Helping physicians care for patients
Aider les médecins à prendre soin des patients
Canada is a nation on the precipice of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In this brief, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present four recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for meaningful federal action in support of a national seniors strategy; these are essential measures to prepare for an aging population.
Canada's demographic and economic imperative
In 2011 the first of wave of the baby boomer generation turned 65 and Canada's seniors population stood at 5 million.1 By 2036, seniors will represent up to 25% of the population.2 The impacts of Canada's aging population on economic productivity are multi-faceted.
An obvious impact will be fewer workers and a smaller tax base. Finance Canada projects that the number of working-age Canadians for every senior will fall from about 5 today to 2.7 by 2030.3
The projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments. Consider that while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors' care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories and they "cannot meet the challenges of population ageing under current policy."6
Theme 1: Productivity
A) New federal funding to provincial/territorial governments
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are aware of the challenges ahead. This July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address these needs, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 1). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 1: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)7
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
B) Federal support for catastrophic drug coverage
A major gap in Canada's universal health care system is the lack of universal access to prescription medications, long recognized as the unfinished business of medicare. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.8
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.9 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.10 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.11
In addition to the very real harms to individuals, lack of coverage contributes to the inefficient use of Canada's scarce health resources. While there are sparse economic data in Canada on this issue, earlier research indicated that this inefficiency, which includes preventable hospital visits and admissions, represents an added cost of between $1 billion and $9 billion annually.12
As an immediate measure to support the health of Canadians and the productivity of the health care sector, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.48 billion in 2016-17 (Table 2). This would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal prescription drug coverage.
Table 2: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)13
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
Theme 2: Infrastructure and communities
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.14
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. It is estimated that 85% of "alternate level of care" patients in hospitals (i.e., patients who do not require hospital-level care) are in these beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an increased cost of $2.3 billion.
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been excluded from the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the criteria of the Building Canada Plan to include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 3).
Table 3: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)15
Forecasted shortage in long-term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long-term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
Theme 3: Jobs
As previously mentioned, Canada's aging population will produce significant changes in the labour force. There will be fewer Canadian workers, each with a greater likelihood of having caregiving responsibilities for family and friends.
According to the report of the federal Employer Panel for Caregivers, Canadian employers "were surprised and concerned that it already affects 35% of the Canadian workforce."16 This report highlights key findings of the 2012 General Social Survey: 1.6 million caregivers took leave from work; nearly 600,000 reduced their work hours; 160,000 turned down paid employment; and, 390,000 quit their jobs to provide care. It is estimated that informal caregiving represents $1.3 billion in lost workforce productivity. These costs will only increase as Canada's demographic shift progresses.
In parallel to the increasing informal caregiving demands on Canadian workers, Canada's aging population will also increase the demand for personal care workers and geriatric competencies across all health and social care professions.17
Theme 4: Taxation
The above section focused on the economic costs of caregiving on the workforce. The focus of this section will be on the economic value caregivers provide while they take on an increased economic burden.
Statistics Canada's latest research indicates that 8.1 million Canadians are informal caregivers, 39% of whom primarily care for a parent.18 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007 informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.19 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.20 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent received any form of government support.21 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.22
As a first step to providing increased support for Canada's family caregivers, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure will cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.23
The CMA recognizes that in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty the federal government may face pressures to avoid new spending initiatives. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the four recommendations outlined in this submission rather than further delay making a meaningful contribution to meeting the future care needs of Canada's aging population. The CMA would welcome the opportunity to provide further information and its rationale for each recommendation.
1 Statistics Canada. Generations in Canada. Cat. No. 98-311-X2011003. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-311-x/98-311-x2011003_2-eng.pdf
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's aging population. Ottawa: Finance Canada; 2012. Available: www.fin.gc.ca/pub/eficap-rebvpc/eficap-rebvpc-eng.pdf
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
7 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
8 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
9 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
10 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
12 British Columbia Pharmacy Association. Clinical service proposal: medication adherence services. Vancouver: The Association; 2013. Available: www.bcpharmacy.ca/uploads/Medication_Adherence.pdf
13 Supra at note 7.
14 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
16 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
17 Stall S, Cummings G, Sullivan T. Caring for Canada's seniors will take our entire health care workforce. Available: http://healthydebate.ca/2013/09/topic/community-long-term-care/non-md-geriatrics
18 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
19 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
20 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
21 Supra at note 16.
23 Supra at note 7.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-462 Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 78,000 physicians in Canada; its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
The CMA is pleased that the House of Commons has made Bill C-462 a priority. This bill is an important step toward addressing the unintended consequences that have emerged from the Disability Tax Credit since 2005.
Part 2: Issues to be addressed
In 2005, the Disability Tax Credit was expanded to allow individuals to back-file for up to 10 years. While this was a welcome tax measure for individuals with disabilities, the CMA has been urging the Canada Revenue Agency to address the numerous unintended consequences that have emerged. Central among these has been the emergence of a “cottage industry” of third-party companies engaged in a number of over-reaching tactics. The practices of these companies have included aggressive promotional activities to seek and encourage individuals to file the Disability Tax Credit. The primary driver behind these tactics is profit; some companies are charging fees of up to 40 per cent of an individual’s refund when the tax credit is approved.
Further to targeting a vulnerable population, these activities have yielded an increase in the quantity of Disability Tax Credit forms in physician offices and contributed to red tape in the health sector. In some cases, third parties have placed physicians in an adversarial position with their patients. We are pleased that this bill attempts to address the concerns we have raised.
The CMA supports Bill C-462 as a necessary measure to address the issues that have emerged since the changes to the Disability Tax Credit in 2005. However, to avoid additional unintended consequences, the CMA recommends that the Finance Committee address three issues prior to advancing Bill C-462.
First, as currently written, Bill C-462 proposes to apply the same requirements to physicians as to third-party companies if physicians apply a fee for form completion, a typical practice for uninsured physician services. Such fees are subject to guidelines and oversight by provincial and territorial medical regulatory colleges (see Appendix 1: CMA Policy on Third Party Forms: The Physician Role).
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
Amend the definition of “promoters” under section 2 to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
. If the committee imports the term “person” from the Income Tax Act, then the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
Second, the CMA is concerned that one of the reasons individuals may be engaging the services of third-party companies is a lack of awareness of the purpose and benefits of the Disability Tax Credit. Additional efforts are required to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form (Form T2201) be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form T2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit, and explicitly indicate there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to the CRA.
The CMA recommends that the Finance Committee:
. Recommend that the Canada Revenue Agency undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is more informative, accessible and user-friendly for patients.
Finally, the CMA recommends that a privacy assessment be undertaken before the bill moves forward in the legislative process. It appears that, as written, Bill C-462 would authorize the inter-departmental sharing of personal information. The CMA raises this issue for consideration because protecting the privacy of patient information is a key duty of a physician under the CMA Code of Ethics.
Part 3: Closing
The CMA encourages the Finance Committee to address these issues to ensure that Bill C-462 resolves existing problems with the Disability Tax Credit while not introducing new ones. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Finance Committee’s study of this bill and, with the amendments outlined herein, supports its passage.
Summary of Recommendations
The definition of “promoters” under section 2 of Bill C-462 should be amended to exclude “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
If the Committee imports the definition of “persons” from the Income Tax Act, the applicable section of Bill C-462 should be amended to specify that, for the purposes of the act, “Person does not include a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment.”
The Canada Revenue Agency should undertake additional efforts to ensure that the Disability Tax Credit form is informative, accessible and user-friendly.
Prior to advancing in the legislative process, Bill C-462 should undergo a privacy assessment.
Re: Future Mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group (the Council of the Federation)
On behalf of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am writing in advance of the meeting of the Council of the Federation later this month regarding the future mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group with respect to seniors care.
The CNA and CMA welcomed the Council of the Federation's prioritization of seniors care as an area of focus of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Already, seniors and their families in communities across Canada face significant challenges accessing social supports and health services. These challenges will only intensify as the demographic shift progresses. Based on current trends and approaches, the proportion of provincial/territorial health spending associated with seniors care is forecast to grow by over 15% to almost 62% of health budgets by 2036.
Recognizing the significant pressure this will present for health care systems and provincial/territorial budgets moving forward, it is critical that the Council of the Federation maintain its prioritization of seniors care and meeting the needs of an aging population. As such, we respectfully encourage you in your capacity as Co-Chairs of the Health Care Innovation Working Group to ensure the future mandate of the working group on seniors care be included as part of the agenda at the January 30, 2015 meeting of the Council of the Federation.
The CNA and CMA are actively engaged on this issue and welcome the opportunity to meet with each of you to discuss how we may collaborate to ensure improved health outcomes for seniors, now and in the future.
Christopher S. Simpson, MD, FRCPC, FACC, FHRS
Karima Velji, RN, PhD, CHE
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.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to confirm its strong support for the federal government's health and social policy commitments, as identified in the ministerial mandate letters.
In this brief, the CMA outlines seven recommendations for meaningful and essential federal action to ensure Canada is prepared to meet the health care needs of its aging population. The CMA's recommendations are designed to be implemented in the 2016-17 fiscal year in order to deliver immediate support to the provinces and territories and directly to Canadians.
Immediate implementation of these recommendations is essential given the current and increasing shortages being experienced across the continuum of care in jurisdictions across Canada. In 2014, the CMA initiated a broad consultative initiative on the challenges in seniors care, as summarized in the report A Policy Framework to Guide a National Seniors Strategy for Canada. This report highlights the significant challenges currently being experienced in seniors care and emphasizes the need for increased federal engagement.
Finally, if implemented, the CMA's recommendations will contribute to the federal government's strategic commitments in health, notably the commitment to the development of a new Health Accord.
1) Demographic Imperative for Increased Federal Engagement in Health
Canada is a nation on the threshold of great change. This change will be driven primarily by the economic and social implications of the major demographic shift already underway. The added uncertainties of the global economy only emphasize the imperative for federal action and leadership.
In 2015, for the first time in Canada's history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumbered those under the age of 15 years.1 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.2
It is increasingly being recognized that the projected surge in demand for services for seniors that will coincide with slower economic growth and lower government revenue will add pressure to the budgets of provincial and territorial governments.3 Today, while seniors account for about one-sixth of the population, they consume approximately half of public health spending.4 Based on current trends and approaches, seniors care is forecast to consume almost 62% of provincial/territorial health budgets by 2036.5
The latest National Health Expenditures report by the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) projects that health spending in 2015 was to exceed $219 billion, or 10.9% of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP).6 To better understand the significance of health spending in the national context, consider that total federal program spending is 13.4% of GDP.7 Finally, health budgets are now averaging 38% of provincial and territorial global budgets.8 Alarmingly, the latest fiscal sustainability report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer explains that the demands of Canada's aging population will result in "steadily deteriorating finances" for the provinces and territories, who "cannot meet the challenges of population aging under current policy."9
Taken together, the indicators summarized above establish a clear imperative and national interest for greater federal engagement, leadership and support for the provision of health care in Canada.
2) Responses to Pre-Budget Consultation Questions
Question 1: How can we better support our middle class?
A) Federal Action to Help Reduce the Cost of Prescription Medication
The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to support measures aimed at reducing the cost of prescription medication in Canada. A key initiative underway is the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance led by the provinces and territories. The CMA supports the federal government's recent announcement that it will partner with the provinces and territories as part of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. In light of the fact that the majority of working age Canadians have coverage for prescription medication through private insurers10, the CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
Prescription medication has a critical role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Canada stands out as the only country with universal health care without universal pharmaceutical coverage.11 It is an unfortunate reality that the affordability of prescription medication has emerged as a key barrier to access to care for many Canadians.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, more than one in five Canadians (23%) report that they or someone in their household did not take medication as prescribed because of the cost during the past 12 months.12 Statistics Canada's Survey of Household Spending reveals that households headed by a senior spend $724 per year on prescription medications, the highest among all age groups and over 60% more than the average household.13 Another recent study found that 7% of Canadian seniors reported skipping medication or not filling a prescription because of the cost.14
The CMA has long called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial harm and to reduce the cost barriers of treatment. As a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication. The program would cover prescription medication costs above $1,500 or 3% of gross household income on an annual basis. Research commissioned by the CMA estimates this would cost $1.57 billion in 2016-17 (Table 1).
Table 1: Projected cost of federal contribution to cover catastrophic prescription medication costs, by age cohort, 2016-2020 ($ million)15
Share of total cost
Under 35 years
35 to 44 years
45 to 54 years
55 to 64 years
65 to 74 years
75 years +
B) Deliver Immediate Federal Support to Canada's Unpaid Caregivers
There are approximately 8.1 million Canadians serving as informal, unpaid caregivers with a critical role in Canada's health and social sector.16 The Conference Board of Canada reports that in 2007, informal caregivers contributed over 1.5 billion hours of home care - more than 10 times the number of paid hours in the same year.17 The economic contribution of informal caregivers was estimated to be about $25 billion in 2009.18 This same study estimated that informal caregivers incurred over $80 million in out-of-pocket expenses related to caregiving in 2009.
Despite their tremendous value and important role, only a small fraction of caregivers caring for a parent receive any form of government support.19 Only 5% of caregivers providing care to parents reported receiving financial assistance, while 28% reported needing more assistance than they received.20
It is clear that Canadian caregivers require more support. As a first step, the CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable. This would provide an increased amount of financial support for family caregivers. It is estimated that this measure would cost $90.8 million in 2016-17.21
C) Implement a new Home Care Innovation Fund
The CMA strongly supports the federal government's significant commitment to deliver more and better home care services, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Health.
Accessible, integrated home care has an important role in Canada's health sector, including addressing alternate level of care (ALC) patients waiting in hospital for home care or long-term care. As highlighted by CIHI, the majority of the almost 1 million Canadians receiving home care are aged 65 or older.22 As population aging progresses, demand for home care can be expected to increase.
Despite its importance, it is widely recognized that there are shortages across the home care sector.23 While there are innovations occurring in the sector, financing is a key barrier to scaling up and expanding services. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund. As outlined in the Liberal Party of Canada's election platform, the CMA recommends that the fund deliver $3 billion over four years, including $400 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Question 2: What infrastructure needs can best help grow the economy...and meet your priorities locally?
Deliver Federal Investment to the Long-term Care Sector as part of Social Infrastructure
All jurisdictions across Canada are facing shortages in the continuing care sector. Despite the increased availability of home care, research commissioned for the CMA indicates that demand for continuing care facilities will surge as the demographic shift progresses.24
In 2012, it was reported that wait times for access to a long-term care facility in Canada ranged from 27 to over 230 days. More than 50% of ALC patients are in these hospital beds because of the lack of availability of long-term care beds25. Due to the significant difference in the cost of hospital care (approximately $846 per day) versus long-term care ($126 per day), the CMA estimates that the shortages in the long-term care sector represent an inefficiency cost to the health care system of $2.3 billion a year.26
Despite the recognized need for infrastructure investment in the continuing care sector, to date, this sector has been unduly excluded from federal investment in infrastructure, namely the Building Canada Plan. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure. Based on previous estimates, the CMA recommends that $540 million be allocated for 2016-17 (Table 2), if implemented on a cost-share basis.
Table 2: Estimated cost to address forecasted shortage in long-term care beds, 2016-20 ($ million)27
Forecasted shortage in long term care beds
Estimated cost to address shortage
Federal share to address shortage in long term care beds (based on 1/3 contribution)
In addition to improved delivery of health care resources, capital investment in the long-term care sector would provide an important contribution to economic growth. According to previous estimates by the Conference Board of Canada, the capital investment needed to meet the gaps from 2013 to 2047 would yield direct economic benefits on an annual basis that include $1.23 billion contribution to GDP and 14,141 high value jobs during the capital investment phase and $637 million contribution to GDP and 11,604 high value jobs during the facility operation phase (based on an average annual capital investment).
Question 3: How can we create economic growth, protect the environment, and meet local priorities while ensuring that the most vulnerable don't get left behind?
Deliver new Funding to Support the Provinces and Territories in Meeting Seniors Care Needs
Canada's provincial and territorial leaders are struggling to meet health care needs in light of the demographic shift. This past July, the premiers issued a statement calling for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to 25% of provincial and territorial health care costs to address the needs of an aging population.
It is recognized that as an equal per-capita based transfer, the CHT does not currently account for population segments with increased health needs, specifically seniors. The CMA was pleased that this issue was recognized by the Prime Minister in his letter last spring to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
However, the CMA is concerned that an approach to modify the transfer formula would potentially delay the delivery of federal support to meet the needs of an aging population. As such, rather than the transfer formula, the CMA has developed an approach that delivers support to jurisdictions endeavoring to meet the needs of their aging populations while respecting the transfer arrangement already in place.
The CMA commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to calculate the amount for the top-up to the CHT using a needs-based projection. The amount of the top-up for each jurisdiction is based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population.
To support the innovation and transformation needed to address the health needs of the aging population, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer (Table 3). For the fiscal year 2016-17, this top-up would require $1.6 billion in federal investment.
Table 3: Allocation of the federal demographic-based top-up, 2016-20 ($million)28
All of Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Question 4: Are the Government's new priorities and initiatives realistic; will they help grow the economy?
Ensure Tax Equity for Canada's Medical Professionals is Maintained
Among the federal government's commitments is the objective to decrease the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%. The CMA supports this commitment to support small businesses, such as medical practices, in recognition of the significant challenges facing this sector. However, it is not clear whether as part of this commitment the federal government intends to alter the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework. The federal government's framing of this commitment, as released in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, has led to confusion and concern.
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country's knowledge economy. Canadian physicians are directly or indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities, ensuring that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible.
In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners. As self-employed small business owners, they typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, they are responsible for these benefits for their employees.
In addition to managing the many costs associated with running a medical practice, Canadian physicians must manage challenges not faced by many other small businesses. As highly-skilled professionals, physicians typically enter the workforce with significant debt levels and at a later stage in life. For some, entering practice after training requires significant investment in a clinic or a practice.
Finally, it is important to recognize that physicians cannot pass on the increased costs introduced by governments, such as changes to the CCPC framework, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
For a significant proportion of Canada's physicians, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for individuals taking on significant personal financial burden and liability as part of our public health care system. As well, in many cases, practices would not make economic sense if the provisions of the CCPC regime were not in place. Given the importance of the CCPC framework to medical practice, changes to this framework have the potential to yield unintended consequences in health resources, including the possibility of reduced access to much needed care.
The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The CMA recognizes that the federal government must grapple with an uncertain economic forecast and is prioritizing measures that will support economic growth. The CMA strongly encourages the federal government to adopt the seven recommendations outlined in this submission as part of these efforts. 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.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The CMA recommends that the federal government establish a new funding program for catastrophic coverage of prescription medication; this would be a positive step toward comprehensive, universal coverage for prescription medication.
2. The CMA recommends that the federal government support inviting the private health insurance industry to participate in the work of the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.
3. The CMA recommends that the federal government amend the Caregiver and Family Caregiver Tax Credits to make them refundable.
4. To deliver the federal government's commitment to increasing the availability of home care, the CMA recommends the establishment of a new targeted home care innovation fund.
5. The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in continuing care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
6. The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an annual basis beginning in 2016-17 to the provinces and territories by means of a demographic-based top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.
7. The CMA recommends that the federal government maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily, Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.htm
2 Statistics Canada. Canada year book 2012, seniors. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm
3 Conference Board of Canada. A difficult road ahead: Canada's economic and fiscal prospects. Available: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/conf_bd_difficultroadahead_aug_2014.pdf.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2014. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014. Available: www.cihi.ca/web/resource/en/nhex_2014_report_en.pdf
5 Calculation by the Canadian Medical Association, based on Statistics Canada's M1 population projection and the Canadian Institute for Health Information age-sex profile of provincial-territorial health spending.
6 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
7 Finance Canada. Update of Economic and Fiscal Projections 2015. http://www.budget.gc.ca/efp-peb/2015/pub/efp-peb-15-en.pdf.
8 CIHI. National Health Expenditure Trends,1975 to 2015. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/nhex_trends_narrative_report_2015_en.pdf.
9 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2015. Ottawa: The Office; 2015. Available: www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/files/files/FSR_2015_EN.pdf
10 IBM for the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. Pan Canadian Drugs Negotiations Report. Available at: http://canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/pcpa/pan_canadian_drugs_negotiations_report_march22_2014.pdf .
11 Morgan SG, Martin D, Gagnon MA, Mintzes B, Daw JR, Lexchin J. Pharmacare 2020: The future of drug coverage in Canada. Vancouver: Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration, University of British Columbia; 2015. Available: http://pharmacare2020.ca/assets/pdf/The_Future_of_Drug_Coverage_in_Canada.pdf
12 Angus Reid Institute. Prescription drug access and affordability an issue for nearly a quarter of Canadian households. Available: http://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015.07.09-Pharma.pdf
13 Statistics Canada. Survey of household spending. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
14 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: results From The Commonwealth Fund 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. Available: www.cihi.ca/en/health-system-performance/performance-reporting/international/commonwealth-survey-2014
15 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
16 Statistics Canada. Family caregivers: What are the consequences? Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2013001/article/11858-eng.htm
17 Conference Board of Canada. Home and community care in Canada: an economic footprint. Ottawa: The Board; 2012. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/cashc/research/2012/homecommunitycare.aspx
18 Hollander MJ, Liu G, Chappeel NL. Who cares and how much? The imputed economic contribution to the Canadian health care system of middle aged and older unpaid caregivers providing care to the elderly. Healthc Q. 2009;12(2):42-59.
19 Government of Canada. Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers: when work and caregiving collide, how employers can support their employees who are caregivers. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/seniors/reports/cec.shtml
21 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
22 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf.
23 CMA. A policy framework to guide a national seniors strategy for Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/gc2015/policy-framework-to-guide-seniors_en.pdf.
24 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, January 2013.
25 CIHI. Seniors and alternate level of care: building on our knowledge. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/ALC_AIB_EN.pdf
26 CMA. CMA Submission: The need for health infrastructure in Canada. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Health-Infrastructure_en.pdf.
28 Conference Board of Canada. Research commissioned for the CMA, July 2015.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for the opportunity to provide our views on the causes and consequences of obesity in Canada, and our recommendations for a way forward.
Canada’s physicians have repeatedly expressed their concern about the increasing prevalence of obesity and overweight in this country. Over the past ten years, responding to these expressions of concern, the CMA has developed a number of policy statements, briefs to government, and discussion papers on the issue, which articulate our recommendations for addressing this serious problem. In this brief, we will focus our recommendations on two remedies that we believe should be part of the way forward: the implementation of public policy that supports Canadians in making healthy food choices; and the provision of reliable, user-friendly information to health professionals and to the public.
2) Obesity in Canada: Causes and Consequences
More than half (62%) of Canadian adults are overweight according to the 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. A quarter of Canadian adults can be classed as obese (BMI = 30); this is double the obesity rate in 1979.1 The rise in obesity is most pronounced among Canada’s heaviest people; since 1985, the prevalence of extreme obesity (BMI=40) rose from 0.3% to 1.6%, a more than five-fold increase.2 One in ten Canadian children is obese;3 obesity in children and youth has more than doubled since the late 1970s. Prevalence of overweight and obesity is higher among some segments of the Canadian population, particularly Aboriginal peoples and people of lower socio-economic status.
1 Statistics Canada. Body composition of adults, 2012 to 2013. Accessed at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14104-eng.htm. This survey used actual measurement which is considered more accurate than self-report.
2 Twells LK, Gregory DM, Reddigan J, Midodzi WK. Current and predicted prevalence of obesity in Canada: a trend analysis. CMAJ Open, March 3, 2014. Accessed at http://cmajopen.ca/content/2/1/E18.full
3 Statistics Canada. Body mass index of children and youth, 2012 to 2013. Accessed at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14105-eng.htm
4 Canadian Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/kids-teens-diabetes/children-type-2-diabetes
Obesity is of particular concern to Canada’s physicians because it increases a person’s risk of developing a number of serious health problems: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, and many types of cancer. Type 2 diabetes, once found only in adults, is now being seen in children4. Health advocates are concerned that because of obesity, today’s generation of children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
In addition to poor physical health, obese people are at greater risk than people with normal weights of suffering from mental health problems such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. The stigma attached to obesity is high; obese people are at high risk of being bullied, ostracized socially, and discriminated against in the workplace. Some turn to food to relieve stress or as an escape from their unhappy lives, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating and poor mental health.5
5 Canadian Obesity Network. Obesity and mental illness: addressing a double epidemic. Accessed at http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/de.aspx?id=322
6 Public Health Agency of Canada. Obesity in Canada: Health and economic implications. Accessed at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/econo-eng.php
7 From the CMA background paper on processed food and health. Original citation: Cohen D a. Obesity and the built environment: changes in environmental cues cause energy imbalances. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32 Suppl 7:S137–42. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.250.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that obesity-related health conditions cost Canada $4.6 billion dollars in 2008, both in direct costs (such as hospitals and health professional services) and indirect ones (e.g. disability claims, psychological damage and lost productivity).6 Other estimates have been even higher.
The causes of obesity are multifarious and highly complex. There is no one, simple cause. In some cases human biology is responsible, because certain people have a genetic predisposition toward gaining weight. But for the most part, obesity can be attributed to environmental circumstances that contribute to Canadians consuming more calories than they burn through physical activity. These circumstances include:
. The widespread consumption of pre-packaged and processed foods. In the US it is estimated that the percentage of food spending that goes toward foods prepared away from home went up from 24% in 1966 to 42% in 2006.7 Processed foods are more likely than fresh foods to be high in trans fats, sodium, sugar and other ingredients that are risk factors for obesity-related diseases. They are available widely, in fast-food outlets, grocery stores and vending machines, and their manufacturers often promote them heavily. In addition, they are generally lower in price than fresh fruits, vegetables or meats, which may be beyond the means of many low-income Canadians.
. Change in physical activity patterns. Many adults spend their days at sedentary desk jobs, and if they engage in physical activity, they often devote specific time to it (say, an hour at the gym) rather than incorporating it into their daily lives. Where children might once have gone outdoors to play after school, today they are more likely to sit in front of a computer or television set.
The conventional wisdom about addressing obesity is that it is the individual’s responsibility to lose weight through diet and exercise, and to keep it off. However, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a complex process, and can be frustratingly hard to manage. For many Canadians, obesity is a lifelong condition, and the environmental conditions discussed above
discourage healthy behaviour. Despite an abundance of diet information and advice (of varying quality and accuracy), most people who lose weight eventually put it on again. Pharmaceutical weight loss drugs are available but are not always recommended because of their side effects8. More aggressive treatments such as surgery are recommended mainly for severely obese people with health complications.
8 Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. Recommendations for prevention of weight gain and use of behavioural and pharmacologic interventions to manage overweight and obesity in adults in primary care. CMAJ 187:3 (February 17, 2015): 184-195.
3) The Way Forward
Just as obesity sparks challenges in our populations and has no single cause, so there is no single way forward that will fully address it. CMA believes that the way forward actually involves a number of separate paths moving in the same direction. Two of these paths are discussed in the following sections.
a) Implementing Public Policy That Helps Canadians Make Healthy Food Choices
Public policy can be a powerful tool to help reduce risks to public health. In the case of tobacco control, measures such as bans on tobacco advertising and on smoking in public places contributed to the decline in smoking in Canada by making it easier for individuals to choose to be smoke-free. In the same way, CMA believes the federal government should implement policies and regulations to help create a supportive environment for people wanting to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. In particular, CMA recommends that the Committee give consideration to the following measures:
i) Improving Access to healthy food
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada support community-based initiatives aimed at reducing Canadians’ barriers to accessing healthy, nutritious food.
If Canadians are to be encouraged to make healthy food choices, then healthy foods should be readily available to them at affordable prices. Unfortunately, for many Canadians, this is not the case. In some neighborhoods, often lower-income neighbourhoods, fast food outlets outnumber grocery stores. Many variety stores, restaurants, schools and workplace cafeterias offer a larger selection of processed foods than of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
For some Canadians, financial barriers limit their capacity to make healthy individual choices. As a rule, fresh food tends to be more expensive than processed “fast food”. The difficulty is
compounded in Canada’s remoter areas and in the North, where fresh produce must be transported from far away, and what little is available is very high priced.
Programs to improve access to healthy food exist at all levels of government. The federal Northern Food Program, designed to offset the cost of transporting fresh food to remote areas, has been in existence for several years, though it has been criticized as ineffective9. At the community level, not-for-profit and municipal agencies have collaborated on programs such as the Good Food Markets in Ottawa, which offer fresh, affordable foods in low-income areas.10
9 Woo A. “Critics slam Canada’s northern food program.” The Globe and Mail, November 4, 2014. Accessed at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/critics-slam-canadas-northern-food-program/article21451386/
10 Canadian Public Health Association. “Ottawa Public Health partners with community Groups to Increase access to healthy foods.” Accessed at http://www.cpha.ca/en/programs/social-determinants/frontlinehealth/stories/ottawa.aspx
11 “Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages to Children and Youth in Canada” a policy paper endorsed by CMA and other health and scientific organizations.
Other measures to improve access to healthy food could include: ensuring that every Canadian is within reach of a grocery store; regulating the number and location of fast-food outlets; and increasing the availability of nutritious foods and restricting that of processed foods in workplaces, schools and recreational facilities.
ii) Controls on Marketing of Processed Foods.
Industry marketing of fast food and processed food, including beverages, is ubiquitous – in television, on the radio, on the Internet, and at point-of-purchase displays and event sponsorships. Unfortunately, many of the advertised foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Food advertising is aimed at Canadians of all ages, but children, particularly those under the age of 13, have been found to be especially vulnerable to it. Research has shown that the advertising of food and beverages to children influences their food and beverage preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns.11
At present, Canada relies on voluntary industry codes to govern advertising and marketing practices. However, health groups are skeptical of the effectiveness of such codes, and of manufacturers’ commitment to them. The CMA believes that for maximum efficacy, regulatory measures are required to minimize the negative effect of food marketing on health.
Recommendation: That governments ban the advertising and promotion of high-calorie, nutrient poor foods to children 13 years of age or younger.
Food advertisements often include claims as to the product’s nutrition content and health benefits. Unfortunately, such advertising may be misleading; a product labelled “lower fat” may
still have a relatively high fat content, or contain high levels of other potentially unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and sodium. In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way to provide health information to consumers. Therefore, CMA believes that the federal government should review and regulate the health claims that manufacturers can make for their products, to ensure that these claims are based on the best available scientific evidence and that they are accurately communicated to consumers.
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada set rigorous standards for the advertising of health claims for food, and strengthen provisions against deceptive advertising in the Food and Drug Act.
iii) Enhancing Nutrition Labelling
Governments at all levels, as well as health organizations, currently provide a variety of programs, educational materials and guidelines to the public. The CMA encourages these initiatives and encourages all levels of government to continue to make overweight and obesity a public health education priority.
Food labels are an important means of health education, providing guidance to shoppers at the point of purchase to help them inform their food choices. Health Canada has made important contributions to public education, through a number of programs including its “Nutrition Facts” package labels. The labels are continually being revised and updated, as research reveals new information about nutrition and about effective means of conveying health messages to the public. As part of its revision process, CMA believes that Health Canada should consider enhancing health messages on the front as well as the back of food packages.
Recommendation: that the Government of Canada implement, and set rigorous standards for, front-of-package food labelling.
The CMA encourages the federal government to build upon the current package labelling system, making labels as user-friendly as possible and helping Canadians to interpret the information they provide. Colour-coded, brief-summary labels, such as the “red-light, green-light” system used in Britain, are intended to provide consumers with an “at a glance” assessment of a food’s nutritional value. While the system has its critics, it has the benefit of being easy to notice and interpret. The CMA has also recommended that food packages and retail displays contain warnings about the health risks associated with an excessive consumption of calorie-high, nutrient poor food and beverages.
b) Information and Support for Physicians and other Health Professionals
For many patients, obesity is a lifelong condition which, like other chronic health conditions, can be managed medically but rarely fully cured. Increasingly, it is being recognized that effective obesity management requires more than short-term weight loss diets; it involves identifying and addressing both the root causes of a patient’s weight gain (physical, psychological or socio-economic) and the barriers the patient experiences in maintaining healthy weight. 12 According to the Canadian Obesity Network, primary care interventions should be evaluated not by how many pounds the patient loses but by improvements in the patient’s health and well-being.
12 Canadian Obesity Network: 5As Guiding Principles. Accessed at http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/5As_core_principles
13 “Weight loss surgeries leap in Canada, study says.” CBC News, May 22, 2014. Accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/weight-loss-surgeries-leap-in-canada-study-says-1.2651066
Physicians, working with dietitians, nurses, physiotherapists, mental health care providers and other health professionals, have an important role in providing care and support to people who are trying to maintain a healthy weight. Physicians can provide nutrition advice to patients as part of the routine medical examination. In addition, since primary care physicians are generally the patient’s first point of contact with the health care system, they often see patients at “teachable moments” when, because of an associated health condition such as diabetes, they are motivated to change unhealthy behaviours. Physicians can also provide patients with resources to help them live healthy lives. For instance, in British Columbia, physicians are prescribing exercise on specially-designed prescription pads, distributing free pedometers, and hosting free walking events for their patients and the public. In the Edmonton area, Primary Care Networks are prescribing free access passes or a free month of access at local municipal recreation facilities.
The tertiary health care sector also has an important role to play in addressing obesity, since there is a growing number of severely obese patients who are at high risk of serious health problems and may require specialized treatment, possibly bariatric surgery. According to a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of bariatric surgeries performed in Canada has jumped four-fold since 2006-07. The study notes that though the health care system has made great strides in meeting the demand,13 access to bariatric surgery varies from one region of Canada to another. Governments have an important role to play in ensuring equitable access to bariatric surgery for patients for whom it is clinically indicated.
Recommendation: That the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and with researchers, medical educators and others to continually develop and disseminate up-to-date, evidence-based clinical knowledge and
practice tools, to help physicians and other health professionals manage overweight and obesity in their patients.
Clinical guidelines, based on the best current scientific evidence, are available to help health professionals work with their patients to achieve and maintain healthy weights. The Canadian Obesity Network has developed a “5As of Obesity Management” program for primary care. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care also develops and frequently updates recommendations for primary caregivers on how to manage overweight and obesity in practice. The Task Force’s most recent recommendations were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal early in 2015. Clinical practice guidelines should be distributed widely and continually updated, and governments could play an important role in supporting the revision and dissemination process.
Thanks to ongoing research our knowledge of the extent and causes of obesity, and the effectiveness of existing programs in addressing it, is continually growing and developing. CMA encourages an ongoing commitment to research, and believes that the Government of Canada has an important role to play in supporting it. Results of this research should be communicated to health professionals and the public as quickly and widely as possible, so that it can be rapidly incorporated into clinical practice.
Recommendation: That the federal government support, and help to disseminate, evidence-based research on obesity in Canada and on the evaluation of strategies to address it.
Obesity and overweight are serious health problems in Canada, and as such are of great concern to the country’s physicians and to the Canadian Medical Association. The causes, CMA believes, are rooted mainly in changes in our environment and their effect on our eating and physical activity habits. The consequences are extremely serious, both for individual Canadians’ health and for the sustainability of Canada’s health care system.
CMA believes that the way forward requires a number of different interventions, on many levels. These should include providing and continually updating research and practice information for health professionals; and implementing policies that support Canadians as they pursue the goal of maintaining healthy weights.
Once again, CMA commends the Senate of Canada on conducting this study. We hope it will help encourage productive and meaningful change in the way Canadians view obesity, and assist in creating a social environment that supports healthy eating and healthy weight.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.