Wait-Times in Canada: Outbound Medical Tourism Opportunities

Author: Edouard Convain April 28, 2015

Wait-Times in Canada: Outbound Medical Tourism OpportunitiesFour years ago, Greg Sullivan, a 38-year-old Toronto resident, was working at a Bay Street law firm when a herniated disc left him hobbled by intense pain. Although many people with slipped discs can heal without surgery, his family physician figured he needed an operation. His initial appointment wouldn’t be for another four months and surgery, if recommended, for months after that; even though the Toronto-area neurosurgeon who had agreed to see him considered the case a priority. He finally decided to perform his surgery in the United States for $8,000. His story¹ is not an isolated case.

According to the Fraser Institute2, approximately 42,000 Canadians traveled abroad last year for medical purposes. The motivations for these medical tourism patients varied from saving money on dental or uncovered procedures to seeking procedures unavailable in Canada. One of the most commonly cited reasons relates to wait-time, a major concern of the Canadian healthcare system.

The Canadian healthcare system is publicly-funded, but private entities provide most of the services. The system covers most of user-costs at the point of use through revenue raised through federal, provincial and territorial taxation.

The Canada Health Act of 1984 set provisions that guide the Canadian healthcare system. The system is publicly funded and administered on a provincial or territorial basis within guidelines set by the federal government.

At the federal level, Health Canada defines national principles in the Canada Health Act while provinces and territories determine which services are medically necessary. These provincial and territorial jurisdictions may also offer “additional benefits” under their respective health insurance plans. A cash transfer also exists at the provincial and territorial levels, which means that provinces and territories set the price for each medical service and organize payment on behalf of Canadian citizens. For example, a lead surgeon will be paid $789.66 directly by the Ministry of Health in British Columbia for an arthroplasty he or she may have performed.


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