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September 15, 2021

The advent of domestic medical tourism

One of the great things about living in Canada, certainly, is universal health care.

Sure, our taxes are through the roof and, yeah, wait lines are longer than Ginny Sack's belt, but more often than not, you’re gonna get patched up for your troubles. (And come off great in Michael Moore movies to boot.)

Yet when the downturn hit and layoffs began to mount, suddenly a great handful of Canadians found themselves without health insurance.

To some, this meant little because of the reasons outlined above. To others, though, soon their medical affairs became an instance of fight-it-out-on-your-own to get the best treatments.

And that’s why an innovative trend out of the States comes as an intriguing news story. reports many Americans have taken to “domestic medical tourism” – where insurers literally fly patients to other hospitals within the U.S. – as a means to cut rising health care costs.

Now, this is not be confused with foreign medical tourism, where patients venture to Singapore for hip replacements or Buenos Aires for boob jobs. (And often result in this: “I ended up with a hematoma in my left breast, which is hard as a rock. My right nipple is the size of a silver dollar and my left nipple is the size of a quarter,” one woman said. “I had nice boobs to begin with. So I went from nice boobs to uneven, crazy boobs.”)

Instead, domestic medical tourism stays within the U.S. border to find procedures for up to 75% less than what patients would pay closer to home.

One of the big reasons this trend has taken off, says Business Insurance, is that when insurers sniff out a discount opportunity like this, they’re willing to pay up front – in turn, making the hospitals more likely to chop thousands off the price of a surgery.

And while domestic medical tourism may not hit it big with major corporations and their unions, the practice has become popular among smaller, self-insured employers who, quite frankly, need the savings.

As for whether a movement like this could take off in Canada, that’s up for much debate. Operations are generally government compensated, yet the system is far from perfect. Patients could be inclined to seek other alternatives if the price is right.

Or, everyone could just go to Mexico.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...