Canada.
To achieve that, we suggest that the new slide and shell package for regular size cigarettes have the following dimensions when it is closed:
(a) its height must be no less than 74 mm and no more than 77 mm;
(b) its width must be no less than 84 mm and no more than 87 mm for a package of 20 cigarettes, and no less 103mm and no more than 106 mm for a package of 25 cigarettes.
A similar adjustment is recommended for the width of packages of king size cigarettes when closed:
(a) its width must be no less than 83 mm and no more than 87 mm for a package of 20 cigarettes, and no less 103mm and no more than 106 mm for a package of 25 cigarettes.
In both cases, this is over and above the dimensions in s.39 (1)(a) and (b) for regular size cigarettes and s.39(2)(b) for king size cigarettes. We also recommend that the number of cigarettes permitted in both package sizes be limited to 20 and 25 respectively, reflecting the quantities sold in the current market. This would also prohibit manufacturers from adding one or two additional cigarettes as a “bonus” or “premium.”
The appearance of brand names on the packages should be in a manner that is standard for all brands. Tobacco manufacturers should not be able to include terms such as “organic” or “natural” as part of a brand name. These descriptions would convey the perception that these products are somehow better or are healthier for the consumer. As well, they may be used to evoke a lifestyle or are fashionable. Such terms and phrases should be banned in the regulations; the European Union’s Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council could serve as the guide is this instance.
Tobacco manufacturers make frequent use of subtle marketing messages to render smoking attractive and glamorous to their customers. The CMA has always supported educational and public health initiatives aimed at countering these messages. Permitting a leaflet inside packages “that warns consumers of the health hazards arising from the use of the tobacco product or that provides instructions for its use” (draft regulation s. 36.3) is a positive step but should not provide manufacturers with a potential loophole to exploit. The draft regulation should be amended to indicate that the only instance where any instructions are permitted on the leaflet are when the product has an electronic component. This would prevent manufacturers from using the leaflet as any sort of a promotional platform to minimize, for example, the impact of health warnings on the package exterior.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada and we are pleased to support the proposed regulations. We recommend that the draft regulations be strengthened in the following manner:
1) The measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.
2) The number of cigarettes permitted in both package sizes be limited to 20 and 25 respectively, reflecting the quantities sold in the current market.
3) Use of terms and phrases such as “organic” and “natural” in brand names should be banned in the regulations.
4) The only instance where any instructions are permitted on the proposed leaflets are when the product has an electronic component.
Tobacco and Vaping Products Act: Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance) Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 23 152(25). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-23/html/reg9-eng.html (accessed 2018 Aug 7).
Statistics Canada. Smoking, 2017 Health Fact Sheets Cat. No. 82-625-X June 26, Ottawa, Ont.: Statistics Canada, 2018. Available: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2018001/article/54974-eng.pdf?st=7HkJdkUB (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Letter in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products. Potential Measures for Regulating the Appearance, Shape and Size of Tobacco Packages and of Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation. Ottawa: CMA; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2016-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Aug 29).
The European Parliament and The Council of the European Union. Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products and repealing Directive. 2001/37/EC. Brussels: Official Journal of the European Union, 2014. Available:
https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/tobacco/docs/dir_201440_en.pdf (accessed 2018 Sep 4).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “New Health-Related Labelling for Tobacco Products - Document for Consultation, October 2018”.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA
issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate
for the strongest possible measures to control its use and for the past 30 years we have reiterated our
long-standing support for the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages in several briefs and policy statements. Our response will follow the questions posed in the consultation document.
Labelling on Individual Cigarettes
Displaying a warning on individual cigarettes provides another means of conveying important health warnings about the hazards of smoking. The warnings should be like those that will be displayed on the leaflets included in the cigarette packages as well as the packages themselves. They should be of sufficient size, font and colour that will draw the attention of the smoker to the message. They should also be placed as close to the filter end of the cigarette as possible to remain visible for as long as possible.
Health Information Messages
The CMA has always supported educational and public health initiatives aimed at countering tobacco manufacturers messages that would render smoking attractive and glamorous to their customers. The health information messages and any leaflets included in the package must be of sufficient size, colour and font to prevent manufacturers from using the leaflet as any sort of a promotional platform to minimize, for example, the impact of health warnings on the package exterior.
The CMA supports strongly the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages and we have recommended that only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top”
package be removed. This would allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information. The CMA has recommended that the measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.
Toxic Statements (Includes Toxic Emissions Statements and Toxic Constituents Statements)
The size, colour and design of new Toxic Statements proposed in the consultation document should be sufficient to be read and easily understood. The Statements should be rotated periodically to include new and updated information related to emissions and toxic constituents.
Connecting Labelling Elements/ Quitline Information
Tobacco manufacturers make frequent use of subtle marketing messages to render smoking attractive and glamorous, especially to young people. The CMA supports packages displaying prominent, simple and powerful health warnings, such as the graphic pictorial warnings, as well as quit tips and information on product content and health risks.2 Connecting the themes should help to reinforce the messages being conveyed with these labels. The size, colour, and placement of the proposed quitline and website information should be sufficient to maximize the noticeability of the information on various types of tobacco product packaging.
Percentage of Coverage/Minimum Size of Health Warnings on Tobacco Products Other than Cigarettes and Little Cigars
The amount of space given to the warnings should be sufficient to convey the maximum amount of information while remaining clear, visible, and legible. The warnings should be in proportion to the packaging available, like that of a regular cigarette package.
Labelling for All Tobacco Products that Do Not Currently Require Labels
The CMA supports mandatory health warnings being applied equally to all tobacco products. If package size allows, Health Warnings, Health Information Messages, and Toxic Statements should all be included. The messages should be relevant to the types of tobacco products they are covering.
The rotation timeframe suggested in the consultation document of 12 to 18 months is a reasonable period.
Government of Canada. New Health-Related Labelling for Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-tobacco-labelling.html (accessed 2018 Oct 29).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Tobacco Control (Update 2008). Ottawa: The Association; 2008. Available: http:// policybase.cma.ca /dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-08.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 5).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Letter in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products. Potential Measures for Regulating the Appearance, Shape and Size of Tobacco Packages and of Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2016-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 19).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada Consultation on Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance). Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2019-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 19).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Policy Resolution BD88-03-64 - Smokeless tobacco. Ottawa: The Association; 1987. Available: https://tinyurl.com/y7eynl5q (accessed 2018 Dec 5).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare (Advisory Council) on the issues set out in its discussion paper.1 The striking of the Advisory Council by the federal government is long overdue. We will focus on the questions set out in the discussion paper and draw attention to more specific issues that the Advisory Council should consider as it develops its final report.
At the outset, Canada’s physicians are very concerned about their patients’ access to prescription medicines. A June 2018 survey of the CMA member e-panel found the following:
71% reported that they always/often ask their patients if they have prescription drug coveragebefore writing a prescription;
60% reported that greater than 20% of their patients are either uncovered or inadequatelycovered for prescription drugs; and
79% reported that copayments pose affordability challenges among their patients with drugcoverage and that they resort to a variety of strategies to help them.
Indeed, when asked to pick one of three options for a national prescription program, the results were as follows:
57% - a single, national, public pharmacare plan operated by the federal government and fundedby taxes collected by the federal government;
34% - a mix of private prescription drug plans operated by private insurance companies andpublic drug plans run by the provinces and territories, supplemented by a prescription drug planprovided by the federal government for persons with high out-of-pocket drug costs; and
9% - separate regional, public pharmacare plans in each province and territory, funded by taxescollected by both the federal government and the provincial governments.
Who should be covered under national pharmacare? / How should national pharmacare be delivered?
The CMA’s position is that all Canadians should have access to medically necessary drugs regardless of their ability to pay. The challenge is how to resolve the issue of the most expedient and affordable means of achieving this in a manner that is acceptable to the provincial/territorial governments.
At the present time there are two main options that are being discussed. The first is the approach recommended by the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) that calls for the development of a common national prescription drug formulary and the amendment of the Canada Health Act to include out-of-hospital prescription drugs in the definition of insured health services; essentially a universal, single public payer program.2 The second is the “closing the gap” or “catastrophic coverage” approach recommended previously by the Kirby and Romanow commissions, and which was one of the unfulfilled commitments that First Ministers made in the 2003 Health Accord.
There is a large difference in the cost of these two approaches. Regarding the first, the federal Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has estimated the net cost to the federal government of assuming the cost of a pharmacare program modelled on the Quebec drug formulary at $19.3 billion in 2015-16, increasing to $22.6 billion in 2020-21.3 Regarding the second approach, in 2002 the Kirby commission suggested that a catastrophic drug program with a cap of 3% of family income would cost $500 million per year.4 A 2015 study by the Conference Board estimated that a program with a cap of 3% of household income or $1,500 would cost the federal government $1.6 billion in 2016, increasing to $1.8 billion in 2020.5
There are parallels between the present situation with insurance coverage for prescription drugs and the insurance coverage for medical services that existed at the time of the Hall Commission (1961-1964).
In 1961 there were 9.6 million Canadians with some form of medical insurance or prepayment coverage, representing 53% of the population.6 Almost one-half of this number (4.5 million) were covered by the physician-sponsored not-for-profit Trans-Canada Medical Plans.7 In its 1962 brief to the Hall Commission the CMA projected that this percentage would increase to 67% by 1970 and it recommended a “closing the gap” approach for the uninsured and under-insured:
That, for the 1,520,000 persons, or approximately 8% of Canada’s population who may adjudged to be medically indigent, tax funds be used to provide comprehensive medical insurance on services…for persons in economic circumstances just superior to the identifiable indigent we recommend the application of tax funds on proof of need to permit the partial assistance which they require.8
After Hall reported in 1964 with the recommendation of first dollar public Medicare, as they say, the rest is history. More than 50 years after the initial passage of the Medical Care Act in 1966, virtually nobody would suggest that Canada got it wrong.
In the case of pharmacare today, the circumstances are somewhat different. First the prevalence of prescription drug insurance is much higher today than medical insurance was back in the early 1960s. A 2017 report from the Conference Board estimates that just 5.2% of Canadians are uninsured for prescription drugs.9 Other survey estimates indicate that roughly one in 10 Canadians report financial difficulty in filling prescriptions10, although some surveys have yielded higher results, such as a September, 2018 Abacus Data poll that found that 23% of Canadians reported that the medicines they need are unaffordable.11 Second, the role of the provincial/territorial (PT) governments paying for prescription drugs today is much greater than their role in paying for medical services prior to Medicare. In 1961 it was estimated that all public sources accounted for 12.4% of medical care expenditures.12 In 2017, PT governments accounted for an estimated 37% of prescription drug spending.13
It is also instructive to consider how Medicare ramped up from its initial spending under the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act in 1958-59 through to the first payments under the Medical Care Act a decade later, shown in Table 1. The table shows clearly that Medicare payments increased gradually over the two stages. Medicare as a share of total federal program spending increased from 1% in 1958-59 to a high of 11% in 1971-72. Interestingly, federal spending on Medicare never reached the 50/50 cost-sharing that was offered, reaching 36% in 1976-77, the year prior to the Established Programs Financing Act coming into effect. As an aside, according to the 2017 Fall Economic statement the Canada Health Transfer, valued at $37.1 billion in 2017-18 represents 12.2% of program spending.14
This history highlights the need to consider how the federal government might phase in the program recommended by HESA given the cost estimated by the PBO at $19.3 billion. This appears a daunting challenge in light of the recent increases in federal health funding, which amount to annual increases in the Canada Health Transfer of just over $1 billion plus the $11 billion allocated in the 2017 federal budget over a 10-year period for home care and mental health.15
There is no disagreement that at the present time the fiscal prospects are better for the federal than the PT governments. In its 2018 Fiscal Sustainability Report, the PBO reported that over the 2018-92 projection period the federal government could either increase annual spending or reduce taxes by 1.4% of Gross Domestic Product ($29 billion) and maintain its net debt at the current (2017) level.16 However, the government has many other spending priorities. Conversely, sub-national governments would be required to either increase taxes or reduce spending by 0.8% of GDP or ($18 billion) to maintain net debt at the current level.
The CMA has previously recommended that the federal government pursue a “close the gap” approach in partnership with the PT governments and the private insurance industry. This approach could be scaled up toward a full national public pharmacare by either or both of lowering the household income threshold or raising the level of federal contribution.17 However this has never developed any serious momentum. While the first Ministers committed in their 2003 Accord to take measures, by the end of 2005/06 to ensure that Canadians, wherever they live, have reasonable access to catastrophic coverage,18 this ran aground with the first and only progress report of the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy in 2006.19 It was
evident in the report that much of the current public funding had been shifted into the catastrophic category, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion across the four scenarios presented. The only further public PT government pronouncement on a catastrophic drug plan was a three-point proposal set out in a backgrounder for the PT health Ministers meeting in 2008 calling for a funding formula that would: protect the autonomy of the PTs in program design; set a ceiling of 5% of income; and recognize the federal government’s role as an equal partner with 50/50 cost sharing of a total estimate cost of $5.03 billion (2006).20 The amount of $5.03 billion would have represented 62% of PT spending on prescription drugs in 2006.
More recently, an “essential medicines” approach to universal pharmacare has been put forward by Morgan and colleagues, modelled on 2015 data. Essential medicines are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population.21 WHO maintains a model list of essential medicines, and the 2017 version contains some 430 medications.22 Using a multi-step review process, Taglione and colleagues adapted the 2013 version of the WHO list to produce a shorter list of 125 medications that they assessed against the prescription audits of two Toronto-based family health teams comprising 4,777 and 35,554 patients in 2014. They reported 90.8% and 92.6% coverage with the preliminary list of 125 medications in the two sites respectively.23 The list is now called the CLEAN Meds list (http://cleanmeds.ca/).
Morgan and colleagues used 117 items from the CLEAN Meds list to model the impact of adding universal public coverage of an essential medicines list to the existing public drug plans in Canada, based on 2015 data. They reported the following base case results:
Total public expenditure would increase by $1.229 billion to $11.99 billion;
Total private expenditure would decrease by $4.272 billion to $11.172 billion; and
Public expenditure on essential medicines would be $6.14 billion, representing 51% of the total$12 billion in total public expenditure.24
In further research conducted for the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), Morgan examined the listing of the CLEAN Meds list across the public formularies in Canada for 2015 and found that the public plans listed 93% on average of the 125 medicines, and that this increased to 98% when weighted by drug plan costs.25 The Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa has done a similar analysis of 128 medications on the CLEAN Meds list and coverage ranged across provinces from Manitoba at the bottom (with 88 covered completely and 8 requiring special authorization) to Quebec at the top with coverage of 121 items.26
This would suggest that one approach would be for the federal government to offer to cover universal coverage for essential medicines, which would cost at least $6 billion. There would be coordination issues with both public and private plans, as was the case when Ontario introduced OHIP + in early 2018 to extend coverage to persons under 25.27 This could be subsequently scaled up by adding coverage for additional medications.
In terms of how pharmacare should be delivered, that will depend on how far the federal government wants to go. Could the federal government administer a national pharmacare program? It already controls levers including drug approval by Health Canada and price-setting through the PMPRB, and it provides the majority (70%) of funding to the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies and Health which oversees the Common Drug Review.28 In May, 2015 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) CEO Dr. Graham Sher proposed that CBS could be considered as a model for national pharmacare, given its history of running a national (except Quebec) formulary of plasma protein drugs at no cost to patients.29 In his subsequent testimony to the HESA pharmacare study Sher described CBS’ success in negotiating price reductions through public tendering and bulk purchasing’ although he did also note that their formulary includes 45 brands and classes of plasma protein products, far fewer than the thousands of items in PT formularies.30 More recently Flood et al. have suggested that one option for pharmacare could involve the PT governments delegating authority to an arm’s-length agency similar to CBS that would purchase drugs and administer drug benefits.31
However, in the comuniqué following their June 2018 meeting the PT health Ministers emphasized that provinces and territories must retain responsibility for the design and delivery of public drug coverage…Quebec will maintain its own program and will receive comparable compensation if the federal government puts a pan-Canadian program in place.32 This was repeated by the Premiers in their communiqué three weeks later, which would suggest that a national agency approach is a non-starter. Moreover, none of the PT drug plans testified to the HESA pharmacare study. One issue that has received scant attention in all of the discussions about pharmacare since 2015 is the future role of private supplementary health insurance. When Medicare came in in the late 1960s, while the expenditures increased steadily, enrolment in non-profit medical insurance plans disappeared virtually overnight, dropping from 8.3 million enrollees in 1968 to 1.1 million in 1970 and none thereafter.33 This appears unlikely to happen to private insurance in the foreseeable future. For example, in the essential medicines modeling done by Morgan et al. the essential medicines would represent just 27% of total prescription drug expenditures and all public drug expenditures would account for 52% of the total.24 If the federal and PT governments were able to collectively “wave a magic wand” and come up with the PBO’s $19.3 billion and a purchasing and distribution strategy it seems likely that this would raise questions about the continued viability of the health insurance benefits industry. In their testimony to HESA, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association did allude to an impact on the industry should prescription drugs become a public program but was not specific.34 We have been unable to locate any international comparative literature on the structure of the health benefits industry. In 2017 CLHIA’s members paid out $11.3 billion in drug benefits, representing 44% of the $25.5 billion total. Dental benefits accounted for $8.1 billion, or 32% of the total.35 Dental benefits paid by CLHIA members accounted for two-thirds (65%) of the estimated total expenditures on dental benefits in Canada in 2017; just 6% were publicly funded.13 Socio-economic inequalities in access to dental care are well-documented36, but this issue is nowhere on the public policy agenda. In addition, any transition from private to public coverage will require some administrative coordination. As noted above, Morgan et al. estimated that an essential medicines approach would reduce private spending by $4.2 billion, a large proportion of which would be currently paid for by private insurance.24 Which drugs should be covered/how much variability across jurisdictions should there be? In terms of which drugs should be covered, the CMA believes that optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is:
The most clinically appropriate for the patient’s condition;
Safe and effective;
Part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
The most cost-effective drug available to meet the patient’s needs.37
There is no dispute that private insurance companies offer wider formularies than the public drug programs. In their 2017 study the Conference Board compiled information on the number of drugs dispensed in 2015 through: both public and private plans, public plans only; and private plans only. This was presented for nine provinces, excluding PEI. Across the nine provinces, the following averages were observed:
4,878 drugs were dispensed from both public and private plans;
336 drugs were dispensed from public plans only;
1,938 drugs were dispensed from private plans only.9
On the 2018 CMA member e-panel survey, physicians were much more likely to report formulary coverage issues with their patients who with public coverage than they were for their patients with Private coverage. More than five in 10 (54%) physicians reported that they always/often have formulary coverage
issues with their publicly insured patients versus just over one in 10 (13%) for their privately insured patients.
If the federal government plans to pursue national pharmacare Canadians should be well-informed about the range of prescription drugs that will be available to them.
In terms of the variability of coverage, if pharmacare or some portion of it becomes a publicly insured service it should be offered to all Canadians under uniform terms and conditions, as specified in the CHA.
In practical terms, Morgan and colleagues have previously demonstrated that there is a high degree of commonality in the formularies across the public drug programs. Based on a review of 2006 formulary listings of 796 drugs across all provincial formularies except PEI, they found that coverage ranged from 55% to 73%, but when weighted by national retail sales the measure of formulary coverage exceeded 86% in all 9 provinces.38 More recently, in the 2017 PMPRB study of formulary coverage Morgan studied 729 drugs across all provinces and the Non-Insured Health Benefits Plan for 2015. The public plans listed an average of 79% of the 729 drugs, and this increased to 95% when drug costs were factored in.25 These findings would lend further support to the case for an essential medicines approach to national pharmacare.
Should patients pay a portion of the cost of drugs/should employers continue to play a role?
If the federal government intends to define out-of-hospital prescription drugs as an insured service under the CHA it will be necessary to address the feasibility of first dollar coverage in light of the accessibility criterion that prohibits user charges. The CMA addressed this issue in our 2016 brief to the HESA pharmacare study with reference to Scotland, which eliminated prescription charges in April, 2011.39 There are now more recent data. In the four years leading up to the elimination of prescription charges the volume of prescriptions dispensed increased by 3.6% annually. In the seven years since the charges were eliminated, the annual increase has been 1.8%; indeed between 2016/17 and 2017/18 there was a decrease of 0.06%.40 It should be added however that dispensing charges only accounted for 3% of prescription costs in 2008/09. Wales and Northern Ireland have also eliminated prescription charges for their citizens. The experiences of these countries should be examined more closely.
There has been very little research on how employers would react to the implementation of a full or partial public pharmacare plan. Ipsos conducted research among the employer community in 2012. Just under one in two (47) of respondents indicated that they would support a public program for supplementary benefits introduced by the federal government that was funded by increased taxes, but nearly nine in ten agreed that even if the government implemented a program I would recommend that our company/organization still offer a supplementary health benefits program (over and above the government offer) because it would give us an advantage in recruiting/retaining employees.41
If some form of a public pharmacare program is implemented, this will reduce the amount of drug benefits that private insurance companies are required to pay out, which should result in lower premiums for those employers who provide supplementary benefits. The implications of this in terms of how a pharmacare program might be funded have not received much scrutiny to date. However, regardless of the notionally ear-marked health taxes or premiums that are levied against businesses or individuals, Medicare has been paid for out of general tax revenues.
In conclusion, the initial modeling study published by Morgan et al. in 201542 has resulted in welcome attention to the longstanding issue of access to prescription drugs for Canadians who are either uninsured or under-insured. However the discussions have been light on how we could transition to a situation where Canadians can access prescription drugs on the same basis as they access medical and hospital services. This would require concerted discussion between the federal and PT governments and
the health insurance benefits industry and this has not yet occurred. The discussions since 2015 have mainly ignored the issue of highly expensive drugs for rare diseases and very expensive drugs for more common diseases, such as biologic drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. The CMA is pleased to see that HESA is launching a study on the barriers to access to treatment and drugs for Canadians with rare diseases and disorders.43
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the Advisory Committee on the Implementation of National Pharmacare:
1.Engage with the federal and provincial/territorial governments and the health insuranceindustry on the feasibility of a universal federally funded “essential medicines”prescription drug plan as a scalable approach to the implementation of a nationalpharmacare plan.
2.Engage the business community and the health insurance industry on the question of thecontinued viability of the provision of supplementary health benefits (e.g. dental care)should a national pharmacare plan be implemented.
3.Study the international experience of Scotland and other countries with respect to theprovision of first dollar coverage of prescription drugs.
Table 1. The Evolution of Medicare ($ million) Year HIDS Medical Care Act Total program spend Medicare as a % of total program Total hospital spend Total physician spend Medicare as a % of total H&P 1958-59 54.7 0 4716 1% 640.608 301.337 6%
14% 1960-61 189.4 0 5160.5 4% 834.932 355.014 16%
22% 1962-63 336.7 0 5652.5 6% 1031.749 406.075 23%
24% 1964-65 433.9 0 6167 7% 1273.38 495.657 25%
16% 1966-67 397.4 0 7589.2 5% 1637.647 605.2 18%
18% 1968-69 561.9 33 9258 6% 2179.906 788.089 20%
24% 1970-71 734.3 400.5 11262 10% 2775.391 1031.555 30%
33% 1972-73 960.5 630.8 16324 10% 3384.801 1375.127 33%
33% 1974-75 1307.6 762.7 26037 8% 4579.041 1647.025 33%
34% 1976-77 2030.5 1003.6 34209 9% 6357.3 2071 36%
Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services (HIDs) and Medical Care Act – Public Accounts of Canada Issues 1958-59 – 1976-77. Spending by National Health and Welfare.
Total program spend – Public Accounts of Canada Issues 1958-59-1976-77. Budgetary Expenditures Classified by Function – Total spend less public debt charges.
Total hospital and physician spend – calendar year data 1958 – 1975 in Statistics Canada, Historical Statistics of Canada. Series B504-513 Health expenditures, Canada, 1926 to 1975. 1976 – Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditures Data Tables Table A.3.1.1.
1 Government of Canada. Towards implementation of national pharmacare. Discussion paper. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/corporate/publications/council_on_pharmacare_EN.PDF. Accessed 10/02/18.
2 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Pharmacare now: prescription medicine coverage for all Canadians. http://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/HESA/Reports/RP9762464/hesarp14/hesarp14-e.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18.
3 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Federal cost of a national pharmacare program. https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2017/Pharmacare/Pharmacare_EN_2017_11_07.pdf. Accessed10/02/18.
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