Halifax well-positioned to profit from medical tourism, Alberta doctor says

Halifax is perfectly positioned to become a mecca for medical tourists, says a proponent of a queue-jumping model for Canadian health care.

Dr. Lloyd Maybaum, a Calgary physician who created a stir two years ago when he wrote an article outlining his vision, was in Halifax on Thursday to share his ideas.

His presentation was part of Open for Business: Creating Wealth Through Better Health, a conference hosted by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Aware of the controversial nature of his proposal, Maybaum joked at the beginning of his presentation, “Now brace yourselves. Hold all the eggs and tomatoes.”

Under his model, those with the means to do so would be permitted to pay much more than the cost of a procedure or treatment in order to bypass the waiting list for health services.

Profits would then be funnelled back into the health-care system to fund more doctors and operating rooms. As a result, the theory goes, wait times would be reduced and possibly eliminated.

Maybaum said due to Halifax’s relative proximity to several large United States cities, it could see a bright future under this model.

“In Alberta, we’re not proximal to any large U.S. population, so it’s quite a distance to come to Alberta.

“But in Halifax, you’ve got all these direct flights to Boston, to New York. It’s relatively a short distance.”

Shannon MacDonald, a managing partner for Deloitte who sat on the panel with Maybaum, said medical tourism is definitely an opportunity for the Maritimes.

“What you’re trying to do is add another revenue stream to your current system,” MacDonald said. “And, right now, our system is cost-constrained, so a new revenue stream, theoretically, is a very welcome thing.”

MacDonald pointed out that outbound medical tourism is already happening.

About two per cent of Canadians sought treatment outside of Canada in 2009, according to a Deloitte survey of health-care consumers.

Maybaum believes that is a lost opportunity.

“At the end of the day, though, they’re taking thousands and thousands of dollars out of our Canadian economy,” he told conference attendees.

“So the question then, for me, became one of ‘How can we keep Canadians from becoming medical tourists going elsewhere so we can keep that money at home and not have to build some form of parallel private system?’”

Kyle Buott, provincial co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network, said the basic premise of Maybaum’s model is troublesome.

“If we allow rich folks from the U.S. or even from here in Canada to start paying to jump to the front of the line, it means that people with money will get faster access to care,” Buott said. “That is fundamentally problematic. Health care is a human right. It is not something that we should be putting a price tag on.

“This really comes back to the question of do we want health care to be based on your ability to pay or based on your need?”