B.C. mulls high-end health centres for foreigners
B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon says he has a plan to market health-care services to rich, offshore patients in a similar scheme to one used to sell higher education to foreign students.
Falcon said Tuesday he wants to explore health tourism as a means to generate revenue for B.C.'s health-care system.
He said he's been in discussions with medical professionals about opening centres of health excellence in British Columbia that offer medical treatment to foreign patients willing to pay extra.
Falcon said foreign students pay into the post-secondary education system and their dollars fund educational priorities for the province.
International students studying at B.C. public schools are also subject to tuition fees.
"It's in the early stages, but the principle is important," said Falcon. "It's exactly what we do in post-secondary (education): we bring in foreign students, we charge them about four times what British Columbia students pay."
He said the extra education money is used to hire more teachers and create more spaces and opportunities for B.C. students.
"The principle, if it works in post secondary, we ought to look at it in health, and that's what we are doing," Falcon said.
Last week's B.C. budget saw the Liberals increase health-care spending by $2 billion over the next three years to $16.1 billion in 2012-13. Health costs now account for more than 42 per cent of the total B.C. budget.
"Nobody even looks at the revenue potential in our system," Falcon said. "Why can't British Columbia be the Mayo Clinic of the north?"
Opposition health critic Adrian Dix said the government appears prepared to allow rich, foreign patients to receive preferential treatment in facilities paid for by B.C. residents.
"This is, as usual, not thought through and not very thoughtful on the part of the minister," said Dix. "What he's talking about is organized queue-jumping, organized two-tier health care."
The New Democrat said hospitals are cutting surgeries and closing operating rooms, but the minister is offering first-class treatment to foreigners in facilities paid for by British Columbians.
"The minister is ideologically indisposed to supporting public health care even though that is his personal obligation," Dix said.
He said Falcon's proposal is unfair to British Columbians who pay for and support health care with their tax dollars.
Falcon said he would not consider medical tourism if it meant British Columbians would be left at the end of the line.
"I think it's funny we can't have the discussion without people like the NDP lighting their hair on fire and thinking the world's going to come to an end," he said.