If physicians are permitted to join a registered pension plan they risk losing their self-employment status, said Canadian Medical Association (CMA) president, Robert Ouellet.
“We have met with federal officials on the pension issue, and the message we have received is that registered plans are designed explicitly for employer-employee relationships where pensionable time can be closely monitored and taxable income is easy to define,” Ouellet said in a news release on the CMA website.
Federal and provincial tax laws currently prohibit self-employed doctors from contributing to registered pension plans because they are already eligible for several tax-relief options, according to the release.
Despite the risk, some Canadian doctors are calling for government reforms that would enable them to contribute to plans.
The lack of pension support for physicians was highlighted when the Medical Post launched what it called, “MD Pension Action Day” on June 15. In an effort to draw attention to the issue, physicians were asked to email federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq to express their desire for a pension plan.
In April, pension advocate Dr. Mary Fernando addressed the need for pension plan access before a federal standing committee on health. She cited doctor shortages as an example of why a pension plan is necessary.
“Altering federal tax law to allow physicians to negotiate for pensions is a retention initiative that is strongly supported by physicians and protects the investments Canada has made in training physicians by reversing the historical trend of physician losses as a result of recessions,” she told the committee.
Research indicates Canada is the only country that does not allow its publicly funded physician force to contribute to pensions, she added.
In 2005, Fernando sought approval from the general council of the CMA to lobby the government for federal tax legislation changes allowing self-employed physicians to contribute to pensions.
While the organization approved her motion, it is now being careful in its pursuit of a plan, said Ouellet.
“We are proceeding cautiously because of the legalities and multiple jurisdictions involved, and the differing priorities among different age groups,” he said. “What we have learned is that we do not want to rush into anything without considering all the ramifications, and that we have to consult closely with the membership.”
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