The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission. It provides recommendations to address major pan-Canadian challenges to the health of Canadians: improve how we provide care to our growing elderly population; improve access to primary care across the country; increase digital health literacy to take advantage of the benefits of new health information technologies; and better prepare for and mitigate the health impacts of a changing climate on Canadians.
Health systems across the country are currently struggling to meet the needs of our aging population. People aged 85 years and over—many of whom are frail—make up the fastest growing age group in Canadai.
Provincial and territorial health care systems (as well as care systems for populations falling under federal jurisdiction) are facing many challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. Canadians support a strong role for the federal government in leading a national seniors strategy and working with the provinces to ensure that all Canadians have the same level of access and quality of services, no matter where they live.
The 2017 federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement involving $6 billion over 10 years to improve access to home care services is a welcomed building block. But without greater investment in seniors care, health systems will not keep up. To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population. This includes recognizing the increased role for patients and their caregivers in the care process.
The federal government must ensure transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Health transfers are estimated to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.ii
The federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.iii
Providing care often comes with a financial cost such as lost income due to the caregiver’s withdrawal from the workforce to provide care. There are also increasing out-of-pocket costs for both caregivers and care receivers for health care-related expenses—privately covered expenditures on home and long-term care for seniors are projected to grow by an average of 5.8 per cent annually—nearly 1.5 times the pace of household disposable income growth. While the federal government offers tax credits that can be claimed by care receivers/caregivers, they are significantly under-utilized. While representing a significant proportion of caregivers, those with low or no income receive little to no federal government support through these programs. Middle-income earners also receive less than those earning high incomes.
The federal government create a Seniors Care Benefit that would be an easier, fairer and more effective way to support caregivers and care receivers alike.iv
Access to Care
Since the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial/territorial governments (FPT) have provided sustained leadership in promoting and supporting the transformation of primary care in Canada. In 2000, the First Ministers concluded the first of three Health Accords in which they agreed to promote the establishment of primary health care teamsv supported by a $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund (PHCTF) funded by the federal government, but jointly governed. The PHCTF resulted in large-scale sustained change in primary care delivery models in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta with interest in other jurisdictions as well.
However, the job is far from finished. Across Canada, access to primary care is challenging for many Canadians with a persistent shortage of family physicians. In 2017, 4.7 million Canadians aged 12+ reported they did not have a regular health care provider.vi Even those who have a regular provider experience wait time issues.
There has been widespread interest in primary care models since the development of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s (CFPC) vision document Family Practice: The Patient’s Medical Home (PMH), initially launched in 2011vii and recently re-launched.viii The model is founded on 10 pillars depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Patient’s Medical Home, 2019
The updated model places increased emphasis on team-based care and introduces the concept of the patient’s medical neighborhood that sets out connections between the primacy care practice and all delivery points in the surrounding community. While comprehensive baseline data are lacking, it seems
safe to conjecture that most Canadians are not enrolled in a primary care model that would measure up to the model’s 10 pillars.
The federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, establish a targeted fund in the amount of $1.2 billion to support a new time-limited Primary Health Care Transition Fund that would build on the success of the fund launched in 2000 with the goal of widely introducing a sustainable medical home model across jurisdictions. This would include the following key elements:
Age-sex-weighted per capita allocation across the provinces and territories;
Joint governance of the FPT governments with meaningful stakeholder engagement;
Respect for the Canada Health Act principles;
Common objectives (e.g., modeled on the CFPC Patient’s Medical Home framework);
Canada and most industrialized countries will experience a digital health revolution over the next decade with great potential to improve patient and population health. Digital health can be described as the integration of the electronic collection and compilation of health data, decision support tools and analytics with the use of audio, video and other technologies to deliver preventive, diagnostic and treatment services that promote patient and population health.
While most Canadian physicians’ offices and health care facilities are now using some form of electronic record keeping and most households have internet access, there remains a large deficit in using virtual care, both within jurisdictions and across provincial/territorial boundaries. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify opportunities for digital health to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required for physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial/territorial boundaries.
To take full advantage of digital health capabilities it will be essential for the population to have a functional level of digital health literacy: the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.ix This also includes the capability of communicating about one’s health to health care professionals (e.g., e-consults), self-monitoring health (e.g., patient portals) and receiving treatment online (e.g., Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy).x
There are no current data available on health literacy in Canada, let alone digital health literacy. One basic barrier to achieving digital health literacy is access to, and usage of the Internet, which has been termed the “digital divide” (e.g., older Canadians and low income households are less likely to have Internet access).Error! Bookmark not defined.
In 2001 the federal government established the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Its mandate includes informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities in dealing with financial institutions and providing information and tools to help consumers understand and shop for financial products and services.xi In 2014 the FCAC appointed a Financial Literacy Leader who has focused on financial literacy, including activities such as conducting financial capability surveys and the development of a National Strategy for Financial Literacy.xii
Considering the anticipated growth of digital/virtual care it would be desirable to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy could serve as a template for digital health literacy.
The federal government establish a Digital Health Literacy Secretariat to:
Develop indicators and conducting surveys to measure and track the digital health literacy of Canadians;
Develop tools that can be used both by Canadians and their health care providers to enhance their digital health literacy; and
Assess and make recommendations on the “digital divide” that may exist among some population sub-groups due to a lack of access to information technology and lower digital health literacy.
Climate Change and Health
Climate change is the public health imperative of our time. There is a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate. A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate: 79% were convinced that climate change is happening, and of these, 53% accepted that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution and climate change as one of the biggest threats to global health. Health care professionals see first-hand the devastating health impacts of our changing climate including increased deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution and increased heat-related conditions. Impacts are most common in vulnerable populations such as adults over 65 years, the homeless, urban dwellers and people with a pre-existing disease.
Canada’s health care system is already treating the health effects of climate change. A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of Canada’s health system, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services, not to mention the economic and social costs. The federal government must provide leadership to deal with the impact already being felt in Canada and around the world.
The federal government make strong commitments to minimize the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians by:
Ensuring pan-Canadian and inter-jurisdictional coordination to standardize surveillance and reporting of climate-related health impacts such as heat-related deaths, develop knowledge translation strategies to inform the public, and generate clinical and public health response plans that minimize the health impacts;
Increasing funding for research on the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities; and
Ensuring funding is provided to the health sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency (i.e., risk assessments, readiness to manage disease outbreaks, sustainable practice).
i Statistics Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2014: Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/chang-eng.php; (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
ii The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018.
iii Canadian Medical Association. Meeting the demographic challenge: Investments in seniors care. Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. August 3, 2018. https://policybase.cma.ca/documents/Briefpdf/BR2018-16.pdf
iv The Conference Board of Canada. Measures to Better Support Seniors and Their Caregivers. March 2019. https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/health-advocacy/Measures-to-better-support-seniors-and-their-caregivers-e.pdf
v Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. News release – First Ministers’ meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-first-ministers-meeting-communique-on-health/. Accessed 04/22/19.
vi Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.pdf?st=NGPiUkM5. Accessed 04/21/19.
vii College of Family Physicians of Canada. A vision for Canada. Family Practice: the patient’s medical home. http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/Resource_Items/PMH_A_Vision_for_Canada.pdf. Accessed 04/22/19.
viii College of Family Physicians of Canada. The patient’s medical home 2019. https://patientsmedicalhome.ca/files/uploads/PMH_VISION2019_ENG_WEB_2.pdf. Accessed 04/21/19.
ix Norman C, Skinner H. eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9. Doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9.
x Van der Vaart R, Drossaert C. Development of the digital health literacy instrument: measuring a broad spectrum of health 1.0 and health 2.0 skills. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(1):e27. Doi:10.2196/jmir.6709.
xi Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. About FCAC.
xii Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. National Strategy for Financial Literacy. Phase 1: strengthening seniors’ financial literacy. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/financial-consumer-agency/migration/eng/financialliteracy/financialliteracycanada/documents/seniorsstrategyen.pdf. Accessed 06/24/19. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/corporate/about.html. Accessed 07/01/19.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the review of the Clean Air Act, Bill C- 30. The CMA, first founded in 1867, currently represents more than 64,000 physicians across the country. Our mission includes advocating for the highest standard of health and health care for all Canadians and we are committed to activities that will result in healthy public policy.
The Environment: A Key Determinant of Health
The physical environment is a key determinant of a population's health and the medical profession is concerned about environmental conditions that contribute to declining health in individuals and the population as a whole. Physicians have been part of an early warning system of scientists and other health professionals calling attention to the effects on human health of poor air quality because we see the impact in our practice and in our communities.
There is strong evidence that air pollution is the most harmful environmental problem in Canada in terms of human health effects. We know from the smog health studies undertaken by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), Health Canada and others, about the public health crisis created by polluted air in many parts of Canada. And it is a crisis.
A study by the federal government estimated that 5,900 premature deaths occur annually in eight large Canadian cities. This is a conservative estimate as the study focused on the short-term impact of smog pollutants using time-series studies. This study was never extrapolated to the whole Canadian population, but we know that only approximately one third of the Canadian population, mainly residents of large, urban areas, were included in the analysis.1
The OMA Illness Costs of Air Pollution study estimated that there were 5,800 premature deaths due to air pollution in Ontario alone in 2005, and examined both short-term and long-term health impacts. The OMA projected that the annual figure will grow to 10,000 premature deaths by 2026 unless effective steps are taken to reduce smog.2
In addition to premature deaths, the OMA estimated that there were 16,000 hospital admissions and 60,000 emergency room visits in Ontario in 2005 because of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses associated with air pollution exposure. During that same year, the OMA also estimated that there were 29 million minor illness days, defined as days where individuals either suffered from asthma symptoms or had to restrict their activities. Most of the people affected by these so-called minor illness days are children.
In British Columbia, the Provincial Officer for Health published a conservative estimate in 2004 that air pollution in B.C. is causing between 140 and 400 premature deaths, 700 to 2,100 hospital stays, and between 900 and 2,750 emergency room visits each year.3
The direct and indirect costs of air pollution on the health of Canadians are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. According to the Ontario Medical Association, in 2005, air pollution costs in Ontario were estimated at:
- $374 million in lost productivity and work time;
- $507 million in direct health care costs;
- $537 million in pain and suffering due to non-fatal illness; and
- $6.4 billion in loss due to premature death.4
In Canada the environment is currently considered to be the most important issue facing society. In a recent poll by the Strategic Counsel for the Globe & Mail/CTV5 a majority of respondents ranked the impact of toxic chemicals, air and water pollution and global warming as life threatening. The environment, while a major concern today for the general public, has been of concern to physicians for some time.
CMA, Health and the Environment
In 1991 the CMA, released a policy paper Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development6 that clearly linked health and the environment. Building on the 1987 Brundtland Report (World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future) that tied sustainable development to the environment and the economy, the CMA inserted health into this pair of interactions and stated that "continued environmental degradation will increase hazard to human health." The paper concluded with a number of recommendations for governments, the health sector, and physicians in support of environmentally sustainable development.
The CMA has continued to give attention to environmental issues urging the government, prior to Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfies Canada's international commitments while maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. In 2002, the CMA also recommended that the federal Environment and Health Ministers commit their departments to improved health-based reporting by regularly updating the health effects information for pollutants of concern.
Clean Air Act: A Physicians Perspective
Doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that there are benefits of treatment even if a patient cannot be cured. Sometimes we just reduce their symptoms, or slow their rate of decline. But when treating the natural environment, so critical to human health, we suggest that you cannot accept a palliative solution. We must aim for cure. We must commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement in health. It is through this lens that the CMA urges that you view the Clean Air Act to ensure that it is health-relevant.
The CMA would like to commend this government for acknowledging the impact of the physical environment on human health and we are encouraged that the Act recognizes the intimate connection between greenhouse gas reductions and improved air quality.
Air pollution does not respect provincial borders therefore it is very important to establish national objectives and Canada wide standards that are strong and consistent across the country. To be health relevant national air quality objectives must result in air quality improvements. To this end, regardless of whether they are called objectives or standards,
national air quality targets must protect the health of all Canadians and must be binding. Voluntary air quality guidelines guarantee no health benefit.
The federal government must ensure that there is a regulatory framework in place to ensure that the standards are mandatory across the country.
The annual reporting to Parliament on the attainment of the national air quality objectives and the effectiveness of measures to attain the objectives, as outlined in the Act, is very important. Transparency in reporting is essential to the integrity of any program, but is integral to the determination of health benefit.
The International Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment report released on February 2, 2007, concluded that global warming is unequivocal and that human activity is the main driver, asserting with near certainty - more than 90 percent confidence - that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.
Its Third Assessment report: Climate Change 2001: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability noted that global climate change will have a wide range of impacts on human health.
"Overall, negative health impacts are expected to outweigh positive health impacts. Some health impacts would result from changes in the frequencies and intensities of extremes of heat and cold and of floods and droughts. Other health impacts would result from the impacts of climate change on ecological and social systems and would include changes in infectious disease occurrence, local food production and nutritional adequacy, and concentrations of local air pollutants and aeroallergens, as well as various health consequences of population displacement and economic disruption."7
Given the indisputable impact of greenhouse gas increases on climate change and its connection to human health, it is critical to ensure that Canada is moving quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Clean Air Act and the subsequent notice of intent sets out short, medium and long term targets and timelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
The target setting approach proposed in the Act, based on emission intensity in the short and medium term is not health relevant. To be health relevant, targets should be presented in the context of overall emissions, i.e., emissions reductions minus emissions increases.
An emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emissions increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure that an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect. Just as slowing the progression of a disease can never be considered a cure, attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions cannot result in true success by any measure.
It is not until 2050 that the government has committed to achieving an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 45 - 65% of 2003 levels. Based on the emission intensity targets in the Clean Air Act, emissions and air pollution levels will, in fact, continue to rise as will the health consequences. In order to protect the health of Canadians the government needs to set policies, with targets and timelines that maximize absolute reductions in greenhouse gases, which are consistent with the scale and urgency of the challenge. To ensure that prescribed policies result in the intended environment and health outcomes, short and medium-term targets for absolute emission reductions would benchmark progress and allow for mid-course corrections, if they were needed.
With respect to indoor air quality, physicians have long been proponents of initiatives to reduce exposure to contaminants such as second-hand tobacco smoke. The CMA is concerned about the impact on human health of exposure to high levels of radon and the associated increased risk of lung cancer. The intention to develop measures to address indoor air quality through a national radon strategy is a positive step. It is important that our patients are made aware of such threats in their homes, and also that they are presented with a way to reduce their exposure.
Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability. We are vulnerable because we are human beings; each human being has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic, and some the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much that government can do about this part of the equation.
Our exposure, on the other hand is related to the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This is where the federal government is critical, and where the measures of success will be the most important.
Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air as well as in our water and soil.
Clean air is absolutely fundamental to a healthy population - without it all else is irrelevant. Actions to curb air pollution must be taken in all sectors and levels of society in a concerted, non-partisan effort with the health of the population and the planet as our yardstick of success.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments on Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act. We look forward to working with you to improve the Clean Air Act and ensure that the measure of its success will benefit the health of Canadians.
Colin J. McMillan, MD, CM, FRCPC, FACP
1 S. Judek, B. Jessiman, D. Stieb, and R. Vet. 2005. Estimated Number of Excess Deaths in Canada Due
to Air Pollution". Health Canada and Environment Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/
2 Ontario Medical Association. 2005. The Illness Costs of Air Pollution: 2005-2026 Health and Economic
Damage Estimates. Toronto: OMA.
3 B.C. Provincial Health Officer. 2004. Every Breath You Take: Air Quality in British Columbia, A Public Health Perspective. 2003 Annual Report. Victoria: Ministry of Health Services.
4 Ontario Medical Association , 2005
5 GLOBE/CTV POLL Climate concerns now top security and health One in four label environmental issues as most important, The Globe and Mail, Fri 26 Jan 2007, Page: A1, Section: National News , Byline: Brian Laghi
6 Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development, Canadian Medical Association , 1991
7 WMO Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001, IPPC Third Assessment Report: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, accessed Feb 7, 2007 http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/348.htm