Canadians Looking Abroad for Health Care: Part 2

Last week we reported on the Fraser Institute’s 2015 survey showing that increasing numbers of Canadians, fed up waiting for medically necessary, non-emergency health care services at home, were looking to foreign hospitals—primarily in the US—for quicker solutions.

If you are one of the more than 900,000 Canadians wait-listed for a medical procedure (or if you haven’t yet even made the list), you might want to explore the international option. But we caution you, this is not a game for amateurs. You should seek help. You’re not shopping at a U.S. BestBuy for a 72-inch 4K television…

Your first step to seeking health care abroad should be your own physician—your family doctor, or your specialist, if you have already endured that wait.

Canadian physicians have good contacts with their U.S. peers; many have gone to school together, done internships or residencies in the same hospitals, or perhaps have already made referrals to the U.S. (or some other country). Discuss your needs, intentions, and fears (if you have any), and listen to your own doctor’s opinion about whether you really need to be concerned about the wait. What seems urgent to you may not be as acute if explained to you by your own doctor. If you can wait without risking your health, then do so. And if you have decided to wait no longer, ask your doctor or health ministry if they will give prior approval for your care and pay for it. They might, though in too many cases they either won’t or there are too many already ahead of you.

If you ultimately decide a medical trip abroad is in your best interests, act wisely and deal with known quantities.

Fortunately, top-quality health care centres in border communities are available from coast to coast, for example in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Bellingham, Seattle, and Fargo. And many are aware of and well-positioned to receive your enquiries and deal directly with your referring physician not only to discuss your needs, conduct pre-admission consultation and second opinion diagnoses but also to follow up with your physicians after you return home. This is not a shop-and-drop endeavor. You have to make sure you factor continuing care into your equation.

These days, you can usually get most of the information you need about the availability of health services targeted to international patients on the Internet.

Here are a few examples of top-grade facilities that have international patient referral centres designed to help patients through the information, consultation, diagnosis and treatment planning, treatment, and follow-up phases of care: Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; Cleveland Clinic (with facilities in Ohio, Florida, Arizona and Toronto); the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic (also with facilities in Arizona and northern Florida); the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General in Boston; Cincinnati Children’s (among the top three kids hospitals in the U.S.); Philadelphia International Medicine (an agency that services nine hospitals in Pennsylvania); and the Baptist Health network in South Florida.

This is not a new business model for these or dozens of other top-grade health systems actively recruiting international patients: providing services to international patients is one of the most lucrative ways of compensating for losses due to unpaid care generated by the uninsured or the underinsured.

Hospitals in the U.S. have to make ends meet on their own. And contrary to much misguided media reportage, only 20 per cent of U.S. community hospitals are investor-owned, for-profit institutions. The remainder, and virtually all of the nation’s major centres of excellence, are non-profits funded mostly by municipalities, counties, universities, and religious orders. In fact, all of the medical centres named above are in this non-profit category.

And that brings us to the issue of money.

Some Canadians who have supplemental health insurance, perhaps as an employee or retiree benefit, may have some of their costs in these international centres covered. You should certainly check it out with your benefits manager if you think it may apply to you.

If not, you will certainly get to discussing fees with the medical centre you’re investigating. Be frank, don’t be afraid to mention money, and don’t be put off by tales of exorbitant prices: you may find many discounts and payment plans available to you. Like any business—and remember that U.S. hospitals operate as businesses—they want yours. They don’t want you going to their competitors if they can help it. If you’re a good deal maker, give it a try: your hospital rep will not be offended, and you may even be pleasantly surprised.

But also be realistic. Quality medical care (and the care you will get in a U.S. centre of excellence will be of the highest quality) is expensive. But only you can decide if it’s TOO expensive.

 

For more travel insurance related information, check our blog.

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