Amid Canada’s ongoing battle with prolonged emergency room wait times and staffing challenges, a new poll finds that many are willing to journey southward in pursuit of timely health care, even if it means paying out of pocket.

The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found that 42 per cent of respondents would go to the United States and personally pay for more routine health care if needed. That is up 10 percentage points compared with January 2023.

And 38 per cent of respondents said they would travel to the U.S. and personally pay for emergency care (up nine points from a year ago).

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“I think the increase is happening because of the increasing level of frustration that Canadians have in the health-care system,” Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs, told Global News.

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“It’s not the quality of care that that people are upset about, it is the timely access to care, meaning wait times in emergency rooms, wait times to see specialists, to get appointments, for screening. As a result, we have a significant chunk of the population say if they can get that service elsewhere, such as the United States, they may consider doing so.”

The Ipsos polling comes as provinces continue to struggle with shortages of family physicians, escalating wait times for surgeries and escalation of emergency room backlogs.

‘More money isn’t the solution’

A significant portion of the health-care pressure stems from the remnants of the pandemic, Simpson said.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen the health-care system was in many respects, holding on by a thread. And that thread is continuing to unravel,” he said.

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As a result of this, in February 2023, the federal government offered the provinces and territories a health funding deal worth $196.1 billion over 10 years, including $46.2 billion in new money.

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As of Monday, all provinces and territories have agreed to the health accord in principle except for Quebec.

Last month, Ontario was the latest province to sign a $3.1-billion health-care funding deal that will see the province hire more health-care workers, deal with surgical backlogs and upgrade to a digital data system.

When it comes to this funding, Canadians have plenty of opinions, according to the Ipsos poll.

More than four in 10 respondents believe provinces should get more health-care dollars from the federal government, and they should decide how to spend this money. Those in Quebec were more likely to agree (53 per cent) compared with people living in Ontario (37 per cent).

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Additionally, 58 per cent of respondents suggested that provinces ought to present a detailed plan to the federal government outlining their strategies for improving health-care delivery in exchange for increased funding.

“Canadians increasingly believe that more money simply isn’t the solution,” Simpson said. “We’ve been throwing more money at the health-care system … and yet Canadians aren’t receiving any improvement as a result of those investments.”

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Many Canadians believe that provinces should exercise more targeted control over funds, Simpson said, allocating them to specific functions like reducing emergency room wait times and addressing surgery backlogs.

However, he emphasized the funding shouldn’t simply be a “blank cheque,” as Canadians believe that solution hasn’t been working so far.

“There needs to be accountability, there needs to be transparency. We need to know where the money is going, and we need to be able to measure the progress that that money is having in improving the system,” he stressed.

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The rise of private health care

The Ipsos poll also examined Canadians’ attitudes towards the privatization of health care, a concept that Ontario, has been increasingly exploring.

In the poll, 63 per cent of respondents said they would support private health care for those who can afford it. And 60 per cent said they would support private delivery of publicly funded health services.

Ontario is planning to expand the private delivery of public health care by funding clinics to perform more cataract surgeries, MRI and CT scans, colonoscopies, hip and knee replacements and other procedures in an attempt to ease pressures on the hospital system.

“We’re starting to see, over time, increased acceptance of private solutions entering the health-care system,” Simpson explained. “Will Canadians support a full-fledged transition to private health care? No. But do they support publicly funded private delivery of certain services? Absolutely.”

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If the goal of adding private health care is to alleviate some of the pressure from the health system overall, Simpson said he believes more Canadians will be receptive to the idea.

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Many Canadians are also optimistic about the increasing adoption of virtual care, a trend that has accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.

The poll found a strong majority of Canadians (79 per cent) would support the expansion of virtual care for services provided by a family doctor.

“The pandemic changed a lot and many of us got used to consulting our health-care professionals through Zoom or on the phone,” Simpson noted.

“I think there’s just a general appreciation that it increases accessibility for many people, as perhaps doctors can see more patients that way. So there’s a growing, acceptance and a growing desire, in fact, for more virtual health care solutions.”

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These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between Feb. 16 and 20, 2024, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians aged 18-plus was interviewed. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18-plus been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage error and measurement error.

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