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Do wealthy Canadians donate to hospitals to get better treatment?
Billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got in a testy exchange with social media users over health care recently.
The debate quickly shifted from the United States to the situation north of the border when one user tweeted, "In Canada, me and you (Cuban) would get exactly the same level of healthcare."
"Except that’s not true," Cuban said in response. "There is a reason why wealthy people in Canada donate to hospitals."
Except that is not true. There is a reason why wealthy people in Canada donate to hospitals https://t.co/seszdD8Puu— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) August 15, 2019
"When wealthy Canadians donate to hospitals they don’t just mail a check," he continued in another tweet. "They meet the top folks at the hospital and get their #s. They call ahead. They get their standard issue gown sooner and with more attention."
Except, when wealthy Canadians donate to hospitals they dont just mail a check. They meet the top folks at the Hospital and get their #s. They call ahead. They get their standard issue gown sooner and with more attention. Even in Canada it's smart to keep donors happy. https://t.co/Rq1ic6Nzrz— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) August 15, 2019
Really? Do wealthy Canadians donate to hospitals to get better treatment? Cuban’s tweet made it sound like standard operating procedure.
That sounded fishy to us, so we reached out and asked Cuban, who once flirted with running for president, what evidence he had to back up his claim.
"Lol," he said. "No. I’m not going to bust the people I spoke to."
Cuban said the point of his Twitter thread was to inspire discussion about the pros and cons of the health care systems in the United States and Canada. (He has proposed eliminating insurance companies and using federal money to pay for more medical staffers, per CNBC.)
He told us to ask major hospitals in Canada if they give donors phone numbers to call to arrange for better treatment. So we did. We also talked to a number of experts.
The bottom line: Cuban might know a few rich Canadians who have their doctors on speed dial because they gave money to build a building, buy new equipment or fund research. But as a general rule of thumb, Canadian hospitals don’t award special privileges to wealthy donors.
Generally speaking, health care in Canada is delivered by private doctors and hospitals but paid for with public funds. That’s why Democratic politicians such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have praised Canada as a model for what single-payer health care could look like in the United States.
Provinces and territories are in the driver’s seat, but the federal government helps handle the costs and decides which services the provinces must cover to receive federal money.
Canadians don’t pay out-of-pocket for medically necessary care, defined as visits to the doctor or the hospital. (A majority of Canadians buy supplemental private insurance to cover the costs of prescription drugs, dental care and other services, however.)
We won’t discount the possibility that Cuban knows people who feel their donations gave them an upper hand with their specific hospital or doctor. But hospital representatives and health policy experts told us that, while there might be isolated cases of donors getting preferential treatment, those scenarios are highly unlikely and might be against federal law.
We called the press offices for a number of Canada’s largest hospitals from several different provinces. Many of them didn’t answer. But those that did were skeptical of Cuban’s claim.
"I can emphatically and strongly say no, that doesn’t happen at St. Paul’s," said Shaf Hussain, spokesperson for Providence Health Care, which operates hospitals across British Columbia, including St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. (St. Paul’s received a record $75 million donation from a billionaire in 2017.)
"We do have a very generous donor community, and we are always grateful for any support provided for equipment or research," Hussain said. "But no, that does not result in any kind of special treatment or access to health care."
Hussain and Ted Marmor, professor of public policy and management at Yale University, said prioritizing donors would violate the federal Canada Health Act, which stresses the importance of "facilitat(ing) reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers."
"As a general description of Canadian hospital practice, (Cuban’s claim) is mythology," Marmor said. "That some patients have participated in pursuit of quicker service with donations is no doubt true. But this is an exaggerated portrait of hospital admission."
Other Canadian experts agreed.
"Donors give to hospitals as signs of appreciation, civic-minded investment in infrastructure or equipment, or to invest in specific kinds of hospital-based research," said Antonia Maioni, professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal. "There is no quid pro quo."
"There is not a direct relationship between whether you contribute and what care you get," added Raisa Deber, professor of public health policy at the University of Toronto.
For what it’s worth, donations are "not a significant source of financing Canadian hospitals," Marmor said. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of total health expenditures in Canada come from general tax revenues collected by various levels of government.
Cuban said "wealthy people in Canada donate to hospitals" to get better treatment.
It’s possible Cuban knows some people who claim they’ve gotten special treatment, but hospital representatives and health policy experts told us Cuban’s claim is an inaccurate description of what happens in Canadian hospitals by and large. It’s also at odds with Canadian law, which says people should have access to care regardless of finances.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Mark Cuban on Twitter, Aug. 15, 2019
Government of Canada, "Canada's Health Care System," accessed Aug. 15, 2019
World Health Organization, "Canada: Health system review," 2013
Government of Canada, "Canada Health Act," 1985
CNBC on YouTube, "How Canada’s Universal Health-Care System Works," July 5, 2019
CBC, "Largest Canadian hospital donation by a private citizen," Nov. 5, 2018
The Washington Post, "Canada’s health-care system is a point of national pride. But a study shows it’s at risk of becoming outdated," Feb. 23, 2018
CNBC, "Mark Cuban sees a model for fixing health care — and he didn’t find it in the United States," July 31, 2017
PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders overplays Canada's out-of-pocket health care costs," Feb. 22, 2019
Email interview with Raisa Deber, professor of public health policy at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Aug. 15, 2019
Email interview with Ted Marmor, professor of public policy and management at Yale University, Aug. 16, 2019
Email interview with Antonia Maioni, professor of political science at McGill University, Aug. 16, 2019
Phone interview with Michael Law, professor of health policy at the University of British Columbia, Aug. 16, 2019
Email correspondence with Carrie Stefanson, public affairs leader at Vancouver General Hospital, Aug. 16, 2019
Phone correspondence with Katherine Nazimek, spokesperson for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Aug. 16, 2019
Phone correspondence with Sally Lee, communications coordinator at Providence Health Care, Aug. 16, 2019
Email interview with Shaf Hussain, spokesperson for Providence Health Care, Aug. 16, 2019
Email correspondence with Andre Gagnon, spokesperson for Health Canada, Aug. 16, 2019
Phone interview with Maureen Meehan, director of marketing and communications at the London Health Sciences Foundation, Aug. 20, 2019
Email interview with Mark Cuban, businessman, philanthropist and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Aug. 16, 2019
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