Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario


Banning Medical Tourism: A fight for the future of Medicare

Universal health care has been a core Canadian value since the days of Tommy Douglas. Canadians take great pride in a health system that treats people based on need, and not their ability to pay.

But our system is not immune from the influence of commerce. That's why RNAO has always been a staunch defender of universal, not-for-profit health care, and will continue to protect the health system from profit-driven attacks like Medical Tourism.

In 2012, a brave RNAO member first brought forward concerns that his hospital was treating foreign nationals for a fee. The association immediately recognized the potential harm this could inflict on our health system by turning care into a commodity. If someone from abroad can jump the queue by paying for service, what is to stop an Ontario resident from demanding the same service? It was clear: Medical Tourism would mean the beginning of the end of Medicare.

Advocacy quickly turned to action. RNAO dug deeper, and found that several Ontario hospitals were not only providing for-profit services to international patients, but openly soliciting paid patients overseas. And the government was turning a blind eye.

RNAO took its concerns to the media, penning an op-ed in the Toronto Star, publishing articles in Registered Nurse Journal, and speaking out in a number of news stories about Medical Tourism in Ontario.

The association also went straight to the province's decision makers. Through personal meetings with the premier, minister of health, and opposition parties, as well as action alerts that rallied thousands of concerned Ontarians, RNAO made it clear that the practice had to be banned to protect Medicare. And it didn't take long for politicians to heed RNAO's warnings.

Soon afterward, both the provincial Conservatives and NDP joined RNAO's call for a ban on Medical Tourism. The association also teamed up with three other health organizations, forming a coalition seeking an end to the practice.

In November 2014, the government responded. Health minister Eric Hoskins issued a directive to all Ontario hospitals to not market to, solicit, or treat international patients, except in cases related to existing contracts. He also asked hospitals not to enter into new international contracts that include treating foreign nationals in Ontario.

It was a strong first step, and a testament to RNAO's tireless efforts. Yet RNAO continues to push the government for a full, legislated ban on Medical Tourism.

The demands of profit should not govern the system that keeps Ontarians alive and well. Health should be about care, not commerce. And so RNAO will not stop until Medical Tourism is a thing of the past in this province. There is simply too much to lose.