The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to commend the multi-party group of Members of Parliament who have come together to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.
The challenge we face today in caring for our aging population is only going to get greater. Statistics Canada has projected a rapid increase in the proportion of seniors in the population. The first wave of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year. By 2031, seniors will account for roughly one-quarter of the population, nearly double the 13.9% observed in 2009.1
Canadians are clearly concerned about their ability to cope with future health care expenses, either their own or those of their parents. Respondents to the CMA's 2010 Annual National Report Card on Health Care survey anticipate a range of implications associated with our aging population:
* 29% reported that they will likely alter their retirement plans (e.g., work longer) to help pay for their own future costs or those of their parents;
* Almost one in five (19%) anticipates moving their parents into their own home and supporting them financially; and
* One in six (16%) anticipates paying for their parents to live in a nursing home.2
The CMA believes that the federal government could play a key role in allaying Canadians' concerns about the future by leading negotiations with the provinces and territories and taking direct action on extending access along the continuum of care. These actions should focus on three priority areas:
* Increasing access by all Canadians to affordable prescription drugs;
* Supporting informal caregivers; and
* Increasing access to palliative care at the end of life.
If nothing is done to extend Medicare to cover more of the continuum of care, it will erode over time as a national program. When the Canada Health Act (CHA) was passed in 1984, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this had declined to 42% as of 2009.3 While there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (more than 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care, these programs are not subject to the CHA principles and coverage across the provinces and territories varies significantly.
Access to Prescription Drugs
The federal government missed an excellent opportunity to modernize Medicare in July 2004 when Premiers called on it to upload responsibility for drug programs. The Premiers stated that "a national pharmaceutical program should immediately be established. The federal government should assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug plan for all Canadians, and be accountable for the outcomes."4
The federal government did not give this offer even fleeting consideration. Instead, the September 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care contained a watered-down version of the First Ministers' 2003 commitment to ensure that all Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by the end of 2005/06.
The 2004 Accord reduced this commitment to the development of costing options for pharmaceutical coverage, as part of a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS).5 Costing options were included in the 2006 progress report of the NPS but they included estimates of the cost of catastrophic coverage wildly exceeding those of Romanow and Kirby, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion.6 Nothing further has been heard about the NPS since stakeholder consultations were held in fall 2007.
As recently as September 2008, the provinces and territories (PTs) were still interested in federal participation in pharmaceuticals. In the communiqué from their annual meeting, the PT health Ministers called for a three-point funding formula to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage, including:
* PT flexibility and autonomy in program design;
* Prescription drug costs not to exceed 5% of net income; and
* Federal and PT governments to cost share 50/50, estimated at $2.52 billion each in 2006.7
Again there was no reaction from the federal government. Since then the PT governments have appeared to be giving up hope of federal participation in access to pharmaceuticals. At their June 2009 meeting, the western Premiers announced they would develop a joint western purchasing plan for pharmaceuticals,8 and more recently at the August 2010 meeting of the Council of the Federation, Premiers agreed to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance for common drugs, medical supplies and equipment.9 Health Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at their September 2010 meeting.10 One can speculate that had the federal government taken up the Premiers' offer in 2004, many aspects of the NPS would be in place by now.
Meanwhile, access to prescription drugs presents a hardship for many Canadians. In the CMA's 2009 National Report Card survey, nearly one in six (14%) reported they had either delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs. This ranged from more than one in five (22%) with annual incomes of less than $30,000 to just over one in 20 (7%) of those with incomes greater than $90,000.11
The wide geographic disparity in out-of-pocket drug expenditures is shown in the table below, which is compiled from Statistics Canada's 2009 Survey of Household Spending. Table 1 shows the percentage of households spending more than 3% and 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs, by province, in the year prior to the survey.
[Note - see PDF for correct display of table information]
% of Households Spending Greater than 3% and 5% of After-tax Income
on Prescription Drugs, Canada and Provinces, 2008
Geography >3% >5%
Canada 7.6 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 11.6 5.4E
Prince Edward Island 13.3 5.8E
Nova Scotia 8.9 3.8
New Brunswick 9.1 4.1E
Quebec 11.6 3.3
Ontario 4.7 2.2E
Manitoba 12.0 5.2
Saskatchewan 11.5 5.9
Alberta 4.6E 2.2E
British Columbia 7.5 3.6
E - Use with caution - high coefficient of variation
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 109-5012
Under both thresholds there is a more than two-fold variation across provinces in the incidence of catastrophic drug expenditures. At the 5% threshold the range is from 2.2% of households in Ontario and Alberta to 5.8% in PEI and 5.9% in Saskatchewan. With the growing availability of more expensive drugs, this variation is only likely to be exacerbated in the years ahead.
The federal government should negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with the provincial/territorial governments.
This program should be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies. Such a program should include the following elements:
* A mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* Uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income);
* Federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both;
* Group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size; and
* A continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs).
In negotiating this plan, consideration should be given to the following:
* Establishing a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
* Assessing the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
* Provision of adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans; and
* Provision of comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada.
Supporting Informal Caregivers
As the population ages, the incidence of diseases associated with dementia is projected to increase dramatically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada has reported that the 2008 level of an estimated 103,728 new dementia cases is expected to more than double to 257,811 per year by 2038. Over this period, the demand for informal caregiving will skyrocket. In 2008, the Alzheimer Society reports, the opportunity cost of unpaid care giving was estimated at almost $5 billion. By 2038 this cost is expected to increase by 11-fold, to reach $56 billion, as the overall prevalence of dementia will have risen to 1.1 million people, representing 2.8% of the Canadian population.12
The burden of informal care giving extends beyond the costs related to dementia. Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey has documented the extent to which Canadians are providing unpaid assistance to family, friends or other persons with a long-term health condition or physical limitation.
Nationwide, 1.4 million adults aged 45 or over living in the community were receiving care in 2007. Of this number almost one in two (46.9%) were receiving both paid and unpaid care, almost three in 10 (27.4%) were receiving unpaid care only, and just under one in five (18.8%) were receiving paid care only. This underscores the importance of the informal sector.
In terms of who was providing this care, an estimated four million Canadians were providing care, of whom one million were aged 65 or over, while almost two million (1.8) were in the prime working age range of 45 to 54. The provision of unpaid care represents a significant time commitment.
The caregivers who reported helping with at least one activity spent an average 11.6 hours in a typical week doing so. Those providing care reported significant personal consequences. One in three reported spending less time on social activities (33.7%) or incurring extra expenses (32.7%), almost one in five cancelled holiday plans (18.7%) or spent less time with their spouse (18.7%), and more than one in 10 (13.7%) reported that their health had suffered.
The 2.5 million informal caregivers who were in the paid labour force were likely to report that caregiving had had a significant impact on their jobs. Almost one in four (24.3%) reported missing full days of work and one in six (15.5%) reported reducing hours of work.
Compared to the total population, informal caregivers were more likely to report stress in their lives. Almost three in 10 (27.9%) reported their level of stress on most days to be either quite a bit or extremely stressful compared to fewer than one in four (23.2%) of the total population.13
As the demand for informal care grows, it seems unlikely that the burden of informal caregiving will be sustainable without additional support.
The federal government took the positive step in 2004/05 of introducing Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits for people who are away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and at risk of dying within 26 weeks.14 So far, however, this program has had limited uptake. In 2007/08, 5,706 new claims were paid.15 This pales in comparison to the 235,217 deaths that year (although not all of these would be candidates for this type of care).16
The federal government should implement measures within its jurisdiction, such as the use of tax credits, to support informal caregivers.
Increasing Access to Palliative Care at the End of Life
The Senate of Canada, and Senator Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided exemplary leadership over the last 15 years in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. The Senator's 2005 report Still Not There noted that only an estimated 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care and that for children the figure drops even further to just over 3%.17 The 2005 report repeated the 1995 call for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. To date, palliative care in Canada has primarily centred on services for those dying with cancer. However, cancer accounts for less than one-third (30%) of deaths in Canada.
Diseases at the end of life, such as dementia and multiple chronic conditions, are expected to become much more prevalent in the years ahead. The demand for quality end-of-life care is certain to increase as the baby boom generation ages. There will be an estimated 40% more deaths a year by 2020. While the proportion of Canadians dying in hospital has been decreasing over the past decade, many more Canadians would undoubtedly prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of their lives than current capacity will permit.
In the 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers built on their 2003 Accord by agreeing to provide first dollar coverage for certain home care services by 2006, including end-of-life care for case management, nursing, palliative-specific pharmaceuticals and personal care at the end of life. Seven years later we have no comprehensive picture of the availability of end-of-life care across Canada.
The Health Council of Canada's last detailed reporting on the implementation of the 2003 Accord was in 2006. At that time, the only province to report comprehensive end-of-life care was British Columbia.18 For most other jurisdictions, end-of-life care was discussed under "next steps." Since then, the Health Council has ceased comprehensive reporting on the Accord.
In the 2007 National Physician Survey, doctors across Canada were asked to rate the accessibility of the range of services for their patients. Just one in three (32%) rated access to palliative care services as either excellent or very good.19
In 2006, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Home Care Association jointly issued a 35-point "gold standard" for palliative home care, covering the areas of case management, nursing care, pharmaceuticals and personal care, which they commended to governments.20
In its April 2009 report, the Special Senate Committee on Aging recommended a federally funded national partnership with provinces, territories and community organizations to promote integrated, quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, the application of gold standards in palliative home care to veterans, First Nations and Inuit, and federal inmates, and renewed research funding for palliative care.21
In 2010, the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCC), of which the CMA is a member, released its Blueprint for Action 2010 to 2020. The four priorities are:
* Ensure all Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative end-of-life care;
* Provide more support for family caregivers;
* Improve the quality and consistency of hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada; and
* Encourage Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life.22
This blueprint embodies the sound ideas that have emerged over the past decade.
In June 2010, Senator Carstairs released her latest report Raising the Bar, which, while acknowledging some of the achievements that have been made in palliative care, repeats her previous calls for a national role and active engagement of the federal government.23
A wide range of stakeholders either have, or should have, a significant stake in the issue of palliative care. They include patients and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, caregivers (both formal and informal), the institutional and community health sectors, and the employer/business community.
The CMA urges the federal government to collaborate with the provincial and territorial governments to convene a national conference in 2011 to assess the state of palliative care in Canada.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. Catalogue no. 91-520-X. Ottawa. Minister of Industry, 2010.
2 Canadian Medical Association. 10th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2010/report_card/2010-National-Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
4 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers' action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federation. July 30, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/850098004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
5 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
6 Health Canada. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
7 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual Conference of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. September 4, 2008. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
8 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers taking action on pharmaceuticals. June 18, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo09/850114004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
9 Council of the Federation. Premiers protecting Canada's health care systems. http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/pdfs/PremiersProtectingCanadasHealthCareSystem.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. P/T health Ministers work together to advance common issues. September 13, 2010. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/860578004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
11 Canadian Medical Association. 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2009/report_card/Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
12Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rising tide: the impact of dementia on Canadian society. http://www.alzheimer.ca/docs/RisingTide/Rising%20Tide_Full%20Report_Eng_FINAL_Secured%20version.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
13 Statistics Canada. 2007 General Social Survey: Care tables. Catalogue no. 89-633-X. Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2009.
14Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Information for health care professionals: EI Compassionate Care. http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/publications_resources/health_care/ei_ccb.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
15 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Table 2.12 Compassionate care benefits. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/employment/ei/reports/eimar_2009/annex/annex2_12.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
16 Statistics Canada. Deaths 2007. The Daily, Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
17 Carstairs S. Still not there. Quality end-of-life care: a status report. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Still%20Not%20There%20June%202005.pdf. Accessed 09/24/09.
18 Health Council of Canada. Jursdictional tables on health care renewal. Companion document to Health care renewal in Canada Measuring up? Annual report to Canadians 2006. Toronto, ON, 2007
19 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian Medical Association. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2007. Q25a. Please rate the accessibility of the following for your patients. http://www.nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/nps/2007_Survey/Results/ENG/National/pdf/Q25/Q25aALL.only_NON.CORE.only.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
20 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Canadian Home Care Association. The pan-Canadian gold standard for palliative home care. http://www.chpca.net/resource_doc_library/pan-cdn_gold_standards/Gold_Standards_Palliative_Home_Care.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
21 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. April 2009. http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/rep-e/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
22 Quality End -of-life Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2020. http://www.chpca.net/qelccc/information_and_resources/Blueprint_for_Action_2010_to_2020_April_2010.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
23Carstairs S. Raising the bar: a roadmap for the future of palliative care in Canada. June 2010. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Raising%20the%20Bar%20June%202010%20(2).pdf. Accessed 09/29/10.
Bill C-38 covers a lot of ground and we welcome the occasion to discuss it.
Right at the outset, let me remind you that the Canadian Medical Association has a long tradition of staunch non-partisanship. Our mandate is to be the national advocate for the highest standards in health and health care.
In a bill as wide-ranging as this one, there is a great deal I could talk about. In the time allotted, however, I am going to frame my brief remarks around three themes... namely:
First, what is very clearly in the bill;
Second, what is lacking in the bill, and
Third, what I would characterize as a general lack of clarity and consultation on certain aspects of the federal government's actions on health care.
First, I will comment on one of the key measures contained in the budget bill.
We are greatly concerned about the move to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security.
Many seniors have low incomes and delaying this relatively modest payment by two years is certain to have a negative impact.
For many older Canadians, who tend to have more complex health problems, medication is a life line. We know that, already, many cannot afford their meds.
Gnawing away at Canada's social safety net will no doubt force hard choices on some of tomorrow's seniors... the choice between whether to buy groceries or to buy their medicine.
I think it is safe to say it would not hold up to a cost-benefit analysis.
People who skip their meds, or lack a nutritious diet or enough heat in their homes, will be sicker.
In the end, this will put a greater burden on our health care system.
Let me now turn to a couple of things we were hoping to see in the budget but that are not there.
As we all know, the Finance Minister announced the government's plans for the Canada Health Transfer in December.
The CMA was encouraged when the Minister of Health subsequently spoke about collaborating with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures for this funding.
We look forward to this accountability plan for the minimum of $446 billion that will flow to the provinces and territories in federal transfers for health over the next twelve years.
In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada last out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care.
We believe that federal government should lever its spending on health care to bring change to the system.
It could introduce incentives, measurable goals, pan-Canadian metrics and measurement that would link health care spending to comparable health outcomes.
This would recognize, too, that the federal government is itself the fifth-largest jurisdiction in health care delivery.
We believe the federal government has a role to play in leading this change and that transferring billions of federal dollars in the absence of this leadership shortchanges Canadians.
This budget thus represents an opportunity lost to find ways to transform the health care system and help Canadians get better value and better patient care for the money they spend on health care.
The other major piece missing from this budget is any move to establish a national pharmaceutical strategy.
A pharmaceutical strategy that would ensure consistent coverage and secure supply across the country remains unfinished business from eight years ago.
Access to pharmaceutical treatments remains the most glaring example of inequity of our health care system.
I should point out that the Senate Social Affairs Committee in its recent report on the 2004 Health Accord also recommended the implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy.
Now I come to the third part of my remarks, which is about a general lack of clarity in regard to certain aspects of the federal government's responsibilities vis-a- vis health care.
Since the budget was tabled, the federal government has announced $100 million in cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program and eliminated the National Aboriginal Health Organization.
As far as we know, no one was consulted on these changes, and since they are not in the budget bill, there is no opportunity for debate on the potential implications on the health of Canadians.
We are also uncertain about the impact of changes in service delivery at Veterans Affairs Canada, changes in the mental health programs at the Department of National Defence, and plans to consolidate some of the functions of the Health Canada and the Canadian Public Health Agency.
There are many unknowns and these are serious matters that warrant serious consideration.
The government committed that it would not balance the books on the backs of the provinces, yet there appears to be a trend toward the downloading of health care costs to federal client groups or the provinces and territories or individuals.
As we have seen in the past, cost downloading is not the same as cost saving.
In fact, when health is impacted, the costs will be inevitably higher, both in dollars and in human suffering.