Ban medical tourism: RNAO speaks out for medicare
As Canadians, we value our publicly funded, not-for-profit health system, where everyone is given equal access to care. To protect this system, RNAO stands at the forefront of a movement to ban a profit-driven practice that threatens the foundation of medicare.
A number of Toronto-area hospitals have been engaging in medical tourism – raising millions of dollars by actively seeking and treating international patients on a pay-for-care basis. RNAO worries this represents a shift to for-profit health care, creating a system where those who pay access care ahead of others.
RNAO has reached out to politicians, the media, and called for action from its membership. Our message is clear: the government must immediately ban medical tourism in order to protect and strengthen our public health system.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism refers to a practice where patients travel across international borders to receive health care on a pay-for-treatment basis. For a fee, usually paid up front, international patients are treated by hospitals as a means to generate revenue.
Is this happening in Ontario?
Yes. According to staff, media reports, and online documents, some Toronto hospitals are actively engaging in medical tourism. Examples include:
What is the harm?
Medical tourism is the beginning of the end of Canada’s publicly funded not-for-profit health system. It contradicts the very nature of our Medicare system, turning health into a commodity.
This is the first step toward two-tiered Medicare, where a parallel for-profit system provides care to those who can pay. Once we set the precedent that international patients can get preferential care for a fee, what’s to stop wealthy Canadians from demanding the same?
Our health system is funded by Ontarians, yet many of them languish on wait lists and in emergency departments due backlogs in that very system. RNAO believes that Ontario’s health resources should be used to improve care for its ailing citizens. Our public hospitals and their services should be driven by need and not the size of our wallets.
In 2013, prior to the development of its international patients program, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre gave an excellent explanation as to why treating these patients for money is a big problem.
Shouldn't we use our health-care system to help people in need from other countries?
Canada has some of the best hospitals and health professionals in the world. We should, and do, provide humanitarian and emergency care to people from across the globe. Medical tourism, however, is a much different matter – it is driven by a for-profit mentality and not by humanitarian concerns.
This difference is summed up on Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s website: “All international patients receiving an assessment, consultation and/or treatment at Sunnybrook will have to pay upfront, or have the appropriate insurance coverage, for all services provided. The IPP is not a humanitarian program.”
Where does the Ontario government stand on this issue?
The provincial government has turned a blind eye to medical tourism. In April, when RNAO's concerns reached the media, then Minister of Health Deb Matthews expressed her support for the practice as a means to generate revenue to be funneled back into the health system. Shortly afterward, at the insistence of RNAO and other health groups, Matthews asked for an informal review of medical tourism.
Since being named Ontario’s new Minister of Health, Dr. Eric Hoskins has said he supports medical tourism only if “zero public dollars” are used and Ontarians are not displaced. Then, again, he too asked for a review.
What has RNAO done?
RNAO was approached in 2012 by a veteran RN and RNAO member working at UHN, who was concerned about what they had seen within the international patient program. In 2013, RNAO’s board of directors unanimously passed a motion that the association do all it can to end medical tourism in Ontario.
Since then, we have repeatedly engaged the premier and minister of health, spoken out in the media, and mobilized our membership toward stopping this dangerous trend. We will continue with this commitment to protect our universal health system until medical tourism is banned.
Open letter to Minister Eric Hoskins: Ban medical tourism, August 18, 2014
Joint letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne on medical tourism, April 11, 2014
Letters: medical tourism - Doris Grinspun, The Windsor Star, Oct. 14, 2014
Medical tourism fees for international patients return little cash to hospital The Globe and Mail, Oct. 10, 2014
Nurses attack Windsor Regional’s ‘medical tourism’ foray - The Windsor Star, Sept. 30, 2014
Nurses group asking Ontario for records on medical tourism - Canadian Press, Sept. 30, 2014
Medicare advocates decry medical tourism – Canadian Medical Association Journal, Aug. 21, 2014
Ontario hospitals urged to stop pursuing ‘medical tourists’ – Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun, Aug. 21, 2014
Medical tourism ‘inviting a lawsuit’ – Theresa Boyle, Toronto Star, Aug. 5, 2014
Nursing association calls for ban on inbound medical tourism – International Medical Travel Journal – July 23, 2014
Medical tourism: the beginning of the end of Medicare – Doris Grinspun, Registered Nurse Journal, May/June 2014
Chipping Away at Medicare – Toronto Star, April 4, 2014
Toronto hospital courts wealthy ‘medical tourists’ – Kelly Grant, The Globe and Mail, April 1, 2014
Ontario’s health-care system should serve need, not greed – Doris Grinspun, Toronto Star, April 1, 2013
Health groups urge Premier Wynne to stop medical tourism, April 16, 2014
International patients: what care can’t be bought at the hospital - Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Jan. 7, 2013