Several years ago, Ken, a contact from Winnipeg, told me about the time he drove down to the United States for an MRI scan.
Ken was an active person back then. He liked to play racquetball, had young children and was involved in his community. But he had developed shoulder problems and was told by the government that he would have to wait a year for an MRI just to assess his problem.
As the Manitoba government had essentially blocked private clinics from being able to offer MRI scans to the public, Ken’s choice was clear — wait a year on the sidelines or travel to another country and pay for an MRI.
The economic angle to stories like Ken’s has always struck me — what if Canadian governments continued to fund the public system, but allowed patients the option of spending their own money on health care in Canada? How many jobs could be created if those dollars stayed in Canada? How many tax dollars would those workers and businesses pay?
Our new think-tank, SecondStreet.org, decided to look more closely into this issue.
I should note that Ken wasn’t someone you would describe as “rich.” But he was able to pull together $800 (Canadian) for an MRI scan by a reputable clinic in Minnesota — and he was able to get the procedure within a few days of calling the clinic. In addition to the fee for the MRI, Ken spent money on fuel, food and accommodations in the United States. If memory serves me correctly, I believe he also did some Christmas shopping while he was away.
Data from Statistics Canada shows that Ken’s story is far from unique. In 2017, Canadian patients made at least 217,500 trips to other countries specifically for “health and medical reasons.” To put that in perspective, that’s more than the population of the Kelowna, B.C., or Barrie, Ont. If you imagine a sold-out NHL game in Canada, you can multiply that crowd by at least 10.