I’m not gonna lie. The whole reason why I’m not currently at least considering a move to warm, gun-loving Murica is because of health care. I realize insurance is relatively easy to get. I’ve just heard too many horror stories of people who can’t get the care they might want (or need) because of their insurance company denying them coverage.
As a self-employed guy, I’d also be forced into some sort of expensive health care plan since I wouldn’t have an employer willing to split the cost with me. I haven’t necessarily looked up what I’d be paying, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be cheap. As far as I can tell, what I’d gain paying less tax to Uncle Sam compared to Uncle Beaver I’d just lose to health care.
So nuts to that.
But at the same time, Canada’s healthcare system isn’t all blowjobs and rainbows. We have some legitimate problems. Waiting times for certain procedures are ridiculous. I know a woman who was forced to limp around in pain for more than a year before finally getting her hip replaced. Bedside manner is often sorely lacking from medical staff who know their jobs aren’t going anywhere.
The system isn’t even consistent. Canada loves public health care more than Obama loves golf (TOPICAL!), yet privately-funded medical facilities are everywhere. Dental care is private; so is chiropractic care. The government isn’t doing urine tests for prospective employers either. Some of these procedures are shockingly expensive, especially if you don’t have insurance. I’ve never understood why Canadians don’t put more pressure on the government to at least offer public versions of these services.
It’s for these reasons why medical tourism exists. If you’re stuck waiting months for a hip or knee replacement and you have the means, spending $5,000 to get it done somewhere else is a very viable option. It turns out you can put a price on your health, plus you can use it as an excuse to get a vacation.
Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Let’s take a closer look at just how much money you can save using medical tourism, plus where the most likely destinations are.
Medical tourism isn’t a new thing. It’s becoming more and more common, with more than 50,000 Canadians accessing medical care in other countries in 2014. The two biggest categories were cosmetic procedures and dentistry, ironically two things our public system doesn’t even cover. Next were internal procedures (things like joint replacements and colonoscopies), followed by cancer, reproductive (giggity) and weight loss procedures. As you can see, lots of those aren’t necessarily covered by Canada’s public system, indicating maybe wait times aren’t that big of a problem.
Potentially, the savings are a pretty big deal. According to Patients Without Borders, the average U.S. citizen saves about 50% on their procedure. Savings are higher in places like India and Malaysia, and lower in places closer to home like Mexico and Brazil.
These savings often don’t factor in the cost of getting there and other incidentals like hotels or renting a car. Sometimes the cost savings aren’t a whole lot, at least looking at how much leaves your wallet for each option. But at the same time, you get a tropical vacation to go along with your medical procedure. There’s value in that, presuming you’re not in pain in a hotel room the whole time recovering.
Can you trust the work?
“In Mexico, any moron can just call himself a doctor, right?”
The nice thing about the internet is there’s a whole community of people who are willing to give medical tourism a try. Private hospitals know this, and have harnessed the power of the interwebz to attract these people.
A personal example. When I was in South Korea, there were all sorts of laser eye surgery places with English signage and staff that spoke our language. Many of the doctors studied in America, Canada, or Europe. Many Korean Universities offer classes in English taught by foreign doctors. The savings compared to Canada were between 33 and 50%. I regret not looking into this more when I was around.
Most other countries are the same. After all, you need to have a good idea at how much it costs to get procedures done in Canada or the U.S. before realizing there’s a market for medical tourism. And if you’ve spent time in the Canadian system, you know the quality of care.
Let’s face it. Most people who haven’t traveled assume places like Costa Rica or Mexico are a bunch of crumbling buildings filled with drug lords and guys napping wearing giant sombreros. But like Canada, there are areas that are nice and areas that aren’t. Again, going back to South Korea, much of that country is comparable to North America in terms of quality.
Since living costs in these countries are less than in Canada, staff costs a fraction of what they would here. Doctors are still paid well in the developing world. But nurses, support staff, etc. aren’t. And since overall wages aren’t as high as ours, we’re really not getting a deal. Oftentimes, medical tourists end up paying more than locals do.
Should you do it?
If you’re facing a procedure that might cost $3,000 or up in Canada, it just about always makes sense from a cost perspective to do a little medical tourism. Even if the cost ends up being similar after factoring in travel, you can still get yourself a nice vacation out of the deal.
The only thing you really have to be careful about is the quality of the care. I wouldn’t worry much about that either. Just find hospitals with many reviews that come highly recommended and you should be fine. Yeah, the risk is there that they mess up the procedure, but that risk exists in Canada too. Not every doctor here is Dr. House.
Overall, medical tourism can be a easy way to save money and get to go somewhere warm in the process. And hey, the whole thing is tax deductible up to 3% of your total income. Plus, foreign hookers. Sounds like a good plan to me.