The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. In fulfillment of this mission, the CMA’s role is focused on national, pan-Canadian health advocacy and policy priorities.
As detailed in this brief, the CMA is gravely concerned that by capturing group medical structures in the application of Section 44 of Bill C-29, the federal government will inadvertently negatively affect medical research, medical training and education as well as access to care.
To ensure that the unintended consequences of this federal tax policy change do not occur, the CMA is strongly recommending that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction in Section 44 of Bill C-29.
Relevance of the Canadian Controlled Private Corporation Framework to Medical Practice
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country’s knowledge economy. Due to the design of Canada’s health care system, a large majority of physicians – more than 90% – are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners.
As self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits, although they are responsible for these benefits for their employees. Access to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework and the Small Business Deduction (SBD) are integral to managing a medical practice in Canada. It is imperative to recognize that physicians cannot pass on any increased costs, such as changes to CCPC framework and access to the SBD, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
In light of the unique business perspectives of medical practice, the CMA strongly welcomed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to maintain the existing small business framework and the subsequent federal recognition in the 2016 budget of the value that health care professionals deliver to communities across Canada as small business operators. Contrary to this recognition, the 2016 budget also introduced a proposal to alter eligibility to the small business deduction that will impact physicians incorporated in group medical structures.
What’s at risk: Contribution of group medical structures to health care delivery
The CMA estimates that approximately 10,000 to 15,000 physicians will be affected by this federal taxation proposal. If implemented, this federal taxation measure will negatively affect group medical structures in communities across Canada. By capturing group medical structures, this proposal also introduces an inequity amongst incorporated physicians, and incentivizes solo practice, which counters provincial and territorial health delivery priorities.
Group medical structures are prevalent within academic health science centres and amongst certain specialties, notably oncology, anaesthesiology, radiology, and cardiology. Specialist care has become increasingly sub-specialized. For many specialties, it is now standard practice for this care to be provided by teams composed of numerous specialists, sub-specialists and allied health care providers. Team-based care is essential for educating and training medical students and residents in teaching hospitals, and for conducting medical research.
Put simply, group medical structures have not been formed for taxation or commercial purposes. Rather, group medical structures were formed to deliver provincial and territorial health priorities, primarily in the academic health setting, such as teaching, medical research as well as optimizing the delivery of patient care. Over many years, and even decades, provincial and territorial governments have been supporting and encouraging the delivery of care through team-based models.
To be clear, group medical structures were formed to meet health sector priorities; they were not formed for business purposes. It is equally important to recognize that group medical structures differ in purpose and function from similar corporate or partnership structures seen in other professions. Unlike most other professionals, physicians do not form these structures for the purpose of enhancing their ability to earn profit.
It is critical that the federal government acknowledge that altering eligibility to the small business deduction will have more significant taxation implication than simply the 4.5% difference in the small business versus general rate at the federal level. It would be disingenuous to argue that removing full access to the small business deduction for incorporated physicians in group medical structures will be a minor taxation increase. As demonstrated below in Table 1, the effect of this federal taxation change will vary by province.
Table 1: Taxation impacts by province, if the federal taxation proposal is implemented
In Nova Scotia, for example, approximately 60% of specialist physicians practice in group medical structures. If the federal government applies this taxation proposal to group medical structures, these physicians will face an immediate 17.5% increase in taxation. In doing so, the federal government will establish a strong incentive for these physicians to move away from team-based practice to solo practice. If this comes to pass, the federal government may be responsible for triggering a reorganization of medical practice in Nova Scotia.
Finance Canada Grossly Underestimating the Net Impact
The CMA is aware that Finance Canada has developed theoretical scenarios that demonstrate a minimal impact to incorporated physicians within group medical structures. Working closely with our subsidiary, MD Financial Management, the CMA submitted real financial scenarios from real financial information provided to the CMA from incorporated physicians in group medical structures. These real examples demonstrate that there will be a significant impact to incorporated physicians in group medical structures, if this federal tax proposal will apply to them.
The theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada conclude the net financial impact to an incorporated physician in a group medical structure would be in the magnitude of hundreds of dollars. In stark contrast to the theoretical scenarios developed by Finance Canada, the CMA submitted financial scenarios of two incorporated physicians in group medical structures. The financial calculations undertaken by the CMA is based on the real financial information of these two physicians. The examples revealed yearly net reduction of funds of $32,510 and $18,065 for each of these physicians respectively.
Projecting forward, for the first physician, this would represent a negative impact of $402,330 based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return1. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $39.4 million.2
1 Source: MD Financial Management
2 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
3 Source: MD Financial Management
4 Please note that these projections have not been adjusted for the inherent tax liability on the growth.
For the second physician, projecting forward, this would represent a negative impact of $223,565, based on a 20-year timeframe and 4.8% rate of return3. Extending the same assumptions to all incorporated members of that physician’s group medical structure, the long-term impact for the group would be $13.4 million.4
Unprecedented Level of Concern Expressed by Physicians
Following the publication of the 2016 federal budget, the CMA received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership expressing deep concern with the proposal to alter access to the small business deduction for group medical structures. The level of correspondence from our membership is quite simply unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
As part of the CMA’s due diligence as the national professional organization representing physicians, we informed our membership of Finance Canada’s consultation process on the draft legislative measures. In response, the CMA was copied on submissions by over 1,300 physicians to Finance Canada’s pre-legislative consultation.
In follow up, the CMA surveyed these physicians to better understand the impacts of the budget proposal. Here’s what we heard:
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group structure would dissolve;
. Most respondents (54%) said they would stop practicing in their group structure and that other partners would leave (76%);
. A large majority (78%) indicated that the tax proposal would lead to reduced investments in medical research by their group;
. Almost 70% indicated that the tax proposal would limit their ability to provide medical training spots; and,
. Another 70% indicated that the tax proposal will mean reduced specialty care by their group.
The full summary of the survey is provided as an appendix to this brief.
To further illustrate the risks of this proposal to health care, below are excerpts from some of the communiques received by the CMA from its membership:
. “Our Partnership was formed in the 1970s…The mission of the Partnership is to achieve excellence in patient care, education and research activities….there would be a serious adverse effect on retention and recruitment if members do not have access to the full small business deduction…The changes will likely result in pressure to dissolve the partnership and revert to the era of departments services by independent contractors with competing individual financial interests.” Submitted to the CMA April 15, 2016 from a member of the Anesthesia Associates of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus
. “The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is an academic health care institution dedicated to patient care, research and medical education…To support what we call our “academic mission,” cardiologists at the institute have formed an academic partnership…If these [taxation] changes go forward they will crippled the ability of groups such as ours to continue to function and will have a dramatic negative impact on medical education, innovative health care research, and the provision of high-quality patient care to our sickest patients.” Submitted to the CMA April 19, 2016 from a member of the Associates in Cardiology
. “We are a general partnership consisting of 93 partners all of whom are academic anesthesiologists with appointments to the Faculty of the University of Toronto and with clinical appointments at the University Health Network, Sinai Health System or Women’s College Hospital…In contrast to traditional business partnerships, we glean no business advantage whatsoever from being in a partnership…the proposed legislation in Budget 2016 seems unfair in that it will add another financial hardship to our partners – in our view, this is a regressive tax on research, teaching and innovation.” Submitted to the CMA April 14, 2016 from members of the UHN-MSH Anesthesia Associates
The CMA recommends that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction, as proposed in Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2.
Below is a proposed legislative amendment to ensure group medical structures are exempted from Section 44 of Bill C-29, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 2:
Section 125 of the Act is amended by adding the following after proposed subsection 125(9):
125(10) Interpretation of designated member – [group medical partnership] – For purposes of this section, in determining whether a Canadian-controlled private corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician is a designated member of a particular partnership in a taxation year, the term "particular partnership" shall not include any partnership that is a group medical partnership.
125(11) Interpretation of specified corporate income – [group medical corporation] – For purposes of this section, in determining the specified corporate income for a taxation year of a corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician, the term "private corporation" shall not include a group medical corporation.
Subsection 125(7) of the Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:
"group medical partnership" means a partnership that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice;
"group medical corporation" means a corporation that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice.
"medical practice" means any practice and authorized acts of a physician as defined in provincial or territorial legislation or regulations and any activities in relation to, or incidental to, such practice and authorized acts;
"physician" means a health care practitioner duly licensed with a provincial or territorial medical regulatory authority and actively engaged in practice;
Incorporation Survey, October 2016
*Totals may exceed 100% as respondents were allowed to select more than one response
% Distribution by Province of Practice
Academic health sciences centre
Private office / clinic
Emergency department (in community hospital or AHSC)
Community clinic/Community health centre
Non-AHSC teaching hospital
Free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic
Free-standing walk-in clinic
Nursing home/ Long term care facility / Seniors' residence
Administrative office / Corporate office
% Distribution by Work Setting
Most frequently mentioned hospitals where respondents work in group medical structures
Group medical structure will dissolve
Stop practice in your group medical structure
Partnering members leave the group medical
Reduced investments in medical research
Reduced medical training spots
Reduced provision of specialized care
Physicians perceptions about the likelihood of the following outcomes
Likely or very likely
Unlikely or very unlikely
The federal government is advancing a tax proposal that will alter access to the small business deduction. If implemented, this proposal will affect incorporated physicians practicing in partnership group medical structures. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is actively advocating for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the application of this tax proposal.
Importance of Exempting Group Medical Structures from the Tax Proposal
Important or very important
Unimportant or very unimportant
To support the effectiveness of its advocacy efforts, the CMA conducted an online survey seeking input from members who had voiced their concerns about this issue directly with the Department of Finance and who had copied the CMA on their submissions.
Sample: physician type, province, and work setting
The survey was sent to 1089 CMA members, of which 174 responded (15.9% response rate). All sample respondents were incorporated and practiced in a group medical structure; 26% were family physicians (N=45) and 74% were specialists (N=129). Most respondents indicated practicing primarily in Ontario (65%) and Alberta (13%).
With respect to practice settings, the majority reported working in an academic health sciences centre (65%), followed by a private office/clinic (28%), university (22%), community hospital (15%), emergency department (9%), community clinic/community
health centre (8%), non-AHSC teaching hospital (8%), research unit (6%), and free-standing lab/diagnostic clinic (6%).
In total, respondents worked in 79 hospitals spread around 36 cities.
Likelihood of outcomes resulting from the federal tax proposal
When asked about the possible consequences of the proposed changes, the largest share of respondents (78%) felt a reduction in investments in medical research was likely or very likely. Almost as many (76%) also felt that partnering members would likely leave the group medical structure.
. Most respondents (61%) indicated that their group medical structure would be likely or very likely to dissolve if the federal tax proposal to change access to the small business deduction was implemented. Less than one-third (30%) felt unsure while only a few (9%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than half of respondents (54%) indicated that they would be likely or very likely to stop practicing in their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. More than one-third (36%) were unsure while only a few (10%) reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. More than three-quarters of respondents (76%) indicated that other partnering members would be likely or very likely to leave their group medical structure if the tax proposal was implemented. About 20% remained unsure while only 5% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 8 in 10 respondents (78%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce investments in medical research for their group medical structure. 16% remained unsure while 6% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Approximately two-thirds of respondents (67%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce the ability of the group medical structure to provide medical training spots. About a quarter (23%) remained unsure and 1 in 10 reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
. Almost 7 in 10 respondents (68%) indicated that implementing the tax proposal would be likely or very likely to reduce provision of specialized care by their group medical structure. Almost a quarter (24%) remained unsure while 8% reported it as unlikely or very unlikely.
Importance of exempting group medical structures from the tax proposal
More than 9 in 10 respondents (94%) felt that it is important or very important for the federal government to exempt group medical structures from the tax proposal to avoid negatively affecting health care delivery in their province. The remaining respondents were unsure (2%) or considered it unimportant or very unimportant (4%).
Other Impacts – Write-in Question
Before submitting the survey, respondents were given the chance to provide additional comments about other potential impacts that the proposed changes might produce. Most responses touched upon a few and inter-related themes, including:
1. Impact on education and research will be detrimental and will eventually affect patient care:
o “Without the group medical structure, we cannot adequately support teaching education and research activities. Physicians in academic health sciences centres will be forced to use their time to see patients, in order to bill fee-for-service to make a living. Very little time will be left over to
spend doing the research that is critical to advancing medical science, to supporting our university, and our nation’s prominent place in the world of medicine”
o “Support is given to the academic health sciences centres by the provincial government in order to facilitate research and education. The federal government's changes will penalize physicians who already dedicate much of their time to providing the stepping stones to advance medicine forward. These physicians generally make less income than physicians working in private practice. They are willing to take this monetary hit because they love what they do. However we all need to support our families and put food on the table. With the government's changes, this may not be possible in the current system, and these group medical structures will need to be dissolved and the physicians working will have much less time to dedicate to research and education.”
o “Less education, research activity to focus on fee-for-service procedures to compensate for higher taxes.”
o Our ability to provide teaching for medical education and research, which are currently not remunerated, would be curtailed. There would be no incentive but rather a significant disincentive to provide these activities because we would be financially penalized compared to physicians in the same specialty that are not in group medical structures.”
o “As the main teaching practice structure, we will lose full time faculty who provide the backbone to the program. They currently earn much below the average for Family Physicians in the province and our ability to support education and research will be compromised.”
2. Discourages practice in academic centres:
o “Working in an academic center as a general pediatrician means that we already make substantially less money than our community colleagues. There is very little incentive to remain in academic practice if we not only earn less, but are then not entitled to the same tax savings. I would leave academic practice and I suspect many of my colleagues would as well. I think we could see the end of the current group medical structure, as it would no longer support a financially viable model for academic practice.”
o “Creates a further divide between working in an academic centre and in the community. It will continue to be more advantageous to work in a smaller community - more money, less cost of living, less administrative and academic hassles, less research funding. Why bother working at an academic centre with such disadvantages.”
o “This policy seems to target academic physicians in groups disproportionately. These physicians currently support research and education by reallocating our own funds generated from clinical care. It is puzzling as to why the Federal Government is waging this war on the academic physician workforce.”
3. Physician retention and recruitment will be challenging:
o “I will retire sooner than otherwise.”
o “At the present time it is very difficult to recruit family doctors who are interested in teaching, research and administration of academic family medicine. This tax change will make it increasingly more difficult to recruit such individuals.”
o “I'm concerned that the proposed changes erase any benefits from a corporation structure and leave me with a loss. Work is so stressful and demanding that if I find myself in a disadvantaged situation financially as well, this would be another factor encouraging me either to retire or move outside of Canada. If I'm going to be faced with losses and more stress, why not instead focus on my quality of life instead?”
o “It would severely restrict our ability to recruit research and specialty physicians. We would not be able to compete with community centres and would see a dramatic decline in our ability to provide for teaching and research activities now funded through the group structure.”
o “I am a dual citizen and would seriously entertain moving to the USA.”
o “It will basically force me to go to a free standing walk in clinic.”
o “It would be less likely to recruit the best quality of medical staff to academic practice as there will be a significant financial disincentive, especially compared to what that same individual could earn on their own
in a community practice. This is on top of the fact that academic practitioners tend to earn less to start with.”
4. Discourages team-based collaborative care:
o “The bill sets up an unfair system where it is more attractive to be a solo MD rather than to collaborate and be part of a team.”
o “This creates an every person for themselves philosophy.”
o “The provision of our group services is required to ensure best patient care. It is wrong to penalize this model of comprehensive care.”
5. Practice will close and services will be limited in certain areas:
o “Any reduction in research, administration, academic activity, and members would affect patient care at our facility and therefore be a threat to patient safety. e.g., if multiple physicians leave, then we won't have enough physicians to cover the emergency department appropriately, wait times will increase, and serious patient safety concerns will arise.”
o “Reduces productivity of the doctors concerned and hence quality of service provided. Access will also be affected!”
o This would be unattractive for some, and they may leave (or others may not join.) If partners leave, the overhead will go up and we would likely close. Because our overhead is already borderline unacceptable. Shared between fewer docs would make it economically impossible. And this could easily happen if docs leave.
o “Reduced physician coverage if members opt out of group medical structure, which would have an impact on greater access and the quality of care.”
o “Our ability to have a large interdisciplinary team to assist in serving our patients could not continue to exist. Our ability to continue to provide 24/7 on-call and after hours clinics would decrease due to a change in the structure leading to less practitioners.”
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) commends the federal government for its clear and open process, and for encouraging a dialogue in areas of tax policy and economics. Canadians from all walks of life look to the government for strong and constructive leadership in this area. The CMA therefore appreciates the opportunity to present its views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance as it considers Bill C-70 "An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the Income Tax Act, the Debt Servicing and Reduction Account Act and related Acts."
The CMA has appeared before the Committee on several occasions when it has considered matters pertaining to federal tax policy in Canada. In addition to our submissions, as part of the government's pre-budget consultation process, the CMA appeared before the Committee when it examined a number of tax policy alternatives to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 1994. 1
At that time, the CMA clearly articulated the medical profession's concerns about the need to implement a federal sales tax system that is simplified, fair and equitable for all. The CMA remains strongly committed to the principles that underpin an efficient and effective sales tax system. However, it is of the strong view that there is, on the one hand, a need to review the relationship between sales tax policy and health care policy in Canada, and between the sales tax policy and the physicians as providers of services, on the other.
Canada's health care system is a defining characteristic of what makes Canada special. It is no secret that funding for the health care system is under stress and all providers, including physicians, are being asked to shoulder their responsibility in controlling costs and responding to this fiscal challenge. However, physicians have had their costs of providing medical services increased by the federal government through the introduction of the GST.
Specifically, the introduction of the GST as it applies to physicians serves as a constant reminder that there still remain some tax policy anomalies - that, without amendment, their consequences will be significantly magnified with the introduction of a proposed harmonized sales tax (HST) on April 1, 1997, as was the case with the introduction of the Quebec Sales Tax (QST) on July 1, 1992.
The tax anomaly is a result of the current categorization of medical services as "tax exempt" under the Excise Tax Act. As a consequence, physicians are, on the one hand, in the unenviable position of being denied the ability to claim a GST tax refund (that is, denied the ability to claim input tax credits - ITCs), on the medical supplies (such as medical equipment, medical supplies, rent, utilities) necessary to deliver quality health care, and on the other, cannot pass the tax onto those who purchase such services (i.e., the provincial and territorial governments). Physicians, from coast to coast, are understandably angry that they have been singled out for unfair treatment under the GST, QST and the soon to be implemented HST.
The GST was designed to be a " consumer-based tax" where the tax charged for purchases during the "production process" would be refunded - with the consumer, not producer of a good or a service, bearing the full burden of the tax. As a result, self-employed individuals and small businesses are eligible to claim a tax refund of the GST from the federal government on purchases that are required in most commercial activities. It is important to understand that those who can claim a tax refund under the GST in most commercial activities will still be able to do so with the proposed introduction of a harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada. The rate is proposed to be set at 15% (7% federal tax, 8% provincial tax).
In the case of medical services, the consumer (i.e., the one who purchases such services) is almost always the provincial and territorial governments. Since the provincial and territorial governments do not pay GST (due to their Constitutional exemption), one would have expected the cost of providing medical services to be free of GST. However, this is not the case. It is difficult to reconcile federal health care policies to preserve and protect publicly funded health care with tax policy which singles out and taxes the costs of medical services.
Regrettably, physicians find themselves in an untenable situation of "double jeopardy". This is patently unfair and on the basis of the fundamental principles of administering a fair and equitable tax system should be amended accordingly.
In an effort to document the impact of the federal government's decision to designate medical services as tax exempt, an independent study by the accounting firm KPMG estimated that physicians' costs increased by $60 million of GST per year. 2 Since 1991, this total is now in excess of $360 million.
The recent agreement between the federal government and Atlantic provinces (except Prince Edward Island) to harmonize their sales taxes will make matters significantly worse for physicians as the HST broadens the provincial tax base to essentially that of the GST in those provinces. With no ability to claim a tax refund on the GST they currently pay (and the proposed HST effective April 1, 1997), physicians once again will have to absorb the additional costs associated with the practice of medicine.
In assessing the impact of the proposed HST, KPMG has estimated that physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland will be out-of-pocket an additional $4.7 million each year because they are not eligible for a tax refund for their purchases. 3
The medical profession, is not looking for special treatment. What we are asking for is to be treated no differently than other self-employed Canadians and small businesses who have the opportunity to claim ITCs, and to be placed on the same footing with other health care providers who have the ability to recoup GST costs.
Physicians, as self-employed individuals are considered small businesses for tax purposes, therefore, it seems entirely reasonable that they should have the same tax rules that apply to other small businesses. This is a question of fundamental fairness.
III. POLICY CONTEXT
Prior to the introduction of the GST, the federal sales tax (FST) was included in the price of most goods (not services) that were produced in, or imported to, Canada. Therefore, when goods were purchased by consumers, the FST was built into the price. At that time, physicians, and other self-employed Canadians and small businesses, were essentially on a level sales tax playing field. Since 1991, however, the introduction of the GST has tilted the table against physicians.
Unless this situation is rectified, with the introduction of the HST, physicians in Atlantic Canada will join those in Quebec who experience additional costs due to the GST and their provincial sales tax using the same rules.
(i). The Impact of the GST on Good Tax Policy and Good Health Care Policy
When it reviews Bill C-70, the Standing Committee on Finance should look for opportunities where tax policy and health care policy go hand-in-hand. The principle of aligning good health policy with sound tax policy is critical to managing change while serving to lay down a strong foundation for future growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the current GST policy introduces a series of distortions that have tax policy and health policy working against one another. Tax policies that do not reinforce health policy are bad tax policies. Consider, for example:
1. Under the current system, hospitals (under the "MUSH" formula - Municipalities, Universities, Schools and Hospitals) have been afforded an 83% rebate on GST paid for purchases made while physicians must absorb the full GST cost on their supplies. At a time when health policy initiatives across Canada are attempting to expand community-based practices, the current GST policy (and now harmonized sales tax policy) which taxes supplies in a private clinic setting while rebating much of the tax in a hospital setting acts to discourage the shift in emphasis;
2. Prescription drugs are zero-rated. The objective was to ensure that pharmaceutical firms are no worse off than under the previous federal sales tax regime. Recognizing that medical services can play an equally important role as drugs, it appears inconsistent that the government would choose to have drugs as tax free, and medical services absorbing GST;
3. In the current fiscal climate, the current GST policy, and now the proposed harmonized sales tax in Atlantic Canada, is threatening to harm the important role when it comes to recruitment and retention of physicians across Canada, and in particular, the Atlantic provinces - where they are already experiencing difficulty; and,
4. It is estimated that the 55,000 physicians employ up to 100,000 Canadians. Physicians play an important role in job creation. The disproportionate effects of the GST policy could have an adverse effect on the number of individuals employed by physicians.
With these issues at hand, it is apparent that good tax policy and good health policy are themselves not synchronized and are working at cross purposes. At this point, when the Standing Committee is reviewing Bill C-70, it is the time to address this situation based on the fundamental principle of fairness in the tax system, while ensuring that good tax policy reinforces good health care policy.
(ii). Not All Health Care Services Are Created Equal under the GST/HST
Physicians are not the only group of health care providers whose services are placed under the category of "tax exempt", with the result that they incur increased GST costs. For example, the services of dentists, nurses, physiotherapists, psychologists and chiropractors are categorized as "tax exempt".
However, there is an important distinction between whether the services are government funded or not. Health care providers who deliver services privately and which are not publicly funded do have the opportunity to pass along the GST in their costs through their fee structures.
For these services that are government funded there are no opportunities for physicians to recover the tax paid for purchases unless a specific rebate has been provided (e.g., hospitals). To date, in negotiations with the medical profession, no provincial/territorial government has agreed to provide funding to reflect the additional costs associated with the introduction of the GST. Their position has been that this is a "federal" matter. This becomes important when one considers that under the Canadian Constitution one level of government cannot tax another, and the provincial governments are not prepared to absorb the cost of the GST.
It is critical to point out that since doctors receive 99% of their professional earnings from the government health insurance plans, 4 they have absolutely no other option when it comes to recovering the GST - they must absorb it!
In summary, while a number of health care services are categorized as tax exempt, it must be emphasized that some providers "are more equal than others" under the GST - contrary to other health care providers, physicians do not have the ability to claim ITCs. This distinction becomes readily apparent when one considers the sources of (private and/or public) funding for such services.
IV. THE SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION
Like many others in Canadian society, physicians work hard to provide quality health care to their patients within what is almost exclusively a publicly-financed system for medical services. Physicians are no different from Canadians in that they, too, are consumers (and purchasers).
As consumers, physicians pay their fair share of taxes to support the wide range of valued government services. By the same token, as providers of health care, physicians have not accepted, nor should they accept, a perpetuation of the fundamental injustices built into the current GST, QST and proposed HST arrangements.
To date, the CMA has made representations to two Ministers of Finance and their Department Officials. We have discussed several ways to address a situation that is not sustainable, with no resolution to date. We look to this Committee and the federal government for a fair solution to this unresolved issue.
This unfair and discriminatory situation can be resolved. There is a solution that can serve to reinforce good economic policy with good health care policy in Canada. An amendment to the Excise Tax Act, the legislation which governs the GST (and proposed HST) can make an unfair situation fair to all Canadian physicians.
In its recent submission to the Standing Committee as part of the 1997 pre-budget consultation process, the CMA recommended "that medical services be zero-rated, in order to achieve a fair and equitable GST policy for physicians." In order to achieve this objective all health care services, including medical services, funded by the provinces could be zero-rated.
This recommendation serves to place physicians on a level playing field with other self-employed Canadians and small businesses. In addition, from a health care perspective, this would treat medical services in the same manner as that of prescription drugs. This is a reasonable proposition, as in many instances, medical treatments and drug regimens go hand-in-hand.
Furthermore, this recommendation would ensure that medical services under the GST and proposed HST would be no worse off than other goods or services that provincial governments' purchase and where suppliers can claim a tax refund (i.e., ITCs).
While the recommendation is an important statement in principle of what is required to address the current inequities under the GST, and soon to be HST, the CMA offers a more specific recommendation to the Standing Committee as to how the principles can be operationalized within the context of Bill C-70 and the Excise Tax Act.
The CMA respectfully recommends the following:
1. "THAT HEALTH CARE SERVICES FUNDED BY THE PROVINCES BE ZERO-RATED."
CMA has been advised that this would be accomplished by amending Bill C-70 as follows:
(1). Section 5 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is replaced by the following:
5. "A supply (other than a zero-rated supply) made by a medical practitioner of a consultative, diagnostic, treatment or other health care service rendered to an individual (other than a surgical or dental service that is performed for cosmetic purposes and not for medical or reconstructive purposes)."
(2). Section 9 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act is repealed.
(3). Part II of Schedule VI to the Excise Tax Act is amended by adding the following after section 40:
41. A supply of any property or service but only if, and to the extent that, the consideration for the supply is payable or reimbursed by the government under a plan established under an Act of the legislature of the province to provide for health care services for all insured persons of the province.
By adopting the recommendation above, the federal government would fulfil, at least two over-arching policy objectives, they are:
1. Strengthening the relationship between good economic policy and good health policy in Canada; and,
2. Applying the fundamental principles that underpin our taxation system (fairness, efficiency, effectiveness), in all cases.
1 the Goods and Services Tax: Fairness for Physicians, Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Ottawa, Ontario, March 15, 1994. The Canadian Medical Association.
2 Review of the Impact of the Goods and Services Tax on Canadian Physicians, KPMG, June, 1992.
3 Review of the Impact of a Provincial Value Added Tax on Physicians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, KPMG, August, 1996.
4 National Health Expenditures, 1975-1994, Health Canada, January 1996.
Millions of Canadians are planning for their retirement relying on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and private pension plans, either as their only future retirement income or to supplement the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP). Approximately 5 million contribute to RRSPs. Another 3.7 million participate in registered pension plans (RPPs). Some are independent business people, others work in family businesses. Some are self-employed or work for organizations that have opted for RRSPs instead of RPPs. Our Alliance is representative of this Canadian diversity.
The objective of the Alliance is to maintain the current provisions of the Income Tax Act (the Act) and Income Tax Regulations (the Regulations) governing retirement savings. The current system is fundamentally good for the economy of Canada, and any changes made for short term deficit reduction will ultimately harm the economy in general and small and medium-sized business, in particular. Research shows that RRSPs are an important tool for small business retirement planning. Only in recent years have limits been adjusted to bring similar protection to those afforded under RPPs.
We have only just started to achieve a measure of equitable treatment for the retirement savings of the self-employed and employees not protected by employer pension plans. The current system provides for the harmonization of all tax-assisted retirement savings arrangements, which will only be achieved when the limits on money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs) attain the equivalent limits already set for defined-benefit arrangements, such as employer pension plans.
Changes to RRSPs alone will discriminate against the self-employed and against employees without employer pension plans. These Canadians form the majority of the workforce now and in the future.
Arguments in favour of changes to the current system are based on two assumptions: firstly, that Canadians are saving sufficient income for their retirement and will continue to do so regardless of tax increases; and secondly, that the cost to the Government in lost tax revenues is enormous. Neither of these assumptions is valid.
The fiscal theory underlying retirement savings is decades old. Contributions to registered plans are deductible and all earnings are exempt from tax until benefits are paid out from those plans. In essence the retirement savings system consists of a deferral of tax on contributions and earnings.
The pension tax reform of 1989-1990 does not change the underlying fiscal theory. It aims to achieve equity between the employed and the self-employed and between defined benefit arrangements and money-purchase arrangements (including RRSPs).
That equity was achieved by phasing in a higher contribution limit for money-purchase arrangements so that they could, in the future, provide a retirement income comparable to that furnished by a defined benefit arrangement. This objective of achieving equivalence permeates the Act and the Regulations and has resulted in a substantial and continuing realignment of retirement savings arrangements in Canada. That realignment, with its attendant compliance costs, borne by employers and employees, was based on the acceptance of the premises behind pension tax reform, which acceptance Canadians have demonstrated.
This realignment had a gestation period of over 5 years. 1 From the 1984 federal budget, which sought complete equity but with massive compliance costs, to the 1985 federal budget, which sought lesser compliance costs but with diminished equity, there issued pension tax reform, which yields substantial equity with substantial compliance costs.
The Auditor General, in his 1988 report, estimated that pension tax reform would necessitate $330 million in start-up costs and $15 million in annual reporting costs. The Department of Finance disagreed and estimated that start-up costs would be from $60 to $70 million and that the annual reporting costs would be between $10 and $15 million. The independent consultant's report, upon which the Auditor General's report was based, had said that the start-up costs would be $395 million.
Accordingly, Canadians have already borne many of the costs of retooling the retirement savings system and will continue to do so. Having paid those costs, surely Canadians are entitled to the measure of equity that the system promises.
There are disquieting rumours about possible changes to the current retirement savings system. As yet, the government has said little on this issue, other than to say that the retirement system is not inviolable.
The Alliance seeks to maintain the status quo. We should, therefore, deal with the principles that underlie the current system, and which continue to hold true: internal fairness and the accumulation of sufficient retirement income.
The current system was reformed to deliver internal fairness - if not quite yet, by 1996. It allows individuals to accumulate a pre-determined amount of private retirement savings. Taxpayers may, on a tax-assisted basis, earn a lifetime pension at the rate of $1,722 per year. In other words, an employee with 35 years of service may be entitled, on retirement, to an annual lifetime pension of $60,270. That level of tax assistance has been available to members of defined benefit plans since 1977. It has been frozen at that level since that time and will remain frozen until 1996.
The money purchase limits, including RRSP limits, have been phased in to eventually provide equivalent benefits. Accordingly, the annual RRSP limits, when fully instituted in 1996, will allow the self-employed to accumulate retirement savings equivalent to those of members of defined benefit plans.
Thus, one of the rationales underlying the current retirement savings structure is to eliminate the earlier discrimination against the self-employed. The self-employed will now be allowed to achieve retirement savings equivalent to those available to employees. RRSPs are not an isolated program under the Act, but rather an integral component of an indissoluble whole.
Accumulation of Sufficient Retirement Income
The limits set by pension tax reform are intended to provide a level of retirement income that will allow retired individuals to maintain their standard of living. It is generally felt that a retirement income equal to about 60-70 percent of pre-retirement income should not result in a marked change in one's standard of living.
Increasingly, it appears that individual taxpayers will need to rely more on private retirement savings and less on public programmes. It is important, therefore, that the tax system permit the accumulation of retirement savings sufficient to allow taxpayers to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.
Indeed, it does not appear possible for money-purchase arrangements to reach, in most cases, the replacement ratio of 60 to 70 percent. Consider the following example. 2 Let us consider two taxpayers earning $50,000 and $100,000 respectively, in 1993 who maximize their contributions to RRSPs. What replacement income ratio can these taxpayers attain?
Assume that the taxpayers are married and that the annuity to be purchased from the RRSP, at retirement, has the following characteristics: post-retirement indexation at 3% per annum with a spousal survivor benefit of two-thirds. 3 The results of this hypothetical are:
[TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY]
RRSP as a percentage of final year's salary at a 1993 salary of $50,000 ($100,000)
Savings Start Age
The above table indicates, for example, that a 35-year old earning $50,000 in 1993 can, at most, earn a pension from an RRSP equal to 48.8% of his final year's income, if his retirement commences at age 65. In other words, after 30 years of working and saving, that individual will have a retirement income of less than half of his pre-retirement income. This is below the income replacement threshold assumed by pension tax reform itself. For the taxpayer earning $100,000 in 1993, his RRSP pension will be 37.6% of this pre-retirement income.
The only individual who attains an adequate replacement ratio, on these assumptions, is the 25-year old who saves for 40 years. It follows that, although the pension tax system espouses equivalence with the defined benefit pension plan, it does not attain it in practice.
Inequities in the Current System
In the current North American context, the limits of Canadian tax assistance for retirement savings are not generous. The equivalent money purchase and defined benefit limits for the United States, for example, are more than twice as generous as the Canadian limits. In addition, the Canadian system does not provide for deferrals of salary, as does the United States system.
Furthermore, inequities exist in the provision of supplementary retirement benefits. Supplementary benefits are those in excess of the $60,270 benchmark pension discussed above. They also include benefits that the Regulations, and the Department of National Revenue, do not allow to be paid from a registered pension plan. Servants of the people, such as Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Legislatures, benefit from the privileged status of the payor of the pension, in that security of the pension promise is not an issue. Self-employed individuals and ordinary employees, on the other hand, must be concerned with the funding of their pension promise.
Requirement for Informed and Thoughtful Debate
In the early 1990s, annual contributions to RRSPs and RPPs exceeded $33 billion. Trusteed pensions, not including consolidated revenue fund plans, held $235 billion in assets at the end of 1992. The book value of the assets of such plans stood at $268 billion at the end of the first quarter of 1994. RRSP assets, not including self-directed plans, totalled $147 billion at the end of 1992.
In his discussion paper entitled Creating a Healthy Fiscal Climate: The Economic and Fiscal Update, released October 18, 1994, the Minister of Finance has indicated that the tax expenditure associated with all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Department of Finance should cast a covetous eye at the retirement savings system. We are concerned that a search for easy sources of revenue might prompt the government to change the existing rules in the Act governing retirement savings. It is submitted, however, that changes to the system, although fiscally attractive in the short term, would be detrimental to Canadian taxpayers in the long run.
Deficit reduction should not be the sole motivating factor for change to the retirement savings system. The existing complex web of rules governing retirement savings should only be touched if there are compelling reasons, unrelated to immediate deficit reduction, to effect change. This is particularly so given the recent and unfinished reform of retirement savings arrangements in this country.
It is clear that this debate has not yet begun and cannot be completed before the next federal budget. The prudent approach, therefore, is to defer any change to the retirement savings system until that debate has taken its course.
A Framework for the Debate
The following parameters should govern any consideration of the changes to the retirement savings system.
1. The Principle of Even-Handedness
It is clear that all components of the retirement savings structure are interrelated. As a result, it would be unfair to single out RRSPs for detrimental treatment. RRSP savings are no different from other forms of retirement savings.
2. A Tax Increase
According to a recent study of the Canada Tax Foundation, 3.7 million Canadians contributed to RPPs, and 4.8 million Canadians contributed to RRSPs, in the 1992 taxation year. 4 In that year, 69.7 percent of contributors to RPPs and 60.5 percent of contributors to RRSPs were in the middle income range ($25,000 to $60,000).
Obviously, the participation rate by Canadians in retirement savings arrangements is quite high. A change to the retirement savings regime, by limiting deductibility of contributions for example, would be viewed as a tax increase by users of these arrangements. Indeed, for those individuals, any negative change to the retirement savings arrangement will have the same effect as a tax increase.
3. Job Creation
The quest for deficit reduction should not obscure the important role that government can play in creating an environment conducive to increasing employment opportunities. As the government has previously stated, the bulk of job creation must come from small and medium-sized businesses. As a result, the current retirement savings regime, and in particular RRSP investments, should be viewed as an asset, and not a liability.
The ability to deduct savings for retirement has the effect of increasing aggregate private savings as a source of funds for capital investment. 5 Reducing the tax incentive for retirement savings could have the effect of reducing the amount of "pooled" capital funds that could be made available for entrepreneurial activities. It would also add to the cost of doing business in Canada and stifle future employment opportunities.
The rules in the Income Tax Act that permit RRSP contributors to put investments in small businesses are insufficient at present and must be strenghtened if the government wants to encourage job creation. Canada's Economic Challenges 6 shows that small business is playing an increasing role in the economy. Any reduction in the existing schedule of limits will hurt the ability of small business to create jobs.
Indeed, the government should consider measures to increase the access by small and medium businesses to the retirement savings capital pool. The latest report of the House of Commons Industry Committee makes the point well:
Ottawa should use tax incentives to help improve the competitiveness of the Canadian small business sector...One way the government can increase small business access to capital would be to permit owners, operators and other major shareholders to use funds from their registered retirement savings plans to buy equity in their business...that would increase the availability of such "love capital". 7
4. The Tax Expenditure Calculation
As indicated earlier, it is said that the tax expenditure for all retirement savings for 1991 was $14.9 billion. That number suggests that the Government of Canada bears a high cost for its retirement savings system. However, it is our view that the calculation of that cost is not correct, with the result that the number is inflated.
The Department of Finance's calculation of the tax expenditure cost is arrived at by adding the value of deductions associated with contributions and the value of the tax shelter on earnings. From that result is subtracted the revenue generated from withdrawals. For example, for the 1991 taxation year, the $14.9 billion number noted above is calculated as follows:
Tax expenditure (RRSP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $3.310 billion + $2.960 billion - .735 million
= $5.535 billion
Tax expenditure (RPP)
= value of deductions + value of tax shelter - taxes on withdrawals
= $4.460 billion + $8.950 billion - 4.030 billion
= $9.38 billion
Tax expenditure (RRSP + RPP) = $5.535 billion + $9.38 billion = $14.915 billion.
The Government of Canada has itself admitted that its calculation of tax expenditures is subjective. In the case of tax deferrals, it has further stated that:
Estimating the cost of tax deferrals presents a number of methodological difficulties since, even though the tax is not currently received, it may be collected at some point in the future. 8
The government has also specifically commented on tax expenditures associated with retirement savings:
It should be noted that the RRSP/RPP tax expenditure estimates do not reflect a mature system because contributions currently exceed withdrawals. Assuming a constant tax rate, if contributions equalled withdrawals, only the non-taxation of investment would contribute to the net tax expenditure. As time goes by and more retired individuals have had the opportunity to contribute to RRSPs throughout their lifetime, the gap between contributions and withdrawals will shrink and possibly even become negative. An upward bias in the current estimates can therefore be expected to decline. 9
The method used to calculate the tax expenditure costs associated with retirement savings is based on the "current cash-flow" model. In effect, the calculation takes a snapshot of a given year and does not take into account future income flows. As indicated above, the calculation adds the value in a year of tax deductions to the lost tax on earnings, and subtracts the tax generated from withdrawals.
We argue that that model is flawed. Current demographics show that the system is not yet mature since contributions will exceed withdrawals for some time.
Once the baby boom generation begins to retire, withdrawals will exceed contributions. Substantial revenues will be generated for the fisc, revenues necessary to support government programs of the day. The value of the tax on those withdrawals is totally ignored in the static model adopted by the Department of Finance.
Statistics Canada projects that the proportion of the Canadian population aged 70 and over will increase from 7.84% in 1991 to 10.6% in 2010. The numbers of such individuals will increase from 2.102 million in 1991, to 3.355 million in 2010, a 59.6 percent increase. Those individuals will be drawing pensions, both from RRSPs and RPPs. Those pensions will be taxed and will benefit the fisc.
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the calculation adopted by the Government greatly over-values the cost to the fisc. A US commentator has suggested that government also gains "additional corporate tax revenue on the extra capital stock that results from higher savings. The government's official revenue estimates ignore this increase in corporate tax receipts." 10
To restate the position, the tax expenditure calculation adopts a static approach, both by considering only the current year's cash flows and by ignoring any secondary effects of the retirement savings pool. Until the true cost of the retirement savings system can be ascertained, the current estimates cannot be relied upon to justify change to the tax rules governing retirement savings.
While the Alliance recognizes the need for the Government to get its fiscal house in order, with a particular emphasis on the expenditure side of the equation, a proper balance must be struck between short-term solutions and longer-term consequences.
One important consideration is the long-term pain that would result from Canadians having less financial flexibility to properly plan for their retirement. This long-term consequence must be measured against the short-term gain in revenues that would result from a freeze or reduction in the contributions to RRSPs and RPPs.
At a time when the Government is encouraging greater self-reliance in matters of finance, further limiting Canadians' ability to adequately plan for their retirement would serve to aggravate the public future dependence on government programs. Looking at current demographic trends, it is important to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to set aside necessary financial resources that will be drawn upon (and taxed) at the time of retirement. If the government is looking to become more efficient in its delivery of public sector programs, it should also ensure that the private sector is allowed sufficient flexibility to meet its needs. In this context, the current retirement savings plans should be considered an investment in the future and should not be tampered with or diminished.
I THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDER THE TOTAL COST OF THE RETIREMENT SAVINGS SYSTEM BEFORE MAKING ANY CHANGES TO THE INCOME TAX ACT.
II THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE EQUITY ESTABLISHED DURING PENSION REFORM NOT BE DISTURBED BY DISCRIMINATORY CHANGES AND THAT ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM SHOULD INVOLVE A PROCESS OF INFORMED AND THOUGHTFUL INQUIRY AND DEBATE.
III THE ALLIANCE RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOSTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BY TREATING RRSP CONTRIBUTIONS AS ASSETS RATHER THAN LIABILITIES AND BY EXPLORING THE REGULATORY CHANGES NECESSARY TO ENSURE INCREASED ACCESS TO SUCH FUNDS BY SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES.
1 Appendix A to this submission details the historical development of pension tax reform.
2 Taken from Sylvain Parent, FSA, FCIA, RRSP income replacement levels: a case study, 1993 Pension & Tax Reports; 4:93-94.
3 Further assumptions are as follows: rate of return is 7.5% per annum; yearly salary increases are 5.5% per annum; mortality is 80% of the average of the 1983 Group Annuity Mortality rates for males and females.
4 Perry, David B, Everyone's Tax Shelter At Risk, Canadian Tax Highlights, Volume 2, number 10, October 19, 1994; p. 75.
5 Andrews and Bradford, Savings Incentives in a Hybrid Income Tax, Studies of Government and Finance, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC; February, 1988.
6 Department of Finance, January, 1994, p. 30.
7 Special Report, The Public Sector, October 24, 1994.
8 Government of Canada, Personal and corporate income tax expenditures, December 1993, p.4.
9 Ibid., p.53.
10 Feldstein, Martin. The Effects of Tax-Based Incentives on Government Revenue and National Saving, NBER Working Paper #4021, March 1992. This position has been dismissed, out of hand and with no reasons, by two Canadian commentators: Ingerman, Sid and Rowley, Robin, Tax Losses and Retirement Savings, Canadian Business Economics, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1994, pp. 46-54.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors, representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in the country. With this brief, the CMA provides a portrait of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. A significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs).
Reflecting the significance of the CCPC framework to medical practice in Canada, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. However, the CMA has been concerned with some statements regarding the incorporation of professionals. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
Presented within this brief are the results of a survey undertaken by the CMA to explore physician incorporation. The survey was distributed to a sample of 25,000 physicians on Dec. 21, 2015 and closed on Jan. 8, 2016 with a response rate of 9%.
Among the key findings of the CMA's survey on incorporation was that more than 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they were incorporated and reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. Survey respondents confirmed that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary; where overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.
The results of the CMA's survey confirms that the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners and critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework. An important fact is that unlike other small business owners, physicians cannot pass on any increases in compliance or operating costs to patients, given the design of Canada's public health care system.
When asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework, a large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
This brief also highlights the policy imperative for extending incorporation to medical professionals. As captured in Ontario's 2000 budget document, it is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".1
Finally, the CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canada's doctors. The CMA is the voluntary professional organization representing more than 83,000 physicians across all regions in Canada and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and more than 60 national medical organizations. The CMA's mission is helping physicians care for patients.
The purpose of this brief is to provide an overview of medical practice as small businesses in Canada. As is discussed herein, a significant proportion of Canada's physicians are self-employed, small business owners, whose medical practices are incorporated as Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations (CCPCs). As such, the CMA strongly supports the federal government's commitment to reduce the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%, as outlined in the mandate letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.2
1) Most Physicians are Small Business Owners
Canada's physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada's health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents to the CMA's survey indicated that they were incorporated; 81% indicated that they were incorporated individually while 4% indicated they were incorporated in a group. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 60% of physicians are incorporated.3
Physician-owned and run medical practices ensure that Canadians are able to access the care they need, as close to their homes as possible. In doing so, Canadian physicians are directly and indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, and invest millions of dollars in local communities.
Respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation reported an average of 2 full-time employees in their professional corporation, including themselves. When part-time employees where included, this increased to an average of 3 employees. In operating their medical practices, Canada's physicians rent, lease or own office space and further contribute to local economies through municipal taxes on these properties.
Like other self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits. In addition, as employers, physicians are responsible for the provision of payroll taxes and benefits for their employees.
2) Increased Cost-Burden for Canada's Doctors
Canada's physicians face unique, additional financial and personal burdens in owning and operating medical practices in comparison with other small businesses. First, amongst Canada's small business owners4, Canada's physicians are highly skilled and trained professionals. On average, physicians enter the workforce at a later age with significant debt from education. The average age that family physicians enter practice is over 30 years and over 33 years for specialists.5
The 2013 National Physician Survey explored the issue of debt levels. It found that the proportion of medical students expecting debt of $100,000 or more doubled from 15% in 2004 to 30% in 2012.6 Further, a third of medical residents expect debt to be over $100,000 and 19% expect debt to exceed $160,000 before entering practice.7
For Canada's doctors, the high level of education-related debt and the later age they are able to initiate professional earnings represents a significant challenge for personal financial planning, notably retirement planning.
Second, it is not well known that physician gross (pre-tax) salary is not representative of net salary. In addition to the expenses of running a medical practice, such as salaries and rent, physicians have a range of professional fees that are required by regulation to be submitted. According to the respondents to the CMA's survey on incorporation, these overhead expenses were reported to be 29%, on average, of gross (pre-tax) professional income. Of note, there have been several studies at the provincial level that specifically researched overhead expenses; these studies found average overage expenses to exceed 40% of gross salary.8
Finally, unlike most small business owners, as providers within a public health care systems, Canada's physicians cannot pass on any cost increases associated with operating their medical practice. The majority of physician remuneration in Canada is through "fee-for-service" systems9 whereby fees for insured physician services10 are set by the province following negotiations with the provincial medical association. Any increases in the cost of operating a medical practice, including changes in taxation, would be borne by the physician directly, as would the potential additional resource burden incurred in responding to a change to the CCPC regulatory framework. It is not surprising then that one study found that "high-income, self-employed physicians are much more sensitive to the marginal tax rate than would be suggested by previous labor-supply studies".11
The results of the CMA's survey on incorporation with respect to personal financial planning highlight the concerns associated with the unique burdens facing physicians in operating a medical practice. A strong majority (92%) of respondents rated the ability to save for retirement as very important for personal financial planning. A majority (61%) of respondents indicated the ability to pay off debt and half (50%) indicated the ability to manage practice overhead costs as very important for personal financial planning.
3) Role of Incorporation for Ensuring Tax Equity for Medical Professional
As reviewed above, in light of the design of Canada's health care system, the majority of physicians are self-employed professionals and small business owners. Like other small business owners, physicians do not have access to pension and health benefits, despite investing in local communities and providing employment. Unlike other small business owners, physicians commence professional income later in life and carry high debt levels associated with education and training. In light of these significant considerations, the CCPC framework represents a measure of tax equity for Canada's physicians.
In Canada, the 12 jurisdictions have extended the ability to incorporate to medical professionals. As stated in Ontario's 2000 budget document, the underlying policy purpose of extending incorporation to medical professionals is "to level the playing field with other self-employed individuals who can choose whether to operate their businesses through a corporation".12
For self-employed professionals, incorporation offers many well recognized benefits. As highlighted by most taxation guidance, the application to the small business deduction and the ability to retain income in the corporation are significant benefits of incorporation for small businesses.13 For self-employed medical professionals without access to an employer pension or benefits, the ability to retain income in the corporation contributes to retirement and pension planning capabilities. Finally, the CCPC framework allows for income splitting with family members in almost all jurisdictions.
The CMA's survey on incorporation explored the benefits of the CCPC framework. The top rated benefit of incorporation was the ability for professional income to be taxed at the small business taxation rate, with 85% rating it as very important. In comparison, 60% of respondents indicated that income splitting with a family member was very important.
4) Changes to the CCPC Framework and Potential Unintended Consequences
As noted above, the federal government has committed to reducing the small business taxation rate from 11% to 9%. In recognition of the significant financial pressures managed by physicians owning and operating medical practices, the CMA strongly supports this commitment.
However, along with this commitment, the federal government has made concerning statements regarding professionals and the CCPC framework. While the federal government has not indicated a specific measure or timeline, the statements on their own have yielded significant uncertainty and concern. In response to the federal government's statement, the CMA has received a significant volume of correspondence from its membership; unprecedented in our almost 150 year history.
The CMA cannot emphasize enough the need for caution in considering changes to the CCPC framework. The CCPC framework and the ability of incorporated physicians to maintain access to the small business rate is fundamental to the business model for these medical practices. Changes to the framework could have real and far-reaching impacts. Beyond the immediate impact to a physician, employees of a medical practice, and the region the medical practice serves, depending on the scope of changes to the CCPC framework, impacts could be at the health-sector level, particularly in terms of shifting the delivery of care away from institutionalized care toward community-based care.
The physicians surveyed by the CMA were asked to consider the likelihood of various actions they may take should the federal government alter the CCPC framework. A large majority (75%) of the respondents indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to take one or more of these actions:
* more than half (54%) of practicing physicians said that they would be very or somewhat likely to reduce the number of hours worked;
* 42% would be very or somewhat likely to reduce office staff; and,
* about one quarter indicated that they would be very or somewhat likely to pursue other measures such as closing their practice and retiring (24%) or relocating their practice to another provincial/territorial jurisdiction (26%) or to the U.S. or another country (22%).
The responses to the CMA's survey on incorporation align with the limited research available on this issue. In a study that explored the interprovincial migration of physicians confirmed that "the differences in real income have a positive and significant effect on a physician's decision to migrate from one province to another".14 Another study that explored the impacts of taxation on physicians, noted that "it has been demonstrated in the literature that physicians in higher-tax states work less on average".15 These studies emphasize the potential for unintended consequences should changes to the CCPC framework impact physician medical practice.
As outlined in this brief, the majority of Canada's doctors are self-employed, highly skilled professionals providing a critical health care contribution in communities across the country. For these physicians, the CCPC framework provides a critical tax equity measure that recognizes the unique challenges they face as small business owners. For the vast majority of incorporated physicians, the benefits of the CCPC framework are critical to the operation of the practice model, particularly supporting community-based care. In some cases, the practice model is only economical within this framework.
In light of the intrinsic role of the CCPC framework to medical practice, and therefore the provision of medical care in Canada, the CMA encourages significant caution in considering any potential changes to this framework. The CMA's core recommendation to the federal government is to maintain tax equity for medical professionals by affirming its commitment to the existing framework governing Canadian-Controlled Private Corporations.
1 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
2 Mandate Letter for the Minister of Small Business and Tourism http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-small-business-and-tourism-mandate-letter
3 CMA. 2014. Environmental Scan.
4 Industry Canada. Key Small Business Statistics 2013 https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/02814.html
5 Canadian Post M.D. Registry.
6 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
7 National Physician Survey http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/C3PR-Bulletin-StudentResidentDebt-201303-EN.pdf
8 Alberta Medical Association. Setting the record straight on physician compensation. https://www.albertadoctors.org/Media%20PLs%202013/Feb1_2013_PL_Backgrounder.pdf and Ontario Medical Association. Payments to physicians and practice overhead expenses: separating facts from fiction in Ontario. https://www.oma.org/resources/documents/paymentsphysicians_pp18-19.pdf. and R.K. House & Associates Ltd. Executive Summary for the British Columbia Medical Association: 2005 Overhead Cost Study.
9 CIHI. Physicians in Canada, 2014: Summary Report. https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/Summary-PhysiciansInCanadaReport2014_EN-web.pdf
10 Health Canada. Canada Health Act Annual Report 2014-15. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/cha-lcs/2015-cha-lcs-ar-ra/index-eng.php
11 Mark H. Showalter and Norman K. Thurston. Taxes and labor supply of high-income physicians. Journal of Public Economics 66 (1997) 73-97.
12 Ontario Budget 2000 https://www.poltext.org/sites/poltext.org/files/discours/ON/ON_2000_B_37_01.pdf
13 Manulife. The Professional's Option - Professional Incorporation. https://repsourcepublic.manulife.com/wps/wcm/connect/02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575/ins_tepg_taxtopicproopt.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=02b56600433c4887b94dff319e0f5575
14 Michael Benarroch and Hugh Grant. The interprovincial migration of Canadian physicians: does income matter? Applied Economics, 2004, 36, 2335-2345.
15 Norman K. Thurston and Anne M. Libby. Taxes and Physicians Use of Ancillary Health Labor. The Journal of Human Resources, XXXV 2.