*Responses have been edited to remove references to other political parties*
Approximately 220,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in Canada in 2019, and 82,100 will die of the disease. Lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer will account for about half of all cancer diagnoses and deaths in 2019. About 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes and 1 in 4 will die of the disease. This life-threatening illness affects entire communities, especially families, friends and co-workers. In addition to the physical and emotional hardship a cancer diagnosis brings to an individual and the family, a financial burden can devastate patients (1).
The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) is a national healthcare charity that works to connect patients, survivors and other stakeholder groups with decision makers and the wider community to engage in discussion and to act on evidence-based best practices to alleviate the medical, emotional, financial and social costs of cancer and encourage research on ways to overcome barriers to optimal cancer care and follow-up for survivors in Canada.
The Federal government has an important role to play in making sure that Canadians diagnosed with cancer receive more financial support during diagnosis and treatment.
We invite you to respond to the following questions related to cancer care and healthcare. Your responses will be circulated to cancer patients and survivors, posted on our website, www.survivornet.ca, disseminated to our 10,000 e-list subscribers, and on our social media.
Question 1: Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits
The Employment Insurance Program in Canada offers temporary financial assistance to unemployed workers. This assistance includes providing sickness benefits to employees unable to work because of sickness, injury or quarantine and who would otherwise be available to work, with sickness benefits up to a maximum of 15 weeks. More than 350,000 Canadian workers claim sick leave through the EI program every year (2). However, most cancer patients spend more than 15 weeks receiving or recovering from cancer treatment. The estimated cost of raising the number of weeks from 15 to 50 would only raise the EI premium by a total of 6-cents from the baseline rate of $1.62 per $100 of insurable earnings (3).
If elected, will your government:
A. Recognize that there is a need for a new process that recognizes that some patients, including cancer patients, experience extended periods of treatment and recovery, and hold open consultations with Canadians about how this process will be developed and implemented?
New Democrats have long advocated to make it easier for people to access the sickness benefits they paid for and deserve. No one should have to worry about whether they need to rush to go back to work if they’re still recovering from a serious illness.
A New Democrat government will update the Employment Insurance system when it comes to sickness benefits. And we will ensure that patient advocates are able to share their feedback and have their concerns respected and included in a fairer program.
B. Use the results of these consultations to lengthen sickness benefits for Canadians undergoing treatment for cancer as well as other serious illnesses that require long periods of treatment or recovery so that Canadians who are ill are not penalized by the current limit of 15 weeks of sickness benefits?
Canada’s Employment Insurance system needs to change to reflect the needs of Canadians today.
New Democrats have always been in it for you. That’s why we’ve committed to extending sickness benefits to 50 weeks. We know that people need flexibility to recover from complex, chronic conditions and New Democrats believe that people shouldn’t be punished for being sick.
And we will work with provinces and territories to improve health care through major new investments – more than $50 billion over four years – towards pharmacare, dental care, home care, long-term care, reducing wait times and other health-care priorities.
C. Cancel the two-week waiting period for EI Sickness Benefits so that sick Canadians are not penalized?
In 2012, the NDP introduced a Private Member’s Bill to cancel the two-week wait period for Canadians who have serious illnesses and immediately need the support. It was defeated.
As government, we will follow through and modernize the Employment Insurance sickness benefits program.
Question 2: National Pharmacare Program
The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network believes that all people residing in Canada must have timely, consistent, equal and equitable access to safe and effective therapies, including treatments and medications, as well as the information, diagnostics, care and support that they need (4). The Pharmacare Council’s Final Report (5) called for a universal, public Pharmacare program that is portable, accessible regardless of ability to pay and residency, and the importance of working together with patients and citizens as key stakeholders.
A. What is your party’s position on the creation of and timeline for a universal public pharmacare program with a national formulary that would be developed by an independent group of experts that would assess the safety and cost-effectiveness of medication?
Many Canadians must dig deep into their pockets to pay for prescription medication. Many now cannot afford to take the medication they need – or find their needed medicines aren’t available.
New Democrats are different. We believe it’s time Canadians had a federal government that’s in it for them. Jagmeet Singh has a bold vision to provide Canadians with head-to-toe health coverage. And the NDP is willing to make the historic investments – over fifty billion dollars over the next four years – to make universal pharmacare, expanded dental care coverage, increased mental health care, better home care and long-term care, and reduced wait times for the services you need.
Our pharmacare plan ensures that all Canadians will have access to prescribed medication, at no cost. The NDP believes that it’s time to take political interference out of health-care decisions through an arm’s length body that would be insulated from both marketing and political pressures. Decisions should be based on clinical evidence, patient safety, and value for money, not the number of times insurance lobbyists meet with government officials.
The arm’s length agency would be responsible for ensuring a timely process to evaluate and approve public coverage for new medicines.
B. Will your party support a new federal equalization payment for national pharmacare so that all provinces are able to cover the same comprehensive range of prescription drugs, with timely new additions on a regular basis?
An NDP government is offering an annual investment of more than $10 billion a year to take pressure off provincial health-care budgets and implement a national, universal pharmacare program for all.
We will work with provinces and territories together to achieve the same objective: to ensure that Canadians receive the medication they need, when they need it, regardless of where they live in Canada – with no out of pocket costs to everyday people.
A New Democrat government will ensure a national formulary is in place so all Canadians have access to the medication they need.
Question 3: Youth Vaping
A new study published in the British Medical Journal by Canadian researcher Dr. David Hammond has reported a sharp increase in the rate of youth vaping by 74% in one year following the May 2018 adoption of Bill S-5 which legalized e-cigarettes with nicotine. The study also found that cigarette smoking among 16-19 year-olds in the same 2017 to 2018 time period increased by 45%, from 10.7% to 15.5%. This alarming increase of youth smoking has not been seen in decades of data collection.
Public consultations by Health Canada proposed regulations that would set out new and updated requirements for the labelling and containers of vaping products. The proposed Vaping Products Labelling and Packaging Regulations would require that all vaping substances be labelled with a list of ingredients. In addition, vaping products containing nicotine would be required to display a standardized nicotine concentration statement and a health warning about the addictiveness of nicotine. The proposed regulations would also mandate child-resistant containers and a toxicity warning. (Question contributed by the New Brunswick Anti-Tobacco Coalition.)
If elected, will your government:
A. Take immediate actions to address a significant and troubling increase in youth vaping and smoking in Canada?
A New Democrat government would immediately issue an interim federal order to stop advertising of vaping products to children under 18. This would align with the call to action made recently by several health-care organizations that are demanding that the federal government takes action.
We stand with public health officials from the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Cancer Society, and other concerned groups in strengthening vaping regulations in Canada, with an emphasis on protecting the health of young people.
B. Use the results of the recent public consultations on new vaping regulations to strengthen controls over packaging, promotions and nicotine content?
The NDP push to commit to plain packaging and a regulatory framework for vaping products. We will implement urgent restrictions to stop marketing of vaping to children.
The NDP would immediately review regulations that ensure patient safety is a top priority. We will review and strengthen regulations, such as limiting the level of nicotine in vaping products, which is currently triple the amount allowed in the European Union and other jurisdictions.
C. Move to accelerate the process of banning all flavoured vaping products in an attempt to lessen their appeal to a youth market?
After years of inaction, Canada is sadly years behind other countries when it comes to vaping regulations and protecting public health, especially for young people. We will immediately work with public-health officials to develop measures that would keep children safe and lessen the appeal of vaping products for children and youth, including plain packaging and lowering of nicotine levels.
Question 4: Breast Cancer Screening
The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care’s guidelines on breast cancer screening have a direct impact on up to 9 million Canadian women aged 40-74 (6). These guidelines disregard expert input and place the lives of women in Canada at risk. They ignore the importance of screening women in their 40s (7) (8), the relative benefits of additional screening (9), the significant benefits of early cancer detection (10), the findings of modern relevant data (11) (12), and the risks of breast density (13) (14) (15). Over 130 breast cancer experts have strongly criticized the guidelines, and over 67,000 people have signed a petition urging the Health Minister to reject them (16). (Question contributed by Dense Breasts Canada)
If elected to government, will your government:
A. Ensure that the Task Force’s guidelines are revised by relevant experts in the field?
Experts and advocates projected that the guidelines would result in more than 400 Canadian women losing their lives if followed because screening would be too late.
The NDP stands with cancer experts and advocates on the need to revise these guidelines. We called on the guidelines to be put on hold until a new direction could be developed through the guidance of experts. As government, we will move forward with new guidelines developed with key stakeholders, in particular breast-cancer experts and patient advocates.
B. Disband the Task Force if its design flaws and lack of accountability can’t be remedied under the current structure?
New Democrats respect the work and guidance of health-care professionals. A New Democrat government would revise the Task Force so that it is led by breast-cancer experts. We believe we can develop better guidelines to improve education and ensure women are screened properly and in time.
C. Reject the 2018 guidelines and, if needed, create a new Task Force which accurately incorporates relevant expert opinion?
New Democrats do not support the 2018 guidelines because they put women at risk. The NDP stands with cancer experts and advocates on the need to revise these guidelines. We would work with breast-cancer experts and advocates to develop new guidelines that take into consideration the issues that were dismissed, for example the additional risk of breast cancer for women with dense breast tissue.
We thank you for your attention to these important matters.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Cancer Survivor Network
In partnership with the New Brunswick Anti-Tobacco Coalition, the Manitoba Health Coalition, and Dense Breasts Canada