Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. The number of seniors expected to need help or care in the next 30 years will double, placing an unprecedented challenge on Canada’s health care system. That we face this challenge speaks to the immense success story that is modern medicine, but it doesn’t in any way minimize the task ahead.
Publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago when Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. People 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in our country, and the growth in the number of centenarians is also expected to continue.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is studying ways Canada can respond to these challenges. Here, for your consideration, we present 15 comprehensive recommendations that would help our seniors remain active, contributing citizens of their communities while improving the quality of their lives. These range from increasing capital investment in residential care infrastructure, to enhancing assistance for caregivers, to improving the senior-friendliness of our neighbourhoods.
The task faced by this committee, indeed the task faced by all of Canada, is daunting. That said, it is manageable and great advances can be made on behalf of seniors. By doing so, we will ultimately deliver both health and financial benefits to all Canadians.
Dr. Laurent Marcoux, CMA President
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to submit this brief to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities as part of its study regarding how the Government can support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors population of tomorrow. This brief directly addresses the three themes considered by this Committee:
How the Government can improve access to housing for seniors including aging in place and affordable and accessible housing;
How the Government can improve income security for vulnerable seniors; and
How the Government can improve the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors including community programming, social inclusivity, and social determinants of health.
Improving access to housing for seniors
As part of a new National Housing Strategy, the federal government announced in the 2017 Budget that it will invest more than $11.2 billion in a range of initiatives designed to build, renew, and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help to ensure that Canadians have adequate and affordable housing that meets their needs. While a welcome step, physicians continue to see the problems facing seniors in relation to a lack of housing options and supports — problems that cascade across the entire health care system.
A major hindrance to social equity in health care delivery and a serious cause of wait times is the inappropriate placement of patients, particularly seniors, in hospitals. Alternate level of care (ALC) beds are often used in acute care hospitals to accommodate patients — most of whom are medically stable seniors — waiting for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility. High rates of ALC patients in hospitals affect all patients by contributing to hospital overcrowding, lengthy waits in emergency departments, delayed hospital admissions, cancelled elective surgeries, and sidelined ambulance services waiting to offload new arrivals (often referred to as code gridlock).1 Moreover, unnecessarily long hospital stays can leave patients vulnerable to hospital-acquired illnesses and disabilities such as delirium, deconditioning, and falls.
Daily costs - Ontario
$842: acute care hospital, per patient
$126: long-term care residence, per patient
$42: home care, per patient
# of acute care hospital beds = 18,571 14% waiting for placement = 2,600 beds
Providing more cost-effective and appropriate solutions will optimize the use of health care resources. It has been estimated that it costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed and $42 per day for care at home.2 An investment in appropriate home or residential care, which can take many forms, will alleviate inappropriate hospital admissions and facilitate timely discharges.
The residential care sector is facing significant challenges because of the rising numbers of older seniors with increasingly complex care needs. The demand for residential care will increase significantly over the next several years because of the growing number of frail elderly seniors requiring this service. New facilities will need to be constructed and existing facilities will need to be upgraded to comply with enhanced regulatory requirements and respond to residents’ higher care needs.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a residential care bed forecast tied to population growth of age cohorts. It is estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,500 new beds per year over the next 19 years, for a total of 199,000 new beds by 2035. This forecast does not include the investments needed to renovate and retrofit existing long-term care homes.3 A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity must double over the next 20 years (assuming no change in how care is currently provided), necessitating a transformation in how seniors care is provided across the continuum of care.4 These findings provide a sense of the immense challenges Canada faces in addressing the residential care needs of older seniors.
Investments in residential care infrastructure and continuing care will improve care for seniors while significantly reducing wait times in hospitals and across the system, benefiting all patients. Efforts to de-hospitalize the system and address the housing and residential care options for Canada’s aging population are key. The federal government can provide significant pan-Canadian assistance by investing in residential care infrastructure.
The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in residential care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
Improving income security for vulnerable seniors
Income is a key factor impacting the health of individuals and communities. Higher income and social status are linked to better health.5
Adequate Income: Poverty among seniors in Canada dropped sharply in the 1970s and 1980s but it has been rising in recent years. In 2012, the incidence of low income among people aged 65 years and over was 12.1%. This rate was considerably higher for single seniors at 28.5%.6
Incidence of low income (2012)
Seniors overall: 12.1%
Single seniors: 28.5%
Most older Canadians rely on Old Age Security (OAS), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and their personal pensions or investments to maintain their basic standard of living in retirement. Some seniors are also eligible for a Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to improve their financial security. The CMA recognizes the federal government’s actions to strengthen these programs and initiatives to ensure their viability and to provide sustainable tax relief. These measures must continue and evolve to support aging Canadians so they can afford to live at home or in age-friendly communities as they get older. The government’s actions to ensure adequate income support will also assist aging Canadians to take care of their health, maintain independence, and continue living safely without the need for institutional care.
On the topic of seniors’ income security, the financial abuse of seniors cannot be overlooked. Elder abuse can take many forms: financial, physical, psychological, sexual, and neglect. Often the abuser is a family member, friend, or other person in a position of trust. Researchers estimate that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors experience abuse or neglect, but that only a small portion of this is reported. The CMA supports public awareness initiatives that bring attention to elder abuse, as well as programs to intervene with seniors who are abused and with their abusers.
The CMA recommends that the federal government take steps to provide adequate income support for older Canadians, as well as education and protection from financial abuse.
Improving the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors
Improving how we support and care for Canada’s growing seniors population has been a priority for CMA over the past several years. For the first time in Canada’s history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumber those under the age of 15 years.7 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.8 People aged 85 years and over make up the fastest growing age group in Canada — this portion of the population grew by 127% between 1993 and 2013.9 Statistics Canada projects, on the basis of a medium-growth scenario, that there will be over 11,100 Canadians aged 100 years and older by 2021, 14,800 by 2026 and 20,300 by 2036.7
Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both increases with age. Approximately 75 to 80% of Canadian seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.10 Because of increasing rates of disability and chronic disease, the demand for health services is expected to increase as Canada’s population ages. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated 2.4 million Canadians 65 years and older will need continuing care, both paid and unpaid, by 2026 — a 71% increase since 2011.11
When publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago, Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. The aging of our population is both a success story and a pressing health policy issue.
National seniors strategy
Canada needs a new approach to ensure that both our aging population and the rest of Canadians can get the care they need, when and where they need it. The CMA believes that the federal government should invest in seniors care now, guided by a pan-Canadian seniors strategy. In doing so, it can help aging Canadians be as productive as possible — at work, in their communities, and in their homes.
The CMA is pleased with the June 2017 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance that called for the federal government to develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and Indigenous partners, a national seniors strategy in order to control spending growth while ensuring appropriate and accessible care.12 The CMA is also pleased that MP Marc Serré (Nickel Belt) secured support for his private members’ motion calling for the development of a national seniors strategy. Over 50,000 Canadians have already lent their support to this cause (see www.DemandaPlan.ca).
The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian seniors strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
Improving assistance for home care and Canada’s caregivers
Many of the services required by seniors, in particular home care and long-term care, are not covered by the Canada Health Act. Funding for these services varies widely from province to province. The disparity among the provinces in terms of their fiscal capacity in the current economic climate will mean improvements in seniors care will advance at an uneven pace. The funding and delivery of accessible home care services will help more aging Canadians to recover from illness, live at home longer, and contribute to their families and communities. Multi-year funding arrangements to reinforce commitment to and financial investment in home care should be carefully considered.13 The development of innovative partnerships and models to help ensure services and resources for seniors’ seamless transition across the continuum of care are also important.
The CMA recommends governments work with the health and social services sectors, and with private insurers, to develop a framework for the funding and delivery of accessible and sustainable home care and long-term care services.
Family and friend caregivers are an extremely important part of the health care system. A 2012 Statistics Canada study found that 5.4 million Canadians provided care to a senior family member or friend, and 62% of caregivers helping seniors said that the care receiver lived in a private residence separate from their own.14 According to a report by Carers Canada, the Canadian Home Care Association, and the Canadian Cancer Action Network, caregivers provide an array of services including personal and medical care, housekeeping, advocacy, financial management, and social/emotional support. The report also indicated that caregivers contribute $25 billion in unpaid labour to our health system.15 Given their enormous contributions, Canada’s caregivers need support in the form of financial assistance, education, peer support, and respite care. A pan-Canadian caregiver strategy is needed to ensure caregivers are provided with the support they require.15
Personal and Medical Care
worth $25 billion in
Social-emo ional Suppor
The CMA recommends that the federal government and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian caregiver strategy, and expand the support programs currently offered to informal caregivers.
Canadians want governments to do more to help seniors and their family caregivers.16 The federal government’s new combined Canada Caregiver Credit
(CCC) is a non-refundable credit to individuals caring for dependent relatives with infirmities (including persons with disabilities). The CCC will be more accessible and will extend tax relief to more caregivers by including dependent relatives who do not live with their caregivers and by increasing the income threshold. Making the new CCC a refundable tax credit for caregivers whose tax owing is less than the total credit would result in a refund payment to provide further financial support for low-income families.
The CMA recommends that the federal government improve awareness of the new Canada Caregiver Credit and amend it to make it a refundable tax credit for caregivers.
The federal government’s recent commitment to provide $6 billion over 10 years to the provinces and territories for home care, including support for caregivers, is a welcome step toward improving opportunities for seniors to remain in their homes. As with previous bilateral funding agreements, it is important to establish clear operating principles between the parties to oversee the funding implementation and for the development of clear metrics to measure performance.
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop explicit operating principles for the home care funding that has been negotiated with the provinces and territories to recognize funding for caregivers and respite care as eligible areas of investment.
The federal government’s recent funding investments in home care and mental health recognize the importance of these aspects of the health care system. They also signal that Canada has under-invested in home and community-based care to date. Other countries have more supportive systems and programs in place — systems and programs that Canada should consider.
The CMA recommends the federal government convene an all-party parliamentary international study that includes stakeholders to examine the approaches taken to mitigate the inappropriate use of acute care for elderly persons and provide support for caregivers.
Programs and supports to promote healthy aging
The CMA believes that governments at all levels should invest in programs and supports to promote healthy aging, a comprehensive continuum of health services to provide optimal care and support to older Canadians, and an environment and society that is “age friendly”.17
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy aging as “the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life.”18 It is believed that initiatives to promote healthy aging and enable older Canadians to maintain their health will help lower health care costs by reducing the overall burden of disability and chronic disease. Such initiatives should focus on physical activity, good nutrition, injury (e.g. falls) prevention, and seniors’ mental health (including depression).
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels support programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, injury prevention, and mental health among older Canadians.
For seniors who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex, and they may vary greatly from one person to another and involve many health care providers. Complex care needs demand a flexible and responsive health system. The CMA believes that quality health care for older Canadians should be delivered on a continuum from community-based health care (e.g. primary health care, chronic disease management programs), to home care
(e.g. visiting health care workers to give baths and foot care), to long-term care and palliative care. Ideally, this continuum should be managed so that the senior can remain at home and out of emergency departments, hospitals, and long-term care unless appropriate; easily access necessary care; and make a smooth transition from one level of care to another when necessary.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement models of integrated, interdisciplinary health service delivery for older Canadians.
Every senior should have the opportunity to have a family physician or to be part of a family practice that serves as a medical home. This provides a central hub for the timely provision and coordination of the comprehensive menu of health and medical services. A medical home should provide patients with access to medical advice and the provision of, or direction to, needed care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Research in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund found that the percentage of Canadian seniors who have a regular family physician or place of care is very high (98%); however, their ability to get timely access based on same-day or next-day appointments was among the lowest of 11 nations.19 Compared to seniors in most other countries surveyed, Canadian seniors were also more likely to use the emergency department and experience problems with care coordination.
The CMA recommends governments continue efforts to ensure that older Canadians have access to a family physician, supported by specialized geriatric services as appropriate.
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget and the second-largest category of health expenditure. As the population of seniors grows, there will be an ongoing need for detailed information regarding seniors’ drug use and expenditure to support the overall management of public drug programs.20 Despite some level of drug coverage for seniors in all provinces and territories, some seniors still skip doses or avoid filling prescriptions due to cost, and more research into the extent of this problem is required.21 The CMA supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive pan-Canadian pharmacare program. As a step toward comprehensive, universal coverage, the CMA has repeatedly called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to reduce cost barriers of treatment and ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial hardship. Moreover, with more drugs available to treat a large number of complex and chronic health conditions, the CMA supports the development of a coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy among the elderly.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian pharmaceutical strategy that addresses both comprehensive coverage of essential medicines for all Canadians, and programs to encourage optimal prescribing and drug therapy.
Optimal care and support for older Canadians also depends on identifying, adapting, and implementing best practices in the care of seniors. PHAC’s Best Practices Portal22 is one noteworthy initiative, and the system needs to spread and scale best practices by leveraging and enhancing pan-Canadian resources that build capacity and improve performance in home care and other sectors.13
The CMA recommends that governments and other stakeholders support ongoing research to identify best practices in the care of seniors, and monitor the impact of various interventions on health outcomes and costs.
An environment and society that is “age friendly”
One of the primary goals of seniors policy in Canada is to promote the independence of older Canadians, avoiding costly institutionalization for as long as feasible. To help older Canadians successfully maintain their independence, governments and society must keep the social determinants of health in mind when developing and implementing policy that affects seniors. It is also important to eliminate discrimination against seniors and promote positive messaging around aging. An age-friendly society respects the experience, knowledge, and capabilities of its older members and accords them the same worth and dignity as it does other citizens.
Employment is also important for seniors who need or desire it. Many seniors are choosing to remain active in the workplace for a variety of reasons, such as adding to their financial resources or staying connected to a social network.23 The CMA recognizes the federal government’s support for seniors who opt to continue working. And, while many employers encourage older workers and accommodate their needs, employment may be difficult to find in workplaces that are unwilling to hire older workers.
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels and other partners give older Canadians access to opportunities for meaningful employment if they desire.
The physical environment, including the built environment, can help to promote seniors’ independence and successful, healthy aging. The World Health Organization defines an “age-friendly environment” as one that fosters health and well-being and the participation of people as they age.24 Age-friendly environments are accessible, equitable, inclusive, safe and secure, and supportive. They promote health and prevent or delay the onset of disease and functional decline. They provide people-centered services and support to enable recovery or to compensate for the loss of function so that people can continue to do the things that are important to them.24 These factors should be taken into consideration by those who design and build communities. For example, buildings should be designed with entrance ramps and elevators; sidewalks could have sloping curbs for walkers and wheelchairs; and frequent, accessible public transportation should be provided in neighbourhoods with large concentrations of seniors.
The CMA recommends that governments and communities take the needs of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems, and other aspects of the built environment.
The CMA recognizes the federal government’s commitment to support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors’ population of tomorrow. The CMA’s recommendations in this submission can assist the government as it seeks to improve access to housing for seniors, enhance income security for vulnerable seniors, and improve the overall quality of life for seniors in ways that will help to advance inclusion, well-being, and the health of Canada’s aging population.
To maximize the health and well-being of older Canadians, and ensure their active engagement and independence for as long as possible, the CMA believes that the health care system, governments, and society should work with older Canadians to promote healthy aging, provide quality patient-centred health care and support services, and build communities that value Canadians of all ages.
1 Simpson C. Code Gridlock: Why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa by Dr. Christopher Simpson, President, Canadian Medical Association; 2014 Nov. 18; Ottawa, Ontario. Available: https://www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final. pdf#search=code%20gridlock (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
2 North East Local Health Integration Network. HOME First shifts care of seniors to HOME. LHINfo Minute, Northeastern Ontario Health Care Update. Sudbury: The Network; 2011. Cited by Home Care Ontario. Facts & figures - publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; 2017 Jun. Available: http://www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
3 Conference Board of Canada. A cost-benefit analysis of meeting the demand for long-term care beds. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; Manuscript submitted for publication.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Seniors in transition: exploring pathways across the care continuum. Ottawa: The Institute; 2017. Available: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/seniors-in-transition-report-2017-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Jun 30).
5 World Health Organization. Health Impact Assessment (HIA). The determinants of health. Available: http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
6 Statistics Canada. Persons in low income (after-tax low income measure), 2012. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Dec 10. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/141210/t141210a003-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 17).
7 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Sep 17. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
8 Statistics Canada. Canada Year Book 2012, seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11
402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
9 Public Health Agency of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada, 2014: public health in the future. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/ cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/assets/pdf/2014-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
10 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Nov. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf (accessed 2016 Sept 19).
11 Stonebridge C, Hermus G, Edenhoffer K. Future care for Canadian seniors: a status quo forecast. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=7374 (accessed 2016 Sep 20).
12 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. Getting ready: For a new generation of active seniors. Ottawa: The Committee; 2017 Jun. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/NFFN/Reports/NFFN_Final19th_Aging_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
13 Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association. Better Home Care in Canada: A National Action Plan. 2016. Ottawa: Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association; 2016. Available: http://www.thehomecareplan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Better-Home-Care-Report-Oct-web.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
14 Turcotte M, Sawaya C. Senior care: differences by type of housing. Insights on Canadian society. Cat. No. 75-006-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015 Feb 25. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2015001/article/14142-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
15 Carers Canada, Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network. Advancing Collective Priorities: A Canadian Carer Strategy. 2017. Mississauga: Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network; 2017. Available: http://www.cdnhomecare.ca/media. php?mid=4918 (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
16 Ipsos Public Affairs, HealthCareCAN, Canadian College of Health Leaders. National Health Leadership Conference report. Toronto: Ipsos Public Affairs; 2016 Jun 6. Available: http://www.nhlc-cnls.ca/assets/2016%20Ottawa/NHLCIpsosReportJune1.pdf (accessed 2016 Jun 06).
17 Canadian Medical Association. Health and Health Care for an Aging Population. Ottawa: The Association; December 2013. Available: https:// www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Health_and_Health_Care_for_an_Aging-Population_ PD14-03-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 20).
18 Government of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2010 – Canada’s experience in setting the stage for healthy aging. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/corporate/publications/ chief-public-health-officer-reports-state-public-health-canada/annual-report-on-state-public-health-canada-2010/chapter-2.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
19 Commonwealth Fund. 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults in Eleven Countries. 2014. New York: Commonweath Fund; 2014. Available: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/in-the-literature/2014/nov/pdf_1787_commonwealth_fund_2014_intl_ survey_chartpack.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
20 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Use among Seniors on Public Drug Programs in Canada, 2002 to 2008. (2010). Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/drug_use_in_seniors_2002-2008_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
21 Law MR, Cheng L, Dhalla IA, Heard D, Morgan SG. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ. 2012 Feb21;184(3):297-302. Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/3/297.short. (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
22 Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Best Practices Portal. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2016. Available: http://cbpp-pcpe. phac-aspc.gc.ca/public-health-topics/seniors/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
23 Government of Canada. Action for Seniors report. 2014. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/ employment-social-development/programs/seniors-action-report.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
24 World Health Organization (WHO). Age-friendly environments. Geneva: WHO; 2017. Available: http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/age
friendly-environments/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
The objective of this document is twofold:
(1) to provide the federal government with a better understanding of the current issues that are of concern to physicians across Canada and are material to the preparation of the 1996-97 federal budget; and
(2) to propose some solutions.
As part of the government's pre-budget consultation process, the CMA has formally presented a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance on November 23, 1995.
II. POLICY CONTEXT
Canada faces a number of important policy challenges as it moves toward the 21st century. First and foremost is the fiscal challenge to reduce Canada's debt and deficit levels while, at the same time, fostering an environment which provides for future economic growth within a globally-integrated marketplace. As of March 31, 1995 total public debt (federal/provincial/territorial levels of government) was $787.7 billion; the interest paid on the total debt for 1994 was $64.3 billion, and the 1994 total public deficit was $40.8 billion.
At a minimum, government is faced with the challenge of addressing short- and long-term economic policy objectives while meeting defined social policy imperatives. In a time of continued fiscal restraint and scarce public sector economic resources, difficult choices will continue to be made. CMA acknowledges that there is an urgent need, now more than ever, for the federal government to balance a number of competing policy challenges. At a time when profound deficit reduction measures are required, all segments of society are being asked to do more with the same or less. Having already dealt with this reality for quite some time, the health care sector is no stranger to this burden.
In making policy choices, careful and deliberate thought needs to be given to the repercussions such decisions will have on the Canada of tomorrow and the health and well-being of Canadians. Attacking Canada's federal debt/deficit for short-term economic gain must be balanced against any decision(s) that would serve to increase our longer-term "social" deficit.
At a time when Canada is undergoing significant social, political and economic changes, CMA remains dedicated to the delivery of high quality health care and to safeguarding the national integrity of the system. However, given the need for the federal government to gain control over the deficit and national debt, it seems clear that putting Canada's fiscal house in order remains a high priority. That being said, the government must also be clear with Canadians on its intentions and priorities with respect to a long-term commitment to health and social programs, including a cash commitment.
Canadians are deeply concerned that reducing the federal deficit will result in the shifting of costs to other levels of government which they cannot absorb. This may very well lead to reduced access to government programs and services, and at some point in the future, higher social costs. This is highlighted in a recent poll where 58% of Canadians reported that they expect the health care system will be worse in the next ten years. 1 It would appear that Canadians believe that the fiscal agenda will overwhelm the social agenda to the extent that the social values and ideals that sustain them will be forgotten or worse, be lost.
Surveys indicate that 84% of Canadians view Medicare as a defining characteristic of being Canadian. Furthermore, 84% of Canadians feel that the system provides high quality care. However, 65% of Canadians are concerned about continued accessibility to a full range of publicly-financed benefits. According to the same poll, 83% of Canadians see current financing of the system as being "unsustainable" over the longer-term. 2
While Canadians are expressing strong concerns over the future viability of what we currently have in the area of health care, physicians are also voicing similar worries. In a recent poll, 76% of physicians surveyed agreed with the statement that Canada's health care will be worse in 10 years. 3
III. MANAGING CHANGE AND MEETING POLICY OBJECTIVES
Recognizing that change is one constant that will characterize Canadian society for the foreseeable future, any further policy changes affecting the health care system must also be considered in the context of Canadian values and economic policy. Good health policy and good economic policy must reinforce one another.
CMA is concerned that any short-term economic decisions on the part of the government which do not reinforce good health policy may be detrimental to the best interests of Canada. If change is to come within an overall policy framework that is strategic, coordinated and fair and preserves (or augments) the integrity of Canada's health care system, we must be careful to avoid short-term, stop-gap initiatives. As the Government's 1994 Throne Speech stated "...the agenda of the government is based on an integrated approach to economic, social, environmental and foreign policy". Accordingly, in establishing an appropriate fiscal framework for health and health care, change must take place within the context of a longer-term integrated view.
The principle of aligning good health policy with sound economic policy is critical to managing change while serving to lay down a strong foundation for future economic growth and prosperity in Canada. Moreover, by better synchronizing health and economic policy as a national priority, opportunities can be created to meet a number of important "higher order" policy objectives. They are: (i) Canada building; (ii) economic development; (iii) well being of Canadians and the future of health and health care in Canada, and (iv) putting Canada's financial house in order. Each is discussed in turn.
i. Canada Building
In many ways, Canada is at a social, political and economic crossroads. The challenge to this government is to balance short-term fiscal pressures against the longer-term need to re-position Canada to take advantage of greater economic opportunities while preserving that which is of fundamental importance to Canadian society as a whole.
In this context, of the range of social programs that the federal government supports, Medicare is strongly viewed as a defining characteristic of being Canadian. Medicare is a high priority for Canadians. Some have argued that the declining federal cash commitment to funding Medicare serves to further fragment our health care system and speeds the process of government decentralization. What better opportunity for the federal government to clarify its funding support and relationship to health care in this country?
In making a clear, significant and stable financial commitment in support of health care, the government will serve notice that it is prepared to play a leadership role in ensuring that Canadians will have a sustainable, high quality "national" health care system, a value they hold deeply as Canadians.
ii. Economic Development
From an international perspective, Canada's Medicare system has been acknowledged as one of our greatest assets. Agencies such as the World Economic Forum tell us that Canada's method of financing health care is one of our comparative economic advantages in an evolving new world economic order. Compared to the United States, this takes the form of lower public and private expenditures on health care while maintaining the same or better health status. In terms of our European trading partners, the fact that health insurance programs are financed primarily through consolidated revenues (rather than employment-based taxes), also confers a unit cost advantage to Canadian exporters. In this sense, good health policy and good economic policy reinforce each other and the bridge between the two should be strengthened.
By producing "healthier" individuals at lower cost, this relative cost advantage can translate into economic benefits that all Canadian can share in terms of expanded employment opportunities, wealth creation and economic growth.
As a 1995 report form the Conference Board of Canada stated "[Canadian business is] unequivocal in terms of the high value they place on the Canadian health care system. Their support rests on their faith that the system has the capacity to deliver high-quality care while keeping public costs under control. They are also aware that Canada's health insurance system seems to provide employers with a competitive advantage over companies in the United States". 4
While the CMA is in support of a publicly-financed health system, there are serious concerns that the series of recent reforms have not been carried out in a reasonable and rational manner. Prior to implementing any further reforms, there is a pressing need to evaluate the effects of these changes. Cutting alone should not continue to be considered a catalyst for change; as an investment in the future of Canada health care is far too valuable.
If health policy and economic policy are to be better synchronized, governments must not only consider the level of current public sector resources that are allocated to the health care system, but they must also re-examine the current roles of the public and private sectors.
iii. Well-Being of Canadians and the Future of Health and Health Care in Canada
For over twenty-five years, the Medicare system has provided all Canadians with the assurance that "it will always be there when you need it", without fear of an individual or family being forced into bankruptcy due to their health care needs.
However, the security that Canadians have enjoyed in knowing that their health care system was always there when they needed it is being challenged daily. For example, Canadians are experiencing difficulties in access because of hospital closures, lengthening waiting lists and the departure of physicians from their communities. As well, physicians and patients are increasingly experiencing difficulties in accessing new medical technologies.
Canadians are becoming more and more concerned that the universal Medicare system which they have known and supported through their tax dollars may not be available when they need it the most.
In stepping forward and playing a leadership role, the federal government can serve to reassure Canadians that preserving the fundamentals of our health care system remains a high priority by making a significant and predictable financial cash contribution.
iv. Putting Canada's Financial House in Order
CMA recognizes that the federal government must attend to its own fiscal house and is meeting its fiscal targets. CMA believes that we must not pass this massive debt burden - one in which 36 cents of every federal tax dollars goes to debt servicing - onto future generations.
This is not, however, to suggest that a "slash and burn" strategy should be adopted: but rather we should seek a measured approach that gains control over spending while fostering an environment of economic growth. This would bring with it increased employment opportunities and expanding societal wealth. Such an approach should be measured, deliberate and responsible.
Deficit reduction should not be fought disproportionately on the back of health care, which, if viewed in its proper context, should be considered as an investment good not a consumption good. Health care is an asset to all Canadians, not a liability.
The CMA has attempted to set out a framework that serves as a basis for defining policy objectives to which the government should give serious consideration. These "four pillars" are:
(1) Canada building;
(2) economic development;
(3) well-being of Canadians and the future of health and health care in Canada; and
(4) putting Canada's fiscal house in order.
In seeking to build stronger bridges between these policy objectives is the unshakeable principle that good health and good economic policy should go hand-in-hand, reinforcing rather than neutralizing one another.
The CMA's four pillars are consistent with government policy objectives as set out in the Red Book, and its 1994 throne speech.
Using the four pillars as a guide, the key issues that are of immediate concern to the medical profession in a pre-budget consultation context are as follows:
* the Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST);
* Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP);
* the Goods and Services Tax (GST);
* Non-Taxable Supplementary Health Benefits (NTSHB);
* the National Health Research Program (NHRP); and,
* Tobacco Taxation.
The CMA is prepared to work with the government and others in a collaborative effort, within the above framework to meet sound social, health, economic and fiscal policy objectives.
CANADIAN HEALTH AND SOCIAL TRANSFER (CHST)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is concerned that the decreasing federal cash commitment to health care will eventually result in no federal cash flowing to some provinces in the future. This will seriously undermine the federal government's ability to set and maintain goals and standards in the health care system across the country.
* The CMA recognizes that federal finances must be brought under better control. However, 60% of Canadians feel that social programs require federal protection while expenditures are being reduced. 5 Reforms to social programs must be phased in over a defined planning horizon.
* Beginning in 1996-97, the Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST), a combination of the Established Programs Financing and the Canadian Assistance Plan, will result in a reduction of cash transfers to the provinces and territories of $7 billion.
* Access to Quality Health Care: Our First Priority
Canadian physicians want to maintain and enhance the delivery of high quality health care services. Canadians are experiencing difficulties in access due to hospital closures, lengthening waiting lists and communities losing physicians. Furthermore, physicians and their patients are increasingly experiencing difficulty in accessing new health technologies. Canadians are becoming concerned that the universal Medicare system which they have supported through their tax dollars may not be available when they need it the most.
* The CHST Threatens The Principles Of National Health Insurance
Continued reductions in the CHST will make it increasingly difficult for the federal government to maintain national standards in health care. Earmarked funding for health care will enable the federal government to ensure the principles encompassed under the Canada Health Act are protected.
* A Strong Federal Role Must Be Maintained
The Medicare system provides all Canadians with the assurances that "it will be there when you need it"; and "you and your family won't be forced into financial ruin". Surveys indicate that 84% of Canadians see Medicare as a defining characteristic of being Canadian. Furthermore, 84% of Canadians feel that the system provides high quality care. Canadians want governments to spend more energy on the protection of Medicare and other social programs. 6
From an international perspective, Canada's Medicare system has been acknowledged as one of our greatest assets. Compared to the U.S. this takes the form of lower public and private expenditures on health care while maintaining the same or better health status.
* Stable, predictable and ear-marked cash transfers with a formula for growth is required to enable all provinces and territories to plan and deliver a defined set of comparable high quality health care services to all Canadians.
* A $250 per capita cash transfer for health care for the next 5 years should be established and guaranteed within the CHST framework. After the 5 year period, the federal government must preserve the real value of the cash transfer by means of an appropriate escalator.
* Considering all options, a per capita transfer is the fairest, most equitable method of allocating cash for the health care system. It will also operationalize the CHST in such a way so as to reassure Canadians that the federal dollars will continue to be available to sustain the health system.
* The Medicare system is a unifying value and defining characteristic that is recognized as a valuable resource by business and provides Canadians with an important sense of well-being.
* The above recommendations would assist in ensuring a strong federal role in setting and maintaining national health care standards as promised in the Red Book. Acting on these recommendations will demonstrate to Canadians that the federal government has listened to their concerns about the CHST and the future of the health care system. A federal cash contribution to health care in Canada is important for economic reasons.
* Business is growing increasingly concerned that the competitive advantage provided by the Canadian health care system is eroding. Furthermore, the universal nature of the coverage provided by our health system means it cannot be viewed as a subsidy under current trade agreements
REGISTERED RETIREMENT SAVINGS PLANS (RRSP)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is concerned about the ability of Canadians to accrue retirement savings that will enable them to retire in dignity.
* The numbers of those over the age of 65 continue to expand, in 1994 11.9% of the population was over the age of 65, in 2016 this will increase to 16% and by 2041 increase to 23%. The numbers of those under 18 are shrinking, in 1994 they represented 25% of the population and by 2016 they will represent 20%. 7 These demographic trends are of concern to governments and taxpayers. Employment trends indicate that an increasing number of Canadians are self-employed. In 1994, self-employment accounted for an increasingly large share of total employment growth, 25% of the overall employment gain. In 1993, 35% of the total labour force were in employment situations that provide registered pension plans (RPPs). 8
* It appears that Canadians are becoming increasingly more self-reliant when it comes to providing for their retirement years. We understand the government's concerns with respect to the retirement income system, the CMA eagerly anticipates the release of the government's intentions in relation to seniors and pension reform.
* Ensuring Dignity in Retirement
Canadian physicians treat retired patients on a daily basis and are aware of the challenges many of them face. In this context, Canadian physicians are concerned that all Canadians should have the opportunity to achieve a state of financial well-being to provide for themselves in their retirement years.
Recognizing Canada's demographic trends and its current fiscal challenges, governments must ensure that suitable financial incentives are in place to encourage a greater reliance on private savings vehicles.
* Equal Opportunities to Accumulate Retirement Savings
The vast majority of Canadian physicians are self-employed professionals and therefore are not members of an employer/employee sponsored RPP. They, like many other individuals must plan for and fund their own retirement.
The principle of equity demands that the self-employed and those employed but reliant on registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) be afforded the same opportunities and incentives to plan for their retirement as those in employment situations that provide RPPs (i.e., pension equity).
* Fair Treatment Of Retirement Savings
For those individuals that may suffer the misfortune of declaring bankruptcy, creditors may seize the annuitant's RRSP assets. This is patently unfair. If an employed individual declares personal bankruptcy their RPP is currently protected from creditors, however, they too run the risk of loosing their RRSP to their creditors.
* The federal government should strive for equity between RRSPs and RPPs.
* The federal government should refrain from making changes to the retirement income system pending a review of the system.
* The federal government should consider legislation that would deem RRSP assets credit proof.
* The federal government should consider gradually raising the foreign investment limits applicable to RRSPs and/or RPPs. At the end of a defined period of gradual increases, the federal government should consider removing the foreign investment limit completely.
* All Canadians should have an equal ability to accumulate retirement savings regardless of their employment status. Assuming the current demographic and employment trends persist, it is important to recognize the role that RRSPs will play in assisting Canadians to live healthy and dignified lives well past their retirement from the labour force.
* In keeping with the principles of fairness and equity, retirement income plans should be treated equally under federal legislation (e.g., Tax Act , Bankruptcy Act). Sound investment decisions and strategies are required that will enable Canadians to accumulate retirement savings and achieve financial security in their retirement.
* Given the complexity of the retirement income system, changes to RRSPs and or RPPs should only be considered in the context of a thorough review of the pension system and include a thoughtful, open and meaningful consultation process.
* For the past ten years the government has supported the laudable objective of attaining equity between RRSPs and RPPs.
* Experts have assured Canadians that: "The two fundamental goals (of retirement savings) are:
(1) to guarantee a basic level of retirement income for all Canadians, and
(2) to assist Canadians to avoid serious disruption of their pre-retirement living standards upon retirement".
* As governments' continue to reduce publicly funded benefits and encourage greater self-reliance, there is a need to ensure that Canadians have the ability to invest and save private dollars for their retirement years.
* RRSPs and RPPs are legitimate tax deferral mechanisms and should not be viewed as tax avoidance. Income set aside for retirement should be taxed when it is received as a pension. The tax system should encourage and assist Canadians to arrange for their financial security in retirement.
GOODS AND SERVICES TAX (GST)
The CMA has strong concerns regarding the effect of treating most medical services as GST exempt. Unlike other self-employed professionals, physicians are disadvantaged by the fact that they are not able to claim refunds or collect Input Tax Credits (ITCs) for GST paid. Given that medical services are designated as tax exempt, physicians are forced to absorb the additional tax payable as a result of the GST. Moreover, if the government is to proceed with harmonization, this situation will be compounded.
* The GST was designed as a tax on "consumers" and not businesses who provide goods and services. Approximately 95% of physicians' services are paid for by the provinces. Provinces do not pay GST based on their constitutional exemption and by agreement with the federal government. In making medical services exempt, GST is payable by the provider of the service and not recoverable as an input tax credit. Therefore physicians are in the position of paying non-recoverable GST on their inputs. Attempts to recover the GST from provincial governments through increased fees have not been possible since the provinces refuse to reimburse for increased costs due to GST since they are constitutionally exempt from GST.
* Unlike other professional medical groups such as dentist, physicians do not have the ability to pass increased GST costs along in the form of higher fees. Unlike other institutional health care providers such as hospitals, physicians do not recover these extra GST costs through a rebate mechanism. Therefore, given that most medical services are exempt, physicians are forced to absorb the additional tax payable as a result of the GST.
* Because most medical services are treated as exempt, an independent study estimated that self-employed physicians have been forced to absorb an additional $57.2 million of incremental sales tax (net of the Federal Sales Tax) on an annual basis. The study was submitted to the Department of Finance. By the end of 1995, it is estimated that the profession will have absorbed in excess of $286 million because of the current situation.
* In the government's Red Book it states: "A Liberal government will replace the GST with a system that generates equivalent revenues, is fairer to consumers and small businesses, minimizes disruptions to small business, and promotes federal-provincial cooperation and harmonization". As self-employed professionals delivering quality health care services to Canadians, physicians face the same financial realities as do other small businesses. As such, the status of medical services as tax exempt is patently unfair to these small businesses.
* Access To Quality Health Care
While hospitals have been afforded an 83% rebate, self-employed physicians must absorb the full GST load on equipment and other purchases. As a result of this differential tax arrangement, a number of physicians are leaving their community-based practices and moving back into institutions. Therefore, the GST is having an adverse effect on movement towards community-based care, and is impeding patient access to physicians who re-locate from the community to institutions. In this regard, good health policy is not reinforced by good economic policy.
* Good Health Policy Should Reinforce Good Economic Policy
Most of Canada's premiere medical researchers are employed by hospitals. As part of their research, physicians purchase goods and services that are inputs to their investigative activities. Given that physicians work within a facility, hospitals are eligible to claim the 83% on GST paid on input costs. However, some researchers have grown increasingly concerned that the GST that is recoverable by the hospitals is not returned for medical research and serves to "subsidize" other day-to-day activities. In essence, monies that have been earmarked for specific medical research are being allocated to other areas.
Increasingly, physicians are organizing themselves within group practices. While this is, in part, a response to providing greater continuity of care to patients, it is also a reaction to the series of economic decisions that have been taken in the area of health care. Currently, it is estimated that the GST "costs" the average physician $1,500 - $2,000 per year. If physicians were able to claim ITCs, this could give them the added flexibility to employ other individuals in the provision of health care.
While the direct effects of the GST are significant and measurable, the indirect effects are even more significant though less measurable. It is estimated that the 55,000 physicians employ up to 100,000 Canadians. Given the disproportionate effects of the GST on the medical profession as employers, the employment dampening effects could be significant.
For many years, the CMA has supported tax reform - provided such reform improves the overall equity and efficiency of Canada's tax system. In June 1987, for example, CMA wrote to the then-Minister of Finance stating "...we at the CMA strongly support the goals of tax reform and efforts to simplify the tax system while at the same time making it more equitable". We have subsequently reiterated our support for the broad objectives of tax reform on several occasions: it remains as strong today as ever.
In the area of health care, self-employed physicians (as well as others) have not been accorded the same treatment under the GST as other health groups. For example, hospitals currently receive a rebate of 83% of GST paid on the assumption that the rebate level leaves them no worse off than under the previous tax regime (i.e., whole).
As well, prescription drugs are zero-rated, with the same rationale: to ensure that they are whole. Recognizing that drug regimens can play an equally important role as some physician interventions, why would the government choose to distinguish between the two and zero-rate drugs and exempt medical services.
* The CMA believes that there are three ways of proceeding to address physician concerns:
(1) similar to the formula for Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals (MUSH), physicians would be accorded a rebate that would leave them no worse off under the GST; an independent study suggests that 69% would leave physicians whole; or
(2) to zero-rate all medical services; or
(3) to zero-rate those medical services that are funded by the government.
The three options above serve to improve overall fairness and simplify the tax system. The CMA has submitted a proposal to the Department of Finance for consideration which recommends that health care services (including medical services) funded by the provinces be zero-rated.
* The proposal to zero-rate health care services funded by the provinces means:
- services provided by hospitals, charities and other provincially funded organizations would be zero-rated.
- the system would treat all persons in the industry in the same manner and would thus be fairer and simpler to administer.
- tax cascading would be eliminated.
- in the context of the regionalization of health care in Canada difficult interpretive issues (such as what constitutes a hospital or facility) would be removed.
- not all government services would become zero-rated but only those for which the provincial governments fund. The remainder would continue to be exempt and thus the government would derive revenues from the tax on inputs used in providing those services.
- Some complexities would remain owing to the fact that some health care services would be zero-rated and some would continue to be exempt. Therefore, any person making a mixture of zero-rated and exempt supplies would still be required to allocate inputs between commercial and non-commercial activities.
* Such a proposal would put all publicly-funded health care services on the same tax footing.
* The proposal does not focus on self-employed physicians only, but has been developed in the broader context of those services that are publicly-funded.
* The proposal attempts to be achieve a greater degree of flexibility in the face of regionalization of health care services in Canada.
* It would reinforce the principles of fairness and simplicity in the tax system.
* To summarize, the CMA has reiterated its position on several occasions. Some of the major recommendations are:
(1) Canadian physicians should not pay more than other professions or occupations under the GST or its replacement;
(2) all taxes on business expenses be fairly and fully removed under any replacement tax for the GST;
(3) that the government assign a high priority to integrating provincial and federal sales taxes in a fair and equitable way;
(4) that the federal government take a leadership role in ensuring that any integrated system not perpetuate existing tax inequities facing Canadian physicians; and
(5) any provisions of a replacement tax should reinforce good health and economic policy.
NON-TAXABLE SUPPLEMENTARY HEALTH BENEFITS (NTSHB)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is concerned that Canadians' access to health care services will be threatened if the tax status of supplementary health benefits is changed from their current tax treatment.
* Approximately, 70% or 20 million Canadians rely on full or partial private supplementary health care benefits (e.g., dental, drugs, vision care, private health care, etc.). As governments reduce the level of public funding, the private component of health expenditures is expanding. Canadians are becoming increasingly reliant on the services of private insurance. In the context of funding those health services that remain public benefits, the government cannot strike yet another blow to individual Canadians and to Canadian business by taxing the very benefits for which taxes were raised.
* Changes in health care technology and health care management have resulted in decreased length of stays in hospitals and an increased reliance upon expensive health technologies. Many of these services are covered by private supplementary health plans, especially when individuals are discharged from hospital (e.g., drugs, private home/health care).
* Access To Quality Health Care Services: First Priority
Changing the status of supplementary health benefits from non-taxable to taxable may contribute decreased access to care, and/or possibly, increased costs to these plans coupled with a reduction in service of government funded programs.
* Good Tax Policy Should Support Good Health Policy
Non-taxable supplementary health benefits is a good tax policy that serves to reinforce good health policy. This incentive fosters risk pooling which reduces the overall cost of premiums for supplementary health benefit plans.
* Fundamental Fairness In The Tax System
Incentives that enable access to a broad range of quality health care services (beyond those publicly funded) to include all Canadians should be encouraged and expanded.
* That the current federal government policy with respect to employment-related supplementary non-taxable health benefits be maintained.
* If the supplementary health benefits become taxable, it seems likely that young healthy people would opt for cash compensation instead of paying taxes on benefits they do not receive. It follows that employer-paid premiums would increase as a result of this exodus in order to offset the additional cost of maintaining benefit levels due to diminishing ability to achieve risk pooling.
* The federal government is to be congratulated with respect to last years' decision to maintain the non-taxable status of supplementary health benefits. This decision is an example of the federal governments' commitment to maintain a good tax policy that supports good health policy. The federal government should explore opportunities and incentives that would expand access to supplementary health care benefits to all Canadians.
* In terms of fairness, it would seem unfair to penalize 70% of Canadians by taxing supplementary health benefits to put them on an equal basis with the remaining 30%. It would be preferable to develop incentives to allow the remaining 30% of Canadians to achieve similar benefits attributable to the tax status of supplementary health benefits.
NATIONAL HEALTH RESEARCH PROGRAM (NHRP)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the health care system must respect and foster medical education and medical research. The CMA also believes that more emphasis should be placed on health services research focussing on health system reforms and their effect on the health of Canadians. Given the magnitude of change, now is the time for an evaluation of the impact before proceeding with any further reforms.
* Canada has experienced rapid and significant changes with respect to health care reform which remains a priority at all levels of government. This environment provides a unique opportunity for the federal government to fund a concerted national evaluation strategy of health reform to date.
* On the whole, the CMA would continue to encourage the government to protect earmarked monies dedicated for research activities.
* Improving The Quality Of The Health Care: Our First Priority
For a variety of reasons , in a more forceful way over the last year, the CMA and physicians expressed their concerns with respect to the future of health and the viability of the health care system. The pace of reform has been rapid and change profound. What has been accomplished needs to be evaluated. In this context, the physicians of Canada have reiterated the need to foster health and medical research.
* Health Research Policy Reinforcing Economic Policy
Establishing a medical and health services research program will assist in attracting and retaining world-class researchers in Canada. There are positive effects that may occur in the economy as a result of this type of research with respect to the health technology sector -- creating a demand for highly skilled jobs in addition to increasing exports in high-tech, value-added goods and services.
* That the federal government continue its commitment to medical education, biomedical and health services research.
* That the federal government provide funding for a national initiative in evaluating health reforms.
* Changes within the Canadian health care system, a system that is viewed as a model around the world, should not be implemented without a sound evaluation strategy. However, with the limited funding available to health researchers and health policy analysts this aspect of health care reform is often neglected or, at best, given cursory acknowledgement. We should not undertake systemic reforms without analyzing the effects that these will have upon the quality of the health care delivered to Canadians.
* It is in the government's best interest to ensure that change within the health care system does not continue without evaluating the effect this will have on Canadians' access to quality health services. Once a certain course is set it may be impossible to turn the ship around.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is concerned that the 1994 reduction in the federal cigarette tax will have a significant effect in slowing the decline in cigarette smoking in the Canadian population, particularly in the youngest age group (15-19).
* In an effort to combat the smuggling of cigarettes into in Canada, the federal government announced, in early 1994, a reduction in the federal tax on cigarettes in the amount of $5 per carton. In addition, the federal government offered an additional matching reduction of up to $5 per carton for those provinces making reductions in provincial taxes.
* At about the same time, in an attempt to counter the effects of the reduction in tobacco taxation, the government announced increased efforts to reduce the accessibility of tobacco products, particularly to minors, and also launched the Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy in February, 1994.
* Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature mortality in Canada. The most recent estimates suggest that more than 40,000 deaths annually in Canada are directly attributable to tobacco use.
* Physicians are concerned that the reduction in tobacco taxation may reverse more than two decades of progress in reducing smoking rates. Based on an examination of four population-based surveys and data on tobacco consumption, a workshop convened by Health Canada in 1994 concluded that, in all likelihood, the prevalence of smoking in the Canadian population continued to decline from 1991 to 1993, reversed itself in 1993 and increased from 1993 to 1994. 9
* The effects of smoking on nonsmokers are of major concern to the CMA. More than 20% of Canadians have a health condition such as heart disease or acute respiratory disease, that is aggravated by secondary exposure to tobacco smoke.
* It is a matter of longstanding policy that the CMA supports the taxation of tobacco products at a level that will discourage their purchase, the revenue to be earmarked for health care budgets. 10
* The CMA has also recommended to the federal government (1994) that it institute a federal health protection assessment (a specially designated tax) on all Canadian cigarettes at the point of manufacture, regardless of their ultimate site of sale.
* The CMA is also a co-signatory, along with eight other national medical and health organizations, of the brief Tobacco Taxation in Canada: New Directions, which was presented to the Honourable Paul Martin in February, 1995, and which sets out eight recommendations for the restoration of tobacco taxes, support for the Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy and the taxation of the tobacco industry.
* the government has made in health promotion campaigns against smoking, and which it has continued through the Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy.
1 Posner M., Condition Critical. Maclean's. Vol. 108 No. 46, November 13, 1995, p. 46-59.
2 The Angus Reid Group, The Reid Report. Vol. 8, No. 7, July/August, 1993 and Vol. 8. No. 8. September, 1993.
3 The Medical Post 1995 National Survey of Doctors, Fall 1995, page 24.
4 Alvi S.: Health Costs and Private Sector Competitiveness, The Conference Board of Canada, Report 139-95, Ottawa, June, 1995, page 11.
5 Southam News/CTV/Angus Reid, Public Opinion On Government Cutbacks And The Policy Challenges Facing Canada, December 27, 1995.
6 The Angus Reid Group, The Reid Report. Vol. 8, No. 7, July/August, 1993 and Vol. 8. No. 8. September, 1993.
7 Mitchell, A. Population to hit 30 million in 1996: Globe and Mail, January 10, 1996. pp. B1-2.
8 Frenken, H. Capitalizing on RRSPs: Canadian Economic Observer, December 1995. p. 3.1-3.9. Statistics Canada - Cat. No. 11-010.
9 Stephens T. Workshop report: trends in the prevalence of smoking, 1991-1994. Chronic Diseases in Canada 1995; 16(1): 27-32
10 Canadian Medical Association. Smoking and Health: 1991 Update. Can. Med. Assoc. Journal 1991; 142 (2): 232A-232B.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this response to Health Canada's Proposed Order Amending the Schedule to the Tobacco Act (Menthol), as found in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on November 5, 2016.
The CMA believes that the federal government has an important role in prevention and smoking cessation, particularly among youth, to end smoking within Canada. As early as 2008, the CMA called for the federal government to ban menthol in tobacco products. In 2014, the CMA submitted a brief to Health Canada on the proposal to amend the Tobacco Act to restrict the use of additives in tobacco products. One of the CMA's concerns at that time was that the Act excluded menthol as a flavouring agent in tobacco products.
Therefore, the CMA strongly supports Health Canada's proposed order to prohibit menthol in cigarettes, blunt wraps and cigars. The proposed order has the ability to deter youth from smoking since menthol makes smoking more palatable by masking the harshness of tobacco smoke. This may lead to not only a decline in youth smokers but a decline in the number of smokers in the overall Canadian population as well.
The CMA issued its first warning to the public about the dangers of tobacco in 1954, and we continue to advocate for stronger measures to control smoking. Banning the use of menthol is one step towards achieving this goal.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-President, Medical Professionalism
Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the review of the Pan-Canadian health organizations (PCHOs). The CMA has had the opportunity to interact with all of them at one time or another. This review is timely, as there is a burning issue: Canada continues to languish near the bottom of the Commonwealth Fund's 11-country rankings, and the leading edge of the baby boom will reach age 75 in 2021, at which point per capita health care costs in Canada will escalate.
We will discuss major unmet needs, make some general observations and offer two recommendations. References are provided in the bibliography.
National focal point for quality: Our impression is that none of the PCHOs is pursuing a comprehensive approach to quality improvement (QI) consistent with the framework set out by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in its 2001 report Crossing the Quality Chasm. The framework is built around the need for health care to be safe, effective, patient-centred, timely, efficient and equitable. To our knowledge Accreditation Canada is the only national organization that has adopted such a framework, but their QI mandate is to set standards and accredit health care organizations although it could potentially play an expanded role. The Canadian Patient Safety Institute has done an excellent job of highlighting the importance of patient safety, but that is only one of the six dimensions outlined in the IOM framework.
Work needs to be done in Canada to address each of the other five dimensions. In terms of effective care, although the concept of evidence-based medicine was pioneered in Canada, we do not have a national developer of guidance to clinicians like the United Kingdom's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It is noted that there are some localized efforts in this area, such as Alberta's Toward Optimized Practice program, and the CMA Infobase maintained by CMA Joule contains some 1,200 clinical practice guidelines. Patient-centred care will be discussed below. Since the expiry of the 2004 Health Accord and the Wait Times Reduction Fund (WTRF), which the CMA spent years trying to get on the policy agenda, timely access to care has fallen out of the spotlight. The Wait Time Alliance did its best to promote the expansion and adoption of wait time benchmarks beyond the five treatments initially included in the WTRF, with very limited success. It is no surprise that according to the Commonwealth Fund's 2016 survey of 11 countries, Canadians faced the longest waiting times for a specialist appointment. In terms of efficiency there has been a rapid uptake of the Choosing Wisely Canada initiative by medical organizations, but the campaign could benefit from resources to conduct a thorough evaluation of its impact. The dimension of equitable care will be considered below as part of the discussion of social determinants of health. At least six provinces have established health quality councils, and if they had a national focal point for their efforts they could cross-pollinate their expertise and learnings with respect to all six of the Institute of Medicine's dimensions of care.
National patient voice - While it is encouraging to see the emphasis on patient and family-centred care among the PCHOs, the lack of an organized national patient voice is a key gap. Previously the Consumers' Association of Canada provided an articulate patient/consumer voice on health issues, and indeed it was one of the seven charter members of the Health Action Lobby in 1991. However, the association's ability to speak in this capacity was greatly diminished after its federal funding dried up in the 1990s. At present there are various patient groups sponsored by health charities and industry but they tend to focus on specific interests. Patients Canada, an organization established in 2011, is showing promise, but with annual expenditures of just under $130,000 in 2014 it is insufficiently resourced to function as a national patient voice representing all regions of the country. There is a need for an independent go-to focal point that can speak on behalf of patients on national issues and that can help national health organizations with their advocacy and policy development initiatives. With better resources, Patients Canada might be able to play this role.
Health equity - Given the impact of health inequalities in Canada they have a relatively low profile on the national scene, aside from the inequity between the health status of Canada's Indigenous Peoples and that of the general population. For example, Mackenbach and colleagues estimated that socio-economic inequalities accounted for 20% of health care costs in the European Union in 2004. There is little reason to imagine that the situation in Canada would be much different, but health inequalities have not been a preoccupation of the PCHOs. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has done some good work in helping the federal government to meet its commitments in regard to the World Health Organization's 2011 Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health and it also funds the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, but these efforts have little profile outside of the public health community. The pronounced socio-economic gradient across virtually all causes of morbidity and mortality tends to be overlooked in the pursuit of strategies to address individual diseases. PHAC's Health Inequalities Data Tool shows that that the Canadian crude mortality rates for circulatory system disease and lung cancer in the lowest income quintile for census metropolitan areas are 1.6 and 1.7 times the rates in the highest income quintile, respectively. There are groups in Canada such as the Wellesley Institute and Health Providers Against Poverty that focus on health equity issues, and Canada should look at the leadership role being played by Sir Michael Marmot's Institute of Health Equity at University College London in England.
Driving innovation - The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health is widely recognized for its work evaluating drugs and technologies but it is not in the business of promoting system-wide implementation. The Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation (David Naylor, Chair) recommended the establishment of a Healthcare Innovation Agency and a Healthcare Innovation Fund with the objective of effecting "sustainable and systemic changes in the delivery of health services to Canadians." More recently, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology called for a national conference on robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing that would give rise to working groups and a secretariat with a view to integrating these technologies into health care systems across Canada. One can cite examples where Canada has developed innovative technologies but has not made them mainstream. For example, telemedicine was pioneered by the late Dr. Maxwell House in Newfoundland in the mid-1970s. It is now being used regularly for clinical sessions, but the logical extension to telehome monitoring is barely in its infancy. According to the 2015 Canadian Telehealth Report there were 411,778 telehealth clinical sessions in 2014, but there were just 3,803 patients being monitored through telehomecare. Furthermore. the number of telehealth clinical sessions represents just 0.15% of the 270.3 million physician services reported by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in 2015-16. In contrast, Kaiser Permanente reported in 2016 that 52% of the 110 million physician-member interactions in the previous year took place through virtual means.
One example of the use of a fund to bring about sustainable change was the two-step process that began with the establishment of the $150 million Health Transition Fund following the 1997 report of the National Forum on Health and the $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund that was part of the 2000 Health Accord. These resulted in the sustained adoption of new models of primary care delivery in Ontario and Alberta. It is noteworthy that the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement is doing interesting work in spreading and scaling up innovative treatment for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The need for a dedicated entity to drive innovation is illustrated by the experience of the Health Care Innovation Working Group, which was struck by the premiers in 2012 and which included the unprecedented participation of professional associations including the CMA. The group released an ambitious report in the summer of 2012, but the effort was run by senior bureaucrats and association staff "off the sides of their desks" and has essentially stalled. Such a body could also play a role in sharing innovations across jurisdictions.
Enhanced analytical capability - Since the demise of the Economic Council of Canada (ECC) in the 1990s Canada's national analytical capability in health care has diminished. The ECC employed health economists like the late Ludwig Auer who undertook detailed analysis of health sector data to examine issues like hospital productivity. CIHI does an excellent job of turning out reports such National Health Expenditure (NHEX) Trends in Canada, but these are not sufficient for an in-depth examination of a $242 billion industry. As journalist André Picard commented on the 2017 NHEX release, "We don't actually know how much we spend on administration, because it is hidden in places like hospital spending ... nor do we know the cost of labour ... we should certainly have a better idea of how much we spend on nurses, physician assistants, personal support workers, laboratory technologists and technicians and so on."
Looking ahead, the widespread adoption of electronic medical records is going to present a major analytical opportunity and challenge. In 2008 PHAC provided a grant to the College of Family Physicians of Canada to establish the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) and subsequently provided additional funding until 2015. The goal of CPCSSN was to establish a database on eight chronic diseases and neurologic conditions by extracting de-identified patient information from electronic medical records. As of the last update, in October 2016, CPCSSN now includes 11 university-affiliated primary care research networks and almost 1,200 physicians contributing data from 1.5 million patients. A recent report concludes that CPCSSN's diagnostic algorithms show excellent sensitivity and specificity for hypertension, diabetes, epilepsy and parkinsonism. The CMA highlighted CPCSSN in its submission to the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation as being worthy of ongoing federal support.
We would like to make three general observations. First, the future of the PHCOs should not be decided in isolation. Instead, we believe that the big picture of federal funding for the advancement of health and health care should be considered, including the investments that the federal government is making in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research.
Second, the CMA's engagement with the PCHOs has been haphazard. While we have had the opportunity to participate in consultations and technical and working groups with the PCHOs, these interactions have generally fallen short of what we would consider to be early, meaningful and ongoing engagement.
Third, the PCHOs have developed considerable expertise within their mandates and spheres of activity. They could almost certainly harness their potential to mount a synergistic effort to successfully address pressing national issues that might otherwise seem almost impossible to confront, such as seniors care.
The CMA respectfully offers two recommendations:
1. That the government's implementation plan following the PCHO review include mechanisms to address the following needs:
* for a national focal point that promotes a comprehensive approach to quality health care;
* for a well-resourced national patient voice that advocates for patient- and family-centred health care;
* for greater recognition of the importance of the social determinants of health and health equity;
* for a national mechanism to drive the sustainable adoption of innovative technologies in health care across Canada; and
* for advanced analytical capabilities to conduct in-depth assessments of funding mechanisms and advance the collection and analysis of data generated by electronic medical records.
2. That the federal government challenge the PCHOs and other federal agencies to work with the provincial/territorial governments and stakeholders to develop and implement a national action plan to address the health and health care of Canada's seniors.
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Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. This is due in large part to Canada’s health care system, the people working in it, research and medical school excellence, public and private investments and the many advances that have been made over the decades in medicine. However, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is deeply concerned that Canada’s health care system isn’t keeping up with the health care needs of older Canadians.
When publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago, Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 30 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. The aging of our population is both an immense success story and the most pressing policy imperative of our time.
Our submission and recommendations focus on seniors care. We believe the ability of our country to meet the health care needs of this segment of our population is indeed of such high priority that we have come to these consultations with this single issue in mind.
While daunting, the task ahead is by no means impossible and will ultimately result in numerous health and financial benefits. By providing the means to expand long-term care and home care capacity, the Government of Canada will improve health care for seniors and others, create new jobs and add billions of dollars annually to the Gross Domestic Product. Furtherbed demand will vary over this period, peaking in 2032 and beginning to decline thereafter. The five-year projection for beds is as follows:
Table 1: Projected shortage in long-term
care beds, 2017–2021
Number of additional
Year beds required
*Note: the figure for additional beds required in 2017 includes 8,420 beds’ worth of demand that is currently unmet, in the form of patients in alternate level of care beds in hospitals.
The Conference Board estimated the cost to construct 10,500 beds (the average number of new beds required per year from 2017 to 2035) at $3.4 billion per year and $63.7 billion in total, on the basis of a cost estimate of $320,000 per bed (all figures in 2017 dollars). These figures include both public and private spending. This forecast does not include the significant investments required to renovate and retrofit the existing stock of residential facilities.
The average number of new long-term care beds needed in Canada every year up to 2035 is 10,500. The Conference Board of Canada estimates the cost of this to be $3.4 billion per year, for a total public and private expenditure of $63.7 billion. This forecast does not include the investments needed to renovate and retrofit existing long-term care homes.
Construction of new residential care models and renovation/retrofitting of existing facilities will provide significant economic opportunities for many communities across Canada. The construction and maintenance of 10,500 new residential care beds will yield direct economic benefits that include a $1.4 billion annual average contribution to GDP supporting 14,600 jobs yearly during the capital investment phase and a $5.3 billion annual average contribution to GDP supporting an average of 58,300 jobs annually during the facility operation phase. By comparison, nursing homes and residential care facilities employed about 412,000 people in 2016. These investments would also close the significant gap between the projected residential care bed shortages and currently planned investment. When indirect economic contributions are included, the average estimated annual contribution to Canada’s GDP from the construction and operation of the new beds reaches $12.4 billion, supporting an average of 130,000 jobs annually between 2017 and 2035 (in construction, care provision and other sectors).
This bed projection provides a sense of the immense challenge Canada faces in addressing the needs of a vulnerable segment of its population of older seniors. A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity will need to double over the next 20 years (assuming no change in how care is currently provided), necessitating a transformation in how seniors care is provided in Canada across the continuum of care.13
Efforts to de-hospitalize the system and deal with Canada’s aging population should be part of an overall national seniors strategy. Such a strategy was called for previously by the CMA, other organizations (e.g., the National Association of Federal Retirees), the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance14 and over 50,000 Canadians.15
Fixing seniors care will contribute to the renewal of the entire health system and will improve the productivity of health care delivery across the country. The differing fiscal capacities of the provinces in the current economic climate will mean that improvements in seniors care will advance at an uneven pace. The federal government can provide significant pan-Canadian assistance by investing in residential care infrastructure models.
# of jobs contributions
Capitalinvestment phase Operation phase 14,600 58,300 $1.4 billion $5.3 billion
With indirect contributions 130,000 $12.4 billion
The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian seniors strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in residential care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
Caregivers are the backbone of any care system. A 2012 Statistics Canada study found that 5.4 million Canadians provided care to a senior family member or friend. While this care was most often received by a senior in their own residence, 62% of caregivers said the care recipients lived in a home separate from the caregiver’s home.16 Age-related needs are the most common reason for care requirements.17 Caregivers are of all ages; for instance, 27% of caregivers were between the ages of 15 and 29 years.18 One study has forecast that the number of Canadians requiring care will double over the next 30 years.19
Work $5.5 in lost absence: productivity
Personal upwards of or more out-of-a yearpocket: $2,000
A Statistics Canada study found that 56% of caregivers living with the care recipient provided at least 10 hours of care a week. Approximately 22% of caregivers helping a resident in a care facility also provided at least 10 hours of care a week. The chief condition for which care was provided was dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (25%).16
The cost to employers in lost productivity because of caregiving-related absenteeism is estimated at $5.5 billion annually.20 Caregivers also report high out-of-pocket expenses. This is especially true for those living with the care recipient: over 25% spend at least $2,000 annually on out-of-pocket expenses.16
Caregivers require a range of supports including education/training, peer support, respite care and financial assistance. Canadians want governments to do more to help seniors and their family caregivers.21 The federal government’s new combined Canada Caregiver Credit (CCC) is a nonrefundable credit to individuals caring for dependent relatives with infirmities (including persons with disabilities). The CCC will be more accessible and will extend tax relief to more caregivers by including dependent relatives who do not live with their caregivers and by increasing the income threshold.
Notwithstanding these changes and the greater flexibility for caregivers to use Employment Insurance benefits, caregivers will require more support. The CMA recommends making the new CCC a refundable tax credit for caregivers whose tax owing is less than the total credit, resulting in a refund payment to provide further financial support for low-income families.
The CMA recommends that the federal government improve awareness of the new Canada Caregiver Credit and amend it to make it a refundable tax credit for caregivers.
The federal government’s commitment to provide $6 billion over 10 years to the provinces and territories for home care, including support for caregivers, is a welcomed step toward improving opportunities for seniors to remain in their homes. As with previous bilateral funding agreements, it will be important to establish clear operating principles between the parties to oversee the funding implementation including support for caregivers.
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop explicit operating principles for the home care funding that has been negotiated with the provinces and territories to recognize funding for caregivers and respite care as eligible areas of investment.
The federal government’s recent funding investment in home care and mental health is a recognition that Canada has under-invested in home and community-based care to date. Other countries have more supportive systems and programs in place — systems and programs that Canada should consider.
The CMA recommends the federal government convene an all-party parliamentary international study that includes stakeholders to examine the approaches taken to mitigate the inappropriate use of acute care for elderly persons and provide support for caregivers.
he CMA recognizes the federal government’s commitment to help Canadians be as productive as possible in their workplaces and in their communities. Implementing these recommendations as an integrated package is essential to stitching together the elements of community-based and residential care for seniors. In addition to making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada’s aging population, these recommendations will mitigate the impacts of economic pressures on individuals as well as jurisdictions. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
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