Cuba—a mecca for fine cigars, rusty cars and rickety communism—is being sold by a Winnipeg entrepreneur as a cutting-edge destination for health care queue jumpers. Daren Jorgenson, founder and “chief idea officer” of Choice Medical Services, has sent some 200 Canadians and Americans on medical tourism excursions to the island for services including drug rehabilitation, hip replacement, eye surgery and breast augmentation. “The standards of care are very high,” says Jorgenson, who also runs an Internet pharmacy and a chain of Canadian medical clinics. “Obviously Cuba is an impoverished country, but when you’re having surgery done, you’re in some pretty premier facilities.”
Medical tourism is a growing source of hard currency for Cuba, which trains a surplus of doctors. “I like to call Cuba’s physician pool Fidel’s oil, an untapped economic power,” says Jorgenson. His business lets Canadians with the ability to pay avoid long wait times. For Americans who enter Cuba through a third country to thwart the U.S. embargo, it’s a way to stretch inadequate private insurance. The cost of a hip replacement in Cuba is $8,000, compared to $63,000 in the U.S.
Jorgenson met Michael Moore on a flight to Cuba while the U.S. filmmaker was making Sicko, his critique of American health care. While Moore praised the Cuban and Canadian systems, Jorgenson says Canada is at a “tipping point.” The costs of an aging
population, new drugs and diagnostic tools are unsustainable. Outsourcing medical procedures is one of the necessary reforms, he says. “If we want to have a universal health care system 50 years from now, we’d better damn well be prepared to make hard decisions now.” Most Canadian health tourists aren’t being reimbursed for their costs. “Five years from now health ministers are going to start listening to us,” he predicts. “Ten years from now, they’ll start paying for it.” M
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