Weak U.S. Economy Lures Canadian Medical Tourists

Full to capacity hospitals and long wait times for specialists is prompting more Canadians to shop for their health care in the United States these days. It’s a case of supply and demand, coupled with a strong Canadian dollar and limping American one. Even average wage earning Canadians can now jump health care waiting lines by looking south of the border. Shopping in America for cars and vacation homes already, Canucks have added heart bypasses and hip replacements to their wish lists.

Strained Canadian System

The issue goes beyond which system provides superior care, settling on the more important issue of access. With Canadian hospitals operating at capacity, and specialists unable to meet demands for their services, people with means turn to health care brokers. These agencies hook them up with hospitals in the States with beds to fill, and doctors willing to oblige patients who often pay upfront and in cash.

Long Wait Times

Wait times that still average between a year and 18 months for hip and knee replacements drive some to seek care in the U.S. This in spite of the recent $5.5 billion dollars the Canadian federal government initiative to decrease waitng lists. However, heart and spinal surgery increasingly draws patients south too.

For U.S. health care, the tourism is a welcome relief in troubled economic times. Because insurance paperwork drives much of the cost for healthcare, Canadian patients who pay cash eliminates this expense. They also fill idle hospital beds that make no money for institutions when they are empty.

What Do You Think?

American hospitals are steeply discounting procedures, and the price of inpatient care, in order to lure Canadian patients, and Canadians are returning to their home provinces, expecting them to pick up the tab for aftercare or rehabilitation. A win-win situation? Or a scam?

Though it is not just the wealthy who are able to come from Canada for care, queue-jumping is largely frowned upon by Canadians, and the discounts call into question the American healthcare’s practice of passing along the cost of bargains to the insured who are facing rising premiums and co-pays.

What do you think? Let’s hear your stories and opinions.


Photo by: Room 620 by Muffet


Lynn C.
Lynn C.5 years ago

Thank you Nik B.. Very well said!

Nik B.
Nik B.5 years ago

Concerning the poll, I'm in the US, and I just presumed the "broken health care system" referred to was the US one. Of course it's broken-- selling medical care as if it were a for-profit commodity (which, I guess, in the US, it IS) is clearly wrong; subsidizing the costs of cheap procedures for cash-paying, out-of-country patients by letting health care costs in-country skyrocket is likewise obvious and wrong. Having a hospital bed ill-utilized because of ability to PAY, not because of NEED, is clearly wrong. The waits in the Canadian health care system (thought of by some as a particularly bad example of single-payer health care access) are still completely tolerable, as queues and resource availability are "triaged" so that the most urgent needs have the least wait. That might be annoying to some, in the current Western "instant-gratification" culture, and indeed, someone with means might indeed cross the border to "queue-jump," so to speak (this is not particularly different than buying a Disney "fast-pass" to queue jump at Disney World) but all in all, I think that the Canadian system, albeit imperfect (hell, the Brits, with their NHS, have been at this since WWII and STILL haven't gotten it quite right) -- but it's clearly FAR superior to the extant US system.

http://IHATAT.com. Where we don't tell you WHAT to think, just to think.

jill M.
jill McQueston5 years ago

Ann Bibby again on the flaws in the Canadian Medicare system.
Sure it's not perfect(though all my experiences have been positive) but we are all thrilled to have it as is the case with most developed, caring progressive counties.

Paula J.
Paula T.5 years ago

Well this does not sound true to me. I am sure many people don't like waiting for operations in CA but they always have the option and legal right to go to the emergency dept. and wait to be seen and if they are indeed in a medical emergency they would be opertated on the same day. Some things can wait but are very painful like joint replacements so of course some opt for going south and paying. My daughter, who is a leukemia survivor, needed a critical operation last year and the line was too long for her so Ontario Health Insurance Program sent her to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, for the next month's op date and OHIP paid the full amount plus costs and PostOp there as well. Excellent Care and Attention and an Expert Operation of course was received and I am sure that That hospital was glad of the extra business it gets from across the river, across the border. In this case it is a win-win and I believe in most cases it is. Nobody I know in Canada has trouble getting needed hospital and health services.

Pablo V.
Pablo V.5 years ago

I think the socialized medicine system has some deep flaws that cannot be ignored. Yes it would be nice if everyone in the world had access to needed healthcare. So many stories are out there of Canadians and others who will not live long enough for their Canadian appointments. Urgent care is needed but yet they wait. Here in the U.S. we currently treat anyone who needs it and asks for it but that system will soon go away. If we contiune on this path we will have a single payer system within a few short years. That system will be controlled by the kind hearted IRS. rationing, dissallowed procedures, and treatment delays will be the methods used to control costs. When you talk about the skyrocketing costs of care here in the U.S. try doing the math without the freeloading illegals.

Mike and Janis B.
Janis B.5 years ago

We have never had any problem accessing healthcare in Canada. It seems to us that these people are merely queue jumpers.

Myriam Garcon
Myriam G.5 years ago

Sorry about the double post

Ian Donelson
Ian Donelson5 years ago

Hahaha. This is a joke. There is no credible information that backs this up. Majority of numbers would actually prove the contrary. Americans go to Canada for high priced procedures and go to Mexico for High priced drugs. And the majority of "real" reporting has shown reporters going up to Canada sitting for a small amount of time and getting seen very quickly. America is well known for its long waiting periods. And also having to go through ICE and strict policies at most hospitals even E.R.s to show proof of Insurance, that means American Insurance, minus having your arm chopped off or cardiac arrest. Unless they are traveling all that way to go to a doc in a box to get their sprain checked out or some blood work drawn. In which case seems like a waste of money and even more time than a wait in the doctors office to not have to pay a dime. Did the person sit down in front of Fox News to write this.

Myriam Garcon
Myriam G.5 years ago

Which healthcare system that's broken are we talking about, US or Canadian?
Here on Care2, I read about many good, hard-working Americans that don't get the medical care they need and deserve, while there are empty hospital beds...? There's the broken healthcare system!

Our Canadian system is not perfect, but it works well. Yes, a few folks prefer to cross the border to get medical care in exchange for cash, but it doesn't mean our system is bad. Yes, there are waiting lists and other problems, but there is also justice in the fact that ALL canadian citizens have access to the care they need, regardless of their financial means. Our healthcare system is not prefect, but it's fair, and that's part of our Canadian identity!

Myriam Garcon
Myriam G.5 years ago

Which healthcare system that's broken are we talking about, US or Canadian?
Many good, hard-working people in the US don't get the medical care that they need and deserve, because of money and insurance issues, while there are empty hospitals beds...? To me, that's the sign of a broken healthcare system!

Our Canadian system is not perfect. Yes, a few folks prefer to cross the border to get medical care by paying cash, but it doesn't mean our system is bad. Yes, there are waiting lists, but there is also justice to the citizen in the fact that ALL Canadians (eventually) get the care they need. Our system is not perfect, but it's fair, and it's part of our Canadian identity!