Doctors Vote With Their Feet and Move to Canada

Opponents of universal healthcare tell a lot of tall tales.  In particular, one common tale we were told in the debates about whether the US could provide near-universal healthcare insurance coverage (the so-called Obamacare) was that “socialized” medicine doesn’t work. In fact, an oft-repeated tale is that the Canadian socialized insurance system is supposedly so awful that Canadians can’t get enough doctors and that doctors flee the Canadian system to go to the land of opportunity, the US.

Well, it’s more than a tall tale.  It’s a lie.  The Windsor Post points out how for the last ten years, the net flow of doctors has been from the US to Canada.  Yes, that’s right.  To the degree that doctors are migrating at all, they’re moving away from the bloated, inefficient, costly system that the US runs and moving to Canada.

“The job here is better,” is how Florida native Dr. Christopher Blue summarizes why he moved here in 2010 with his wife, Dr. Kristen Kupeyan (a Windsor native), after attending medical school in the Caribbean, and training in the United Kingdom and Michigan. Here, he works as a hospitalist, an emergency doctor and assists in surgeries at local hospitals, and has two practices with his wife. Having such a varied career is something he couldn’t do in the U.S. [bolding mine)]

But the lure of the Canadian system is more than the ability to have a more varied (and likely more meaningful) career, it’s also a matter of sheer economics.  Despite the US system ultimately costing Americans a multiple of what the Canadian system Canadians, and despite Canadians living longer and getting more out of their healthcare, for doctors, it’s dollars and cents.

 One of the big draws for him (Dr. Sajad Zalzala) was Canada’s system of universal health care. In the States, the health care system is like a class system, he said.

“If you have Blue Cross/Blue Shield (health insurance), you’re in great shape, you can go to what hospital you want, specialists, but that leaves everyone else not as fortunate,” he said.

…he has low overhead and fewer hassles. In the States, you need two or three staff just to fight with the insurance companies all day long, he said.

“It’s good. With the OHIP system you pretty much know how much you’re going to get paid as the patient leaves the room, as opposed to the States,” he said, explaining the insurance company may adjust your bill or reject it entirely.

The name for Canadians give to their healthcare system, Medicare, is a clue to how the US could dramatically improve its own healthcare system.  The US has a Medicare system also, and the two Medicares are actually quite similar in structure and operation.  The US Medicare system is also actually reasonably efficient, althought it could be more efficient if it, like its Canadian namesake had more power and authority to negotiate prices.  But the key difference is that the Canadian Medicare system covers all Canadians of any age.  The US Medicare system only covers Americans 65 years or older.  Much of the difference and savings comes from having a single payer insurance outfit.  Since the government system is the only insurer and covers everybody, it has no incentive to find administrative excuses to not pay or to exclude people.  Private insurance companies in the US do.  Thus the US spends 10-15% of every healthcare dollar paying for paper-pushers and phone-call-talkers that try to find reasons not to pay for services that have often already been performed.  That’s why US doctors need so many staff personnel to track the paper and fight the insurance companies and file claims.  The Canadian doctors don’t need that extra staff – staff that doesn’t add anything to the quality of care but adds a lot of cost.