Our healthcare system in disarray, a growing number of Canadians, including those seeking WCB benefits, are resorting to medical tourism.
Perhaps no feature of Canadian life is more fundamental to our national identity than that of universal healthcare. Since the Saskatchewan Government, led by leader Tommy Douglas, introduced the first provincial hospital insurance program In Canada, the publicly funded healthcare system evolved into a source of national pride and a model of universal health coverage. Providing relatively equitable access to physician and hospital services through 13 provincial and territorial tax-funded public insurance plans, Medicare stood as a marvel of federal-provincial cooperation, public administration, and world-class healthcare provision.
Universal access to healthcare also factored prominently in vaulting Canada from backwater outpost to prolific powerhouse, contributing to a highly developed nation boasting the world’s ninth largest economy. Courtesy of Medicare, for decades Canadians have been substantially insulated from the anxiety of ensuring their (and their family’s) basic wellbeing, thereby allowing greater risk-taking and entrepreneurialism that drove massive gains in productivity, innovation, and distributed wealth.
And for these reasons and more watching our beloved Medicare disintegrate is all the more despairing. Just last week, a leaked report painted a grim picture of the state of the healthcare system in Ontario, with doctors warning the system will collapse if action isn’t taken. The Ontario health report, obtained by a Liberal MPP, reveals how much longer people are waiting to be admitted to hospitals in the province this fall compared to back in the summer. With Ontario ER wait times getting worse, patients waiting up to 45 hours, Liberal health critic Dr. Adil Shamji said that “healthcare performance is continuing its dramatic nosedive and unfortunately is now in a freefall.”
Given the precipitous decline in access to service, in 2018 alone an estimated 85,000 Canadians left the country in search of non-emergency care. Despite its standing as the highest spender among 30 universal health-care countries, Canada has among the fewest doctors and hospital beds per 1000 people (ranking 28th of 30). Likewise, Canada ranked the worst with respect to wait times for medical specialists according to a report released this month by the Fraser Institute.
And it’s not just the data that paints a grim picture. The problem is far from theoretical or abstract. For those of us who’ve had cause to interact with the system, or know of friends or family who’ve sought medical services in recent years, we’ve experienced the decay firsthand. There’s simply no denying it — the emperor is in the nude.
Should I stay or should I go now
This problem, of course, leads to difficulty when injured workers ask me for advice on medical tourism. Which is worse, they ponder, subjecting themselves to Medicare (the devil they know, as it were), or to book a flight somewhere (to visit the devil they don’t). I always preface my response by admitting that the quality of healthcare I’ve received outside Canada has been vastly superior to anything I’ve experienced in this country. I then qualify that statement by reminding my clients of the statistical insignificance of the sample size i.e., my singular and anecdotal experiences.
So then, while I’m not qualified to opine on the medical risks and rewards of eschewing Medicare in favor of international healthcare, I may have something to add from a workers compensation standpoint. Many workers find themselves with no place to turn for a medical opinion, or perhaps, they desire a second opinion in addition to those proffered by WCB’s contracted medical providers. And so, where interminable wait times hold up a diagnosis (and often by extension, WCB benefits), or where workers suspect that WCB’s preferred doctors have missed the mark, workers are well advised to consider all their options, both domestic and abroad.
But, workers wonder — doesn’t the Board tend to discount non-Canadian medical opinions? What if I go to the time and expense of flying to India, Turkey, Malaysia, or Saudi Arabia for a procedure or a consultation, only to have the findings summarily dismissed by WCB? Am I merely setting myself up for failure?
Valid questions to be sure.
But to be clear, the Board doesn’t discriminate against legitimate health practitioners in foreign lands. And really, how could it, for a large percentage of Canada’s own doctors hail from such places as India, Turkey, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. And further, it’s objectively arguable that the calibre of care in far flung locales is not only comparable to Medicare, but far superior. So to those workers out there fretting about WCB’s treatment of foreign opinions, lay your fears to rest.
Woe to the overzealous
With that said, obvious caveats apply: first, anyone considering medical tourism should do copious homework. Ask for references. Dive deep into online testimonials and third-party customer review sites. Be wary of any hospital or clinic, anywhere, that pushes surgery absent a thorough clinical exam along with other diagnostics. Also, for those seeking WCB benefits, undergoing surgery to fix a problem for which causation hasn’t been established is a sure-fire way to nullify eligibility. In other words, until WCB accepts the work-relatedness of your injury, and likewise approves of interventions, any surgeries could be treated as an intervening factor i.e., a confounding variable, and thus deny benefits on these grounds. Establish work-relatedness and a diagnosis first, surgery and other procedures second.
Blue Collar is a full-service disability management and advisory firm that helps employers and workers across Canada with WCB matters. If you or someone you know is looking for assistance, visit bluecollarconsulting.ca for more information.