CBC In Depth
INDEPTH: HEALTH CARE
Medical tourism: Need surgery, will travel
CBC News Online | June 18, 2004



A Canadian patient
Reporter: Cameron MacIntosh

Across Canada, thousands are on waiting lists for surgeries. In some cases those waits can last for years.


Aruna Thurairajan
A year ago, Aruna Thurairajan of Calgary was becoming resigned to the idea of living in pain. At the age of 50, a spinal condition was making tasks like reaching over her head impossible.

"I had almost 20 to 40 painkillers a day," she says.

Her doctors in Alberta said there would be a three-year wait for corrective surgery.

"I went over to India... and I had the surgery, " Thurairajan says.

Six weeks later not only could she lift her arm, she could also endorse this cheque from the province of Alberta, reimbursing her for almost the entire cost of the surgery despite the fact it was done in a foreign private hospital.

"I had a legitimate claim, I processed it just the way they wanted, I didn't make any unreasonable demands," she says,

An out of country health services claim is little known, little used. Alberta only had 45 cases last year. It's an option for patients who simply can't get into a hospital quick enough.

"The basic criteria are [that] it be an insured medically necessary service unavailable in Alberta or elsewhere in Canada," says Howard May of Alberta Health. "After that we look at each case on a case-to-case basis."

It's not just Alberta; each province has a similar process. The catch is patients often pay up front.

Enter the great Canadian health dilemma. Are Canadians "jumping the queue" for free?

Sharon Sholzberg-Gray speaks for the Canadian Healthcare Association.

"Certainly it's a form of 'queue-jumping,' but if someone went and got the treatment and it was medically necessary, and they can show it was, one could argue it was just to reimburse them," she says

"There is no thing called queue-jumping when it comes to your own health. You don't want to end up paralysed or dead," Thurairajan says.

She'd rather have had the surgery at home, around family and friends, but on the end she's living pain-free.

All she had to do was write a cheque... that she'd gladly write again.













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QUICK FACTS:
Medical tourism: Cost comparisons

Figures are estimated, are in U.S. dollars or U.K. pounds, figures vary due to prices charged by different medical centres and patient profile and do not include travel and accommodation costs

Surgery

Partial hip replacement India $4,500
U.S. $18,000

Full hip replacement
India $3,000
U.S. $39,000

Orthopedic surgery
India $4,500
U.S. $18,000

Cardiac surgery
India $4,000- $9,000 or �6,000
U.S. $30,000- $50,000
U.K. (Private care) �30,000

Knee surgery
India �8,000
U.K. (Private care) �20,000

Gall bladder surgery
India $7,500
U.S. $60,000

Dental care

Tooth extraction
Thailand $30
U.S. $350

Two dental bridges
Hungary $990
U.S. $5,200

Filling
India $20 to $40
U.S. $300 to $400

Root canal
India $200 to $400
U.S. $3,500

VIDEO:
CBC TV's Cameron MacIntosh reports on medical tourism. (Runs 2:05)
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Canadian Institute for Health Information - Health Care in Canada 2005

Canadian Health Coalition � Found: Federal funding. Lost: A plan to stem privatization [pdf]

Canadian Institute for Health Information

Report: National Health Expenditure Trends [pdf]

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Public Expenditure on health, % of GDP [Excel file]

The Romanow report [pdf]

The Senate Report on health care

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