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By: Colin Craig 

A recent news story out of Buffalo, New York, illustrates the challenges COVID-19 restrictions have caused Canadian patients who have to travel abroad for health care. The article also reinforces the need for health care in Canada.

The Buffalo Newsrecently reported that Terry and Diane Dick, from Fort Erie, Ont., ran into a hassle at the border when they went down for Diane’s cancer treatments. 72-year-old Diane had scheduled her treatments over the phone and didn’t have paperwork to provide to border officials.

According to the news report, Canadian patients have even had to leave friends and family members at the border before entering the United States. One health care official noted that a Canadian patient had to drop someone off at a Walmart in Canada before they could enter the United States for treatment.

Just imagine struggling with cancer, and having to go to the U.S. for timely treatment only to find out you have to leave an adult son or daughter at the border to limit the number of people in your car to two.

Thankfully, a U.S. politician has stepped up to try to inject some compassion into such situations. Interestingly enough, Congressman Higgins also told The Buffalo News, “Canadians spend about $10 million a year on health care in Western New York” alone.

While getting across the border can be a challenge, in Mr. Dick’s opinion, the real problem occurs once you’re back in Canada and have to quarantine for 14 days. If you’re going to the U.S. for regular chemo treatments, one can see how this requirement would become a rather onerous proposition.

All this begs the question “why?”

In Canada, the government lets you spend as much money as you want on activities that harm your own body.

You could literally chow down on fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and follow up each meal up with a joint or a few rum and Cokes. Depending on where you live, the government might even allow you to visit a local drug treatment facility and shoot up with some heroin.

But spend your own money on a life-saving health procedure? In most instances, governments in Canada don’t allow it.

Statistics Canada data obtained by showed that in 2017, Canadian patients made over 217,500 trips abroad specifically for health care.

Defenders of our state-run health care system claim that it’s just the rich who travel abroad for health care. Yet, we’ve spoken with many middle-class Canadians who have traveled abroad for health care – a teacher’s assistant from Alberta who went to Germany for neck surgery, a nurse from Nova Scotia who went to Mexico for back surgery and more.

Canada is not only missing out on an economic opportunity by blocking private health care options in our country – we’re also missing out on an opportunity to help patients receive the treatment they need.

Studies such as the one conducted by the progressive Commonwealth Fund in 2017 show that countries with better health care outcomes than Canada – Australia, New Zealand and Norway to name a few – offer patients a choice between using the country’s universal public health care system or visiting a private clinic.

Clearly, the troubles Canadian patients are facing right now at the border only reinforces the need for broader health reform.

Colin Craig is the President of, a start-up Canadian think tank.

This column was published in the September 21th , 2020 print addition of Sun Newspapers (Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton). 

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