Science, Now + Beyond

Are Canadians really crossing the border for healthcare?

Of course they're not.

Among the ample assortment of lies spoken by Donald Trump at the second presidential debate, one particularly funny one was that Canadians, on account of having a national healthcare system instead of a private one, flock to the US for major operations because their system is too slow. Canadians have responded with, um, the truth, which reflects that Trump straight up does not know what he’s talking about.

In Canada, the healthcare system works like this: each province decides which benefits it will or will not provide to all citizens. Although hospital and physician services are covered, dental insurance is a big leave-off in a lot of provinces. Because of that, almost all of the money spent on dental care in Canada is paid for by non-government dollars, split between employer-provided plans and personally-purchased insurance.

What good ol’ Donny tried to zone in on was the wait times for care in Canada – if you want to see a specialist, you’re most likely going to have to wait 4 weeks or more for your appointment to come up, because that’s what 59% of the population does. The government has taken some steps to shorten these wait times, and it’s the most common critique that users have for the national system.

Despite this, in 2011 57% of Canadians were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their healthcare coverage.

In the US, that number was 25%.

Trump’s exact words in the debate were, “the Canadians, when they need a big operation, they come into the United States in many cases, because their system is so slow.”

Oh really? In a survey of 18,000 Canadians, only 90 people reported seeking healthcare in the US in 2009. And of those 90, only 20 did so electively – the other 70 were mostly tourists who had to make ER visits during their travels within US borders due to unforeseen accidents.

So if we’re going to talk numbers, that’s 20 people out of 18,000 surveyed – just about 0.11% – seek healthcare in the US instead of staying in Canada. The truth is, American medicine is expensive. In 2013 the amount of medical-related bankruptcies was estimated to be over 646,000. Unless you’re looking for a very particular specialist who happens to be in the US, it really doesn’t make any sense to flee a social healthcare system where your price out-of-pocket would be significantly less.

In short: keep it up, Canada. United States, catch up.