HEALTH OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLES 2002
A CMA Policy Statement
That the federal government adopt a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of Aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and the Aboriginal communities.
2) The Need to Address Health Determinants
The health status of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples is a result of a broad range of factors: social, biological, economic, political, educational and environmental. The complexity and interdependence of these health determinants suggest that the health status of Aboriginal peoples is unlikely to be improved significantly by increasing the quantity of health services. Instead, inequities within a wide range of social and economic factors should be addressed; for example:
interactions with the justice system
racism and social marginalization
water supply and waste disposal
housing quality and infrastructure
cultural identity, (for example, long-term effects of the residential school legacy.)
That all stakeholders work to improve provision for the essential needs of Aboriginal peoples and communities that affect their health (e.g. housing, employment, education, water supply).
3) The Importance of Self-Determination
One characteristic of successful Aboriginal communities is a high degree of self-efficacy and control over their own circumstances. This empowerment can take many forms, from developing community-driven health initiatives to determining how to use lands.
It is increasingly recognized that self-determination in cultural, social, political and economic life improves the health of Aboriginal peoples and their communities, and that Aboriginal peoples can best determine their requirements and the solutions to their problems. Therefore, the CMA encourages and supports the Aboriginal peoples in their move toward increasing self-determination and community control. A just and timely settlement of land claims is one means by which Aboriginal communities can achieve this self-determination and self-sufficiency.
That governments and other stakeholders:
Settle land claims and land use issues expeditiously;
Work toward resolving issues of self-determination for Aboriginal peoples and their communities in areas of cultural, social, political and economic life.
4) Community Control of Health Services
Control by Aboriginal peoples of health and social services is increasing across Canada as part of a broader transfer of control of political power, resources and lands. This transfer has not progressed at the same pace across all Aboriginal communities; the needs of Urban Aboriginal peoples, for example, are only beginning to be addressed.
CMA supports the development of community-driven models for delivery of health care and health promotion, responsive to the culture and needs of individual communities. Successful community-driven models of health care delivery generally recognize that the Aboriginal concept of health is holistic in nature, incorporating mental, emotional and spiritual as well as physical components. Translating this concept into practice may involve:
Development of primary care models that are grounded within Aboriginal culture at a local level;
Integration of disease treatment services with health promotion and health education programs, and with traditional healing practices;
Integration of health and social services;
Interprofessional collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team.
CMA also supports programs to increase the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in professional and other decision-making roles affecting the health of their community – for example, increased representation in health-care management positions, and on health facility boards where there is a significant Aboriginal population.
That all stakeholders actively encourage the development of integrated, holistic primary care service delivery relevant to the needs and culture of Aboriginal communities and under community control.
5) Cultural Responsiveness in the Patient/Physician Relationship
As mentioned above, the concept of “health” in Aboriginal culture is holistic and incorporates many components. The concepts of continuity, wholeness and balance within and among people are important to Aboriginal culture, as is a close affinity with the natural environment – both in practical and spiritual senses , which emphasises the importance of stewardship of the land as a component of individual and community health maintenance for present and future generations.
Physicians should work in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and groups to promote a greater understanding and acceptance of their respective philosophies and approaches. This could include:
an openness and respect for traditional medicine and traditional healing practices (e.g. sweat lodges, herbal medicines, healing circles). This should be balanced with a recognition that not all Aboriginal people, whether First Nation, Métis or Inuit, adhere to or understand their traditional ceremonial practices.
improved cross-cultural awareness in physicians, which could be facilitated by greater contact with their local Aboriginal communities, better understanding of local Aboriginal cultures, history and current setting,
development of cross-cultural patient-physician communication skills.
a) That educational initiatives in cross-cultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, and in particular for health care providers,
b) that practice tools and resources be developed to support physicians (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) and other health care professionals practicing in Aboriginal communities.
6) Access to Health Services
Canada is often considered to have one of the best health care systems in the world and is typically described as providing “universal access”. However, our system does not provide equal access to services for all people living in Canada – the most underserviced being those in northern Canada, which contains many Aboriginal communities.
Several kinds of access problems exist in Aboriginal communities:
Lack of access to employment, adequate housing, nutritious food, clean water and other social or economic determinants of health.
Factors that impede access to health care services, particularly in remote locations; for example, language and cultural differences, and the difficulty of transporting patients to tertiary centres.
Lack of specific services (for example, mental health services) for Aboriginal peoples in many regions of Canada. Specific groups, such as women and the elderly, have unique and distinct needs that should be addressed.
Program delivery that involves multiple federal, provincial and municipal funding agencies. Physicians and patients alike have trouble obtaining information about and entry into existing programs and funding for new programs because of jurisdictional confusion.
CMA has previously recommended that the Canadian health system develop and apply agreed-upon standards for timely access to care. This includes the need to increase timely and appropriate access by Aboriginal peoples to health care and health promotion services, geared to different segments of the population according to their needs.
a) That governments and other stakeholders simplify and clarify jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to Aboriginal health at the federal, provincial and municipal level, with a goal of simplifying access to service delivery.
b) That strategies be explored to increase access to health services by remote communities; for example, through the use of technology (e.g. Web sites, telemedicine) to connect them with academic medical centres.
7) Health Human Resources
There is an urgent need to increase the training, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal health care providers. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a cadre of 10,000 Aboriginal health care and social service workers be trained to meet the needs of a complex and diverse community. While progress has been made in recent years, an intensive focus on recruitment, training and retention is required in order to achieve this goal.
A comprehensive health human resource strategy should be developed, to increase the recruitment, training and retention of Aboriginal students in medicine and other health disciplines. Such a strategy could include:
Outreach programs to interest Aboriginal young people in the health sciences.
Access and support programs for Aboriginal medical students.
Residency positions for recently graduated Aboriginal physicians or physicians wishing to practice in Aboriginal populations, including re-entry positions for physicians currently in practice.
Mentoring and leadership-development programs for Aboriginal medical students, residents and physicians.
Programs to counter racism and discrimination in the health-care system.
Initiatives to recruit and train Community Health Representatives/ Workers, birth attendants and other para-professionals within Aboriginal communities.
a) That CMA and others work to develop a health human resource strategy aimed at improving the recruitment, training, retention of Aboriginal physicians and other health-care workers;
b) That medical and other health faculties increase access and support programs to encourage enrollment of Aboriginal students.
8) Health Information
Information about the health status and health care experience of Aboriginal peoples, is essential for future planning and advocacy. For Aboriginal peoples to effectively develop self-determination in health care delivery, they should have access to data that can be converted into useful information on their population. The “OCAP” principle (ownership, control, access to and possession of health data) is seen as integral to First Nation community empowerment, but may prove acceptable to other Aboriginal groups as well.
A considerable amount of data currently exists, though there are gaps in coverage, particularly regarding Métis, Inuit and urban and rural off-reserve First Nations populations. This data can come from a variety of federal and provincial/territorial sources, including periodic surveys, federal censuses, Aboriginal Peoples Survey data holdings, and also regional physician and hospital utilization statistics. However, jurisdictional and ownership issues have hindered Aboriginal people from accessing and making use of this data.
CMA supports the development and maintenance of mechanisms to systematically collect and analyze longitudinal health information for Aboriginal people, and the removal of barriers that prevent Aboriginal organizations from fully accessing information in government databases. Aboriginal health information should be subject to guarantees of privacy and confidentiality. The CMA urges relevant government departments to ensure that revisions to the Indian Act do not infringe on the privacy of health information of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
That the Government of Canada support the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey Process, and the First Nations and Inuit Health Information System, and parallel interests for the Métis and Inuit. These programs should be operated under the control of their respective Aboriginal communities
The CMA supports culturally relevant research into the determinants of Aboriginal health and effective treatment and health-promotion strategies to address them. Specifically, the CMA supports the efforts of the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institute for Health Research, in addressing the needs of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.
Aboriginal peoples should be involved in research design, data collection and analysis; research should support the communities as they build capacity and develop initiatives to address their health needs. Ideally, research should address not only determinants of ill health but also the reasons for positive health outcomes.
The CMA also acknowledges the need to communicate research results to Aboriginal communities to help them develop and evaluate health programs. In particular there is an urgent need among Aboriginal communities for the sharing of successes.
That government and other stakeholders
Support Aboriginal peoples and communities in the development of Aboriginal research and the means of interpreting its findings.
Make public communication of health research results a priority in order to facilitate its use by Aboriginal communities.
CMA’S CONTINUED COMMITMENT
The Canadian Medical Association, consistent with its mandate to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care in Canada, will continue to work with the Aboriginal community and other stakeholders on activities addressing the following issue areas:
Research and Practice Enhancement:.
Public and Community Health Programming:.
Advocacy for healthy public policy.
November 15, 2002
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities to discuss issues related to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). This tax measure, which is recognition by the federal government that persons with a severe disability may be affected by having reduced incomes, increased expenses or both, compared to those who are not disabled i, helps to account for the intangible costs associated with a severe and prolonged impairment. It also takes into account disability-related expenses that are not listed in the medical expense deduction or which are excluded by the 3% threshold in the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
Physicians are a key point of contact for applicants of the DTC and, given the way the program is structured, a vital participant in its administration. It is for these reasons that we come before you today to address specific concerns related to the program’s performance. In addition, we would like to discuss the broader issue of developing a coherent set of tax policies in support of health and social policy.
The Integration of Tax Policy with Health Policy and Social Policy
The federal government, through a variety of policy levers such as taxation, spending, regulation and information, has played a key role in the development of our health care and social systems. To date however, discussion about the federal role in these areas has centered largely on federal transfers to the provinces and territories and the Canada Health Act.
However, in looking at how to renew Canada’s health and social programs, we should not limit ourselves to these traditional instruments. Today we have a health system that is facing a number of pressures that will challenge its sustainability. These pressures range from an aging and more demanding population in terms of the specialty care services and technology they will seek; the cry for expanding the scope of medicare coverage to include homecare and pharmacare; and a shortage of health personnel. These are only some of the more immediate reasons alternative avenues of funding health care, and thus ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens, must be explored.
In our pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance ii, the CMA recommended that the federal government establish a blue ribbon National Task Force to study the development of innovative tax-based mechanisms to synchronize tax policy with health policy. Such a review has not been undertaken in over 25 years since the Royal Commission on Taxation in 1966 (Carter Commission).
The CMA is echoing its call for a National Task Force to develop new and innovative ways to synchronize tax policy with health policy and social policy. A study of this nature would look at all aspects of the taxation system, including the personal income tax system, in which the DTC is a component.
The remainder of our brief addresses issues specific to the DTC.
Physician Involvement in the DTC Program
The CMA has in the past provided input with respect to the DTC program. Our working relationship on the DTC program with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) has been issue-specific, time-limited and constructive.
Our first substantive contact in regard to the DTC program was in 1993 when the CMA provided Revenue Canada with a brief review of the program and the T2201form. It is interesting to note what our observations were in 1993 with regard to this program because many of them still hold true today.
Here are just some of the issues raised by the CMA in 1993 during our initial review of the program:
* The tax credit program may not address the needs of the disabled, it is too hit and miss. The DTC program should be evaluated in a comprehensive way to measure its overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
* The program should be called the “Severe Disability Tax Credit Program” – or something equivalent to indicate that not everyone with a disability is eligible.
* The program puts physicians in a potential conflict with patients—the responsibility of the physician to advocate for the patient vs. gate-keeper need for Revenue Canada. The physician role should be to attest to legitimate claims on the patients’ behalf.
* Revenue Canada should clarify the multiplicity of programs. There are numerous different federal programs and all appear to have varying processes and forms. These overlapping efforts are difficult for patients and professionals.
* A major education effort for potential claimants, tax advisers and physicians should be introduced.
* A suitable evaluation of claimant and medical components of the process should be undertaken.
The CMA does not have a standardized consultative relationship with the CCRA in regard to this program. An example of this spotty relationship is the recent letter sent by the CCRA Minister asking current DTC recipients to re-qualify for the credit. The CMA was not advised or consulted about this letter. If we had been advised we would have highlighted the financial and time implications of sending 75 to 100 thousand individuals to their family physician for re-certification. We also would have worked with the CCRA on alternative options for updating DTC records. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. This clearly speaks to the need to establish open and ongoing dialogue between our two organizations.
Policy Measure: The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patients’ advocacy groups.
We would now like to draw the Sub-committee’s attention to three areas that, at present, negatively impact on the medical profession participation in the program, namely program integrity, program standardization (e.g., consistency in terminology and out-of-pocket costs faced by persons with disabilities) and tax advisor referrals to health care providers.
A primary concern and irritation for physicians working with this program is that it puts an undue strain on the patient-physician relationship. This strain may also have another possible side effect, a failure in the integrity of the DTC program process.
Under the current structure of the DTC program, physicians evaluate the patient, provide this evaluation back to the patient and then ask the patient for remuneration. This process is problematic for two reasons. First, since the patient will receive the form back immediately following the evaluation, physicians might receive the blame for denying their patient the tax credit—not the DTC program adjudicators. Second, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he or she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit.
For the integrity of the DTC program, physicians need to be free to reach independent assessment of the patient’s condition. However, due to the pressure placed by this program on the patient-physician relationship, the physician’s moral and legal obligation to provide an objective assessment may conflict with the physician’s ethical duty to “Consider first the well-being of the patient.
There is a solution to this problem it’s a model already in use by government, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Program. Under the CPP Disability Program, the evaluation from the physician is not given to the patient but, it is sent to the government and the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. Under this system, the integrity of patient-physician relationship is maintained and the integrity of the program is not compromised.
Policy Measure: The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
Fairness and Equity
The federal government has several programs for people with disabilities. Some deal with income security (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits), some with employment issues (e.g., Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), and some through tax measures (e.g., Disability Tax Credit). These government transfers and tax benefits help to provide the means for persons with disabilities to become active members in Canadian society.
However, these programs are not consistent in terms of their terminology, eligibility criteria, reimbursement protocols, benefits, etc. CMA recommends that standards of fairness and equity be applied across federal disability benefit programs, particularly in two areas: the definition of the concept of “disability”, and standards for remuneration to the physician. These are discussed in greater detail below.
1) Defining “disability”
One of the problems with assessing disability is that the concept itself is difficult to define. In most standard definitions the word “disability” is defined in very general and subjective terms. One widely used definition comes from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) which defines disability as “any restriction or inability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”
The DTC and other disability program application forms do not use a standard definition of “disability”. In addition to the inconsistency in terminology, the criteria for qualification for these programs differ because they are targeted to meet the different needs of those persons with disabilities. To qualify for DTC, a disability must be “prolonged” (over a period of at least 12 months) and “severe” i.e. “markedly (restrict) any of the basic activities of daily living” which are defined. Though CPP criteria use the same words “severe” and “prolonged” they are defined differently (i.e., “severe” means “prevents applicant from working regularly at any job” and “prolonged” means “long term or may result in death”). Other programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Canada, have entirely different criteria.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others (e.g., tax preparers/advisors) involved in the application process. This can lead to physicians spending more time than is necessary completing the form because of the need to verify terms. As a result if the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible this could result in errors on the part of physicians when completing the forms. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits.
Policy Measures: The CMA would like to see some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must become uniform.
In addition, the CMA would like to see the development of a comprehensive information package for health care providers that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
The remuneration for assessment and form completion is another area where standardization among the various government programs would eliminate the difficulties that some individuals with disabilities currently face. For example, applicants who present the DTC Certificate Form T2201 to their physicians must bear any costs associated with its completion out of their own pockets. On the other hand, if an individual is applying to the CPP Disability Program, the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself.
Assessing a patient’s disabilities is a complex and time-consuming endeavour on the part of any health professional. Our members tell us that the DTC Certificate Form T2201 can take as much time and effort to complete as the information requested for CPP Disability Program forms depending, of course, on the patient and the nature of the disability. In spite of this fact, some programs acknowledge the time and expertise needed to conduct a proper assessment while other programs do not.
Although physicians have the option of approaching the applicant for remuneration for the completion of the DTC form, they are reluctant to do so because these individuals are usually of limited means and in very complex cases, the cost for a physician’s time for completing the DTC Form T2201 can reach as much as $150. In addition, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he/she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit. Synchronizing funding between all programs would be of substantial benefit to all persons with disabilities, those professionals completing the forms and the programs’ administrators.
Policy Measure: We strongly urge the federal government to place disability tax credit programs on the same footing when it comes to reimbursement of the examining health care provider.
Tax Advisor Referrals
With the complexity of the income tax system today, many individuals seek out the assistance of professional tax advisors to ensure the forms are properly completed and they have received all the benefits they are entitled to. Tax advisors will very often refer individuals to health professionals so that they can be assessed for potential eligibility for the DTC. The intention of the tax advisors may be laudable, but often, inappropriate referrals are made to health professionals. This not only wastes the valuable time of health care professionals, already in short supply, but may create unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient seeking the tax credit.
The first principle of the CMA’s Code of Ethics is “consider first the well-being of the patient.” One of the key roles of the physician is to act as a patient’s advocate and support within the health care system. The DTC application form makes the physician a mediator between the patient and a third party with whom the patient is applying for financial support.
This “policing” role can place a strain on the physician-patient relationship – particularly if the patient is denied a disability tax credit as a result a third-party adjudicator’s interpretation of the physician’s recommendations contained within the medical report. Physicians and other health professionals are not only left with having to tell the patient that they are not eligible but in addition advising the patient that there may be a personal financial cost for the physician providing this assessment.
Policy Measure: Better preparation of tax advisors would be a benefit to both patients and their health care providers. The CMA would like CCRA to develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax preparers and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability. This would provide some guidance as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to see a health professional for a professional assessment.
As raised in a previous meeting with CCRA, the CMA is once again making available a physician representative to accompany DTC representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies, prior to each tax season, to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and initial assessment, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
The DTC is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. However, there needs to be some standardization among the various programs to ensure that they are effective and meet their stated purpose. Namely, the CMA would like to make the following suggestions:
1. The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
2. The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not circumvent differences in eligibility criteria.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed, for health care providers, that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
5. That the federal government applies these social programs on the same footing when it comes to their funding and administration.
6. That CCRA develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax advisors and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability.
7. That CCRA employ health care providers to accompany CCRA representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and personal assessment of disability, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
These recommendations would certainly be helpful to all involved - the patient, health care providers and the programs’ administrators, in the short term. However what would be truly beneficial in the longer term would be an overall review of the taxation system from a health care perspective. This could provide tangible benefits not only for persons with disabilities but for all Canadians as well as demonstrating the federal government’s leadership towards ensuring the health and well being of our population.
i Health Canada, The Role for the Tax System in Advancing the Health Agenda, Applied Research and Analysis Directorate, Analysis and Connectivity Branch, September 21, 2001
ii Canadian Medical Association, Securing Our Future… Balancing Urgent Health Care Needs of Today With The Important Challenges of Tomorrow”, Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations, November 1, 2001.