One of the most valued benefits provided by Canadian travel insurers is repatriation by air: flying seriously ill patients to hospitals close to home, where they can be attended by their own physicians, supported by their families and, not inconsequentially, have their provincial health plan pay the bills.
That’s the plan anyway—but given a chronic shortage of acute care hospital beds in most Canadian provinces, the “plan” too often turns into a wish list, with ailing patients, anxious families, and frustrated assistance professionals working their phones and emails to try to pin down an available bed somewhere close to the patient’s home. This is no job for amateurs.
In the meantime, we see some of Canada’s largest, most prestigious hospitals promoting their services (and beds) to foreign patients willing to pay the price of admission to what they believe (quite accurately) is world-class medical care.
According to a recent report in the Toronto Star, the University Health Network is aggressively promoting its services (and reputation) globally. The Star reports that in the past three years, UHN has received more than $50 million just by treating 380 patients from other countries and offering consulting services to countries like Kuwait and Qatar.
The Globe and Mail reports that the UHN network recently secured malpractice insurance to cover services to Americans, and that Toronto’s Sunnybrook has initiated an international patient program that, so far, has treated a Barbadian woman who paid $60,000 for radiation treatment for breast cancer and a Jamaican man who paid $20,000 for prostate cancer radiotherapy.
Defenders of this international outreach are not at all apologetic about their efforts, as they contend that the foreign revenues they generate are put right back into a publicly funded system that is running dry.
On the other hand, they do have to account for the reality that Canada’s hospitals have precious few beds to spare.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a highly respected international consortium of 34 of the world’s most advanced economies, Canada’s 1.7 acute care hospital beds per 1,000 population is at the bottom of the list of OECD members, along with Mexico and Chile. And when it comes to actively practicing physicians, Canada is also near the bottom of the list with 2.4 doctors per 1,000 population, just behind the US, with 2.5 doctors per 1,000 population, and in close company of Turkey, Poland, Mexico, and South Korea.
That’s good reason for you to read the fine print about repatriation benefits next time you buy travel insurance, and to ask a few questions about how experienced the insurer’s emergency assistance professionals are at securing hospital beds in your home community, and at sudden notice.