Missed opportunity?

A couple of years ago I looked at the growing trend of medical tourism in Israel and other international locations (Americans travelling abroad for surgeries). I suggested here (and elsewhere) that New Brunswick should take a long hard look at this. Why not? We are in the backyard of the Boston-NYC corridor with direct flights into NYC. It is significantly cheaper to offer these services here and the health care industry in New Brunswick is, on average, among the highest paying.

I was basically either laughed off, scorned (how dare you) or ignored.

Ontario MDs to launch medical tourism firm
Ailing Americans will soon be able to buy surgery at bargain prices in Canadian hospitals through a new medical tourism company founded by two physicians. Markham-based anesthetist Shehbaz Butt says he can provide international patients quality choices through his company, Canadian Healthcare International Corp., at rates drastically lower than those in the United States.

As I have said before the genius of the call centre initiative was that NB was first in the game. An early adopter. Within five years of NB becoming the so-called call centre capital not only did you have every province in Canada with a ‘call centre team’ out trying to out-NB NB you had international locations such as India and the Philippines attracting this type of work (not directly influenced by NB I might add).

Why not medical tourism? At a theoretical level? Why would it pose any threat to Medicare to offer services to Americans? Sure, you would have to ramp up capacity but in my opinion that would give you more capacity and competencies to offer NB citizens.

But the most forceful response to my suggestion was outright ignoration. That’s a stupid idea. Who would come here? This is New Brunswick, after all.

The exact same response when we talked about attracting these multinational call centres/back offices in the early 1990s.

I am not saying that medical tourism is sure thing. I am saying that we should have done a serious feasibility study 2-3 years ago when it came on the radar.

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0 Responses to Missed opportunity?

  1. mikel says:

    I assume you read the whole article right? The doctors wouldn’t comment publicly, neither their health care region or hospital knew anything about it and said its a virtual impossibility. The Canada health act strictly prohibits ‘queue jumping’ (which means americans can pay their money to wait in line for surgery).

    The only way its even possible is for cosmetic surgery, which is already almost private. Interestingly enough, I remember doing a doctor search throughout New Brunswick, and was surprised at just how many cosmetic surgeons there were. In one area that only had eight or nine doctors, three of them were cosmetic surgeons (no wonder hip replacements take so long).

    So in this case ‘first out of the box’ is just a court case waiting to happen. We have terrible wait lines here in ontario, I’ll be at the front of the picket line protesting this if they ever start treating rich americans before canadians.

    The article was instructive on one point, and thats about the canadian political system. As they stated, in the early nineties the NDP party was pretty much ‘ideologically opposed’ to doing this when at the time hospital rooms were empty and doctors were standing around.

    You’d have to have a mechanism to ensure that when times change those medical services were available to canadians, however, hypothetically that mechanism would be the same that could have let ontarians take advantage of the service in the first place (which makes it odd that it wasn’t tried by Mike Harris when he was laying off medical personnel-I guess that was just to make a point).

  2. David Campbell says:

    “I’ll be at the front of the picket line protesting this if they ever start treating rich americans before canadians.”

    Two points. One, I have always said that any medical tourism sector couldn’t be developed at the expense of the public system. I happen to believe it could provide more resources not less. Two, this kind of reflexive paranoia about health care is part of the problem. Did you ever think for even one fleeting second that the ardent defense of the public health care system is what is leading to waiting lists and other problems? I now own a small consulting business and I have to pay something like $400/month for various ‘health care’ out of my own pocket on top of the thousands I pay through my taxes on top of the waiting lists that I also am subjected to (my wife waited 14 months for a mamogram and I waited 18 months to see an opthamologist).

    So the fact you would be ‘first in line’ to protect and defend a system that makes me pay thousands both out of pocket and through taxes every year (far more combined than my sister and her family in Virginia) and forces me to wait months for simple tests and procedures – surprises me.

  3. Rob says:

    The people who are really cashing in on medical tourism are the private imaging services in the state of Maine.

    Just Google “Maine + MRI” or “Maine + Mammography”, and you’ll find a list of a couple imaging centres less than a three hour drive from Fredericton. Insight Imaging Inc has the motto: Results Right Now.

    Heck, when you drive down to Bangor and Portland for some American Thanksgiving shopping this November, throw in a mammograph ‘while u wait’.

    If you don’t want to go to the US, you can pay $700 for an MRI next time you go to Ottawa. Just hop across the river to Hull, and visit St-Jospeph MRI. You even get 15% off at a local inn when you get an MRI there. Now THAT’S medical tourism.

  4. mikel says:

    If I was ‘having a reaction’ I CERTAINLY wouldn’t have brought up the early nineties and stated a case for ‘privatizing’ foreign services in order to keep hospital staff. At the time, I doubt CANADIANS would either. THEN it made sense, now, not so much.

    In fact, there was a proposal years ago about just asking for five bucks when people come into the hospital, and lots of people took that seriously.

    We don’t know what surgery is being discussed because this guy is an anaethetist. But let’s use your example, if you are waiting 18 months to see a doctor, how exactly is that helped by your doctors treating foreign patients? You’d be waiting even longer.

    You are ‘assuming’ that the ‘market’ will develop in the way this doctor says, and that it will bring in lots more money for health care. Of course this doctor doesn’t care whether he’s right or not, all he cares about is that he’ll get more money.

    For specifics, again, health care is a huge issue and in many ways a provincial one. For mammograms, you can look at Nova Scotia where when waiting lists got too long they ramped up efforts to deal with it. Not only did they set up as many permament facilities as new brunswick has, but they set up three ‘mobile’ facilities that serve the three regions and take appointments just a month in advance.

    THAT is what happens when you actually have an NDP with some clout (or at least a minority government)-you get some services. New Brunswick’s Breast Screening program is merely part of the national program-Nova Scotia set up their own. Ontario set up their own, just for fun I called and asked what the waiting time was and there was none if your doctor recommends it.

    And that goes back to my earlier point-its a provincial government decision to make mining permits so easy they’re a joke, to give away minerals so cheap third world countries can’t match them, to give away potash in exchange for jobs, to give property tax breaks to billionaires, to give away the forests for almost nothing, to have the lowest corporate income tax ratio in the country.

    So absolutely, when you look at all those policies OF COURSE you will have funding problems. In fact its amazing it functions AT ALL. It’s almost literally like the poor guy who gets robbed by the rich guy every day, so has to figure out how to beg for more money because most of it gets stolen.

    And because the post was getting ideological, just to note to people that a recent article in the New York Times showed a longer waiting list in New York state than here in Ontario because so many hospitals have stopped doing mammograms because of the low rates being paid by insurance companies. And I suggest people watch ‘Sicko’ before lauding the US system too highly.

    There is no doubt there are serious problems in health care, a person could run a blog just on that alone, but don’t be surprised by the vehemance and negative reaction people have when they hear about using medical services for money-its a very natural reaction. Give an actual CASE of what policies to enact and how they wouldn’t hurt current staffing levels and services, and you might not get as vociferous an objection.

    In other news, something that may interest you is that Volvo is closing a plant in Goderich, Ontario, throwing hundreds out of work (I think they said Volvo). They are moving to…not Mexico or the south….but Pennsylvania! Might be worth looking into.

    It’s true you are at a low point in political representation. There are two parties who say essentially the same thing, and no NDP and a mainstream media hostile to organizations. But you shouldn’t be surprised that people are willing to protect what it took CENTURIES to get.