Could imports be a solution to our primary health care crisis?

The times they are a changin’.

When I was in government just a few years ago with the Jobs Board we were looking at the potential of health care as an export industry.  In other words, we would provide health care services for customers elsewhere in Canada and abroad.  We already provide some services for residents on PEI and western NS and as shown in the chart below dentists charged people living outside New Brunswick $7.9 million (in 2017).

As an aside, while in government it was kind of nice having bureaucrats at least consider my hairbrained economic development schemes.  We actually hired a consultant and went through a fairly rigorous process looking at the potential of the Stan Cassidy Rehab Centre in Fredericton in conjunction with UNB’s Institute for Biomedical Engineering attracting medical tourists from across Canada and around the world.

Of course this was (again see the word hairbrained above) never really going to get traction.  Horizon wasn’t ‘in the economic development business’ as I was told.  Besides we already have a wait list for New Brunswickers – what about them – do the paying customers jump the queue?  Then there was the reality of what provinces are able to charge for health care services – apparently it is below cost/relatively low – and this benefits New Brunswickers as we are in a deficit position (see the chart below).

Ultimately, the idea of Saudi Sheiks and Yankee millionaires coming here for health care was a non-starter.

But you can’t fault me for trying.  Why couldn’t we do telecare for other provinces?  Aren’t we the ‘call centre capital’ of North America?  Why couldn’t we provide medical tourism for Islanders, Quebeckers and Mainiacs – particularly for residents far from health care services in their jurisdiction?  Why couldn’t we get really good in just few highly specialized areas (i.e. Stan Cassidy, Atl. Cancer Research Institute, etc.) and offer those services far and wide?

Now I read Herb Emery wants to boost health care imports as a way to reduce our primary care crisis (e.g. lack of family doctors).  This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed – the goal should be for all NBers to have a family doctor – but farming that out to doctors in other provinces (remote family doctors) would send even more money out of the province.  According to Statistics Canada we already have a $100 million trade deficit in health care services (as of 2017) although I’m not sure how robust the data is and I can’t find any additional detail to explain a $73.9 million trade deficit in “other health practitioner services”.

Anyway not a great example, but it is another example of us losing business because of a ‘tight’ labour market.