February 11, 2014 was a big day – and not just because it fell smack in the middle of the Sochi Olympics. It was because February 11 was also Budget Day, when our late Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, tabled the government’s spending plan for 2014.
Among the usual commentaries on jobs, surpluses, and economic growth, one tax cut stood out: a tax break, in the form of HST/GST exemptions, for patients seeing acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors.
The decision to provide tax breaks for patients seeking these forms of alternative medicine has been met with excitement. According to Jason Kenny, the Minister of Employment and Social Development and also the Minister of Multiculturalism, these tax breaks would lower the cost of naturopathic medicine for patients. As a result, more people would be able to visit these providers, reducing the burden on the health care system. However, apart from economics, the tax exemption also acknowledges that non-traditional treatment options may have benefits for certain people. As Chungsen Leung, Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism, puts it, the tax exemption “recognizes acupuncture as an important health service.”
However, the new tax reduction is already sparking debate. After all, despite the popularity of acupuncture and naturopathic medicine, many Canadians worry about the lack of scientific research into these practices. As Dr. Lloyd Oppel, chair of Doctors of BC says, peer-reviewed studies have “failed to find evidence of effectiveness” for many traditional Chinese medicine practices (abbreviated TCM). The new tax break would put naturopaths and acupuncturists in the same category as physicians, dentists, midwives, and optometrists – a problem for those who believe that healthcare providers should choose their treatments based on evidence provided by formal research. Other Canadians think the legislation isn’t about medicine at all, but rather an attempt to garner votes from groups that will benefit from less taxation.
Despite the controversy, this government tax break is not completely unexpected. In fact, acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors are regulated as health professionals in five provinces, including here in BC. Practitioners must meet risk standards and, at a national level, Health Canada already regulates the more than 2000 traditional Chinese medicine products available to the public. Recently, Kwantlen Polytechnic University even sparked controversy when it announced that it would host the province’s first public school of Traditional Chinese Medicine. For many people, the tax break is just the next logical step in the trajectory of Canadian healthcare and alternative medicine.
Another thing to consider: a recent study showed that many Canadians are interested in new healthcare options. The study revealed that some 5.4 million Canadians (20% of the population) visit alternative health care services on an annual basis. Of this number, over half a million patients consulted acupuncturists or other traditional Chinese medicine doctors. With an average of just under a hundred dollars per session and five visits a year, the average Canadian visiting these practitioners might spend almost five hundred dollars a year on these treatments.
So what about you? With the new tax break, will you begin trying out alternative medicine options in the future? Or should these healthcare providers be given a tax break at all?
This article was written by Alex Roston at Connect the Doc. Connect the Doc is an online booking platform that helps people find and book short-notice healthcare appointments with Vancouver acupuncturists, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and dentists, free of charge.