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Canadian Company Begins Real U.S. Health Care Reform

Opinion Editorial
October 26, 2009

By Linda Gorman

If you need health care, Rick Baker may be able to save you a lot of money.

In 2003, Mr. Baker founded Timely Medical Alternatives. It helps Canadians arrange for medical care in the United States. Though Canadian health care is paid for by taxes, waits are long and the system isn’t concerned with minimizing pain and suffering.

Each year 400 to 500 Canadians contact Mr. Baker for help. Some want a diagnostic test. Others want to save their lives. They have waited so long for care that their health has deteriorated to the point where paying thousands of dollars for U.S. care to escape suffering, death, or permanent debilitation seems like a bargain. Some of the stories of the people helped by Timely Medical Alternatives are available at FreeMarketCure.com.

Christina Woodkey and her husband used all of their retirement savings to pay for surgery in Missoula, Montana to correct her spinal stenosis. They say that they’ll be dependent on welfare for the rest of their old age. Mrs. Woodkey had been disabled and in pain since 2005. After many delays, she was told in June 2009 that she had a September 30th appointment with a specialist. The wait for the actual surgery after that appointment would be 1 to 2 years. She had surgery in September in Missoula, and paid $55,000 for it.

The Canadian government may or may not decide to pay for Mrs. Woodkey’s surgery. Mrs. Woodkey says that regardless of the government’s decision, she’s happy that she took control of her own health care. She would do it again, she says, because money isn’t much good if you are in such pain that you can’t do anything.

She says that Canadian doctors don’t care, not because they are horrible people but because under the government controlled system they can’t do anything for you.

Canadian physicians can’t affect waiting lists by working more because the government budget pays them for only a certain amount of work. Hospitals can’t open more beds because the government doesn’t fund them. It is illegal for physicians to accept payment from patients for care that the government is supposed to pay for.

Timely Medical Alternatives depends on Mr. Baker’s ability to find U.S. hospitals and doctors who have good outcomes, treat his patients promptly, and charge fair prices. His newest business, North American Surgery, will help Americans get much lower prices in exchange for cash payment from a network of 22 surgical centers in 13 states.

The differences between the package prices that Mr. Baker negotiates, and the prices charged by providers in most insurance networks, are huge. For example, the standard U.S. price for a hysterectomy is $20,000, while the North American Surgery price is a significantly lower $7,500. A hip/knee replacement that normally costs over $43,000 is much less expensive through Baker’s network at $15,000. And bypass surgery, usually hugely expensive at $100,000, is instead a more reasonable $15,000.

Why do such enormous price differentials exist? At least one of the physicians in Mr. Baker’s network notes that hospitals threaten to withdraw from insurer networks if insurers include lower cost providers in their networks. And insurers don’t have much of an incentive to fight those contract provisions because they can simply pass higher costs along in the form of higher premiums.

Mr. Baker plans to offer his services to people who have high deductible insurance, to people who don’t buy health insurance because they instead prefer to pay cash for care, and to people who just want to pay less for good health care.

He and others like him offer the best plan for lowering the cost of American health care and improving its outcomes.