Gandhi questions cost of sending cancer patients to the U.S.

May 19, 2023

VANCOUVER B.C. – The B.C. Green Party is calling for a full explanation of the costs associated with the B.C. NDP’s recently-announced plan to send some breast- and prostate- cancer patients to the U.S. for radiation therapy.  On top of the distressing reality that cancer patients will be sent out of the country for treatment, the figures provided by the Minister of Health appear to significantly underestimate the total costs (see attached).  This money would have been far better spent by proactively investing in our own healthcare system, given that the government was warned of a likely increase in the number of cancer patients as many as 11 years ago.

“There has been much criticism of Minister Dix’s plan to send nearly 5,000 British Columbian cancer patients to the U.S. for treatment, because our beleaguered healthcare system cannot provide adequate care for them,” Dr. Gandhi said. “I certainly do not question the need to get immediate help for cancer patients - but what I am questioning is the funding that Minister Dix has cited. It appears to significantly underestimate the cost of the program. We are spending millions of dollars that should have been proactively invested in our own system. If the costs are even greater than what we have been led to believe, the government should be transparent about it.”

A recent report by The Globe & Mail reveals that the cost of radiation therapy in the U.S. is more than three times the cost of similar treatments in B.C.

“This money could have been spent at home years ago, resulting in better health outcomes for B.C. patients today; instead, it is going to the far-more expensive US health system,” Dr. Gandhi added. “In 2012, the head of B.C. Cancer Agency went to the Provincial Health Services Authority to warn them that the number of cancer patients would go up significantly in the next ten years, and that government should begin preparing the system for that increase. PHSA disregarded this warning, and now, despite different governments – both B.C. Liberal (United) and B.C. NDP - managing our healthcare system, outcomes have worsened. Sending patients to the U.S. is a band-aid solution that highlights the government’s long standing neglect of our healthcare system.”

“This situation is emblematic of the reactive management of our healthcare system by both B.C. Liberal (United) and B.C. NDP governments,” B.C. Green leader Sonia Furstenau said. “It is the same short-sighted management that has led to our family doctor shortage, which has been anticipated since the 1990s. In fact, each crisis compounds the other; the family doctor shortage has led to fewer patients with preventative care and early detection, ultimately risking worse health outcomes for cancer care. The same thinking that has got us here will not get us out of it. While supporting those with cancer right now, we need to simultaneously reorient our healthcare system around primary care using a community health model that can support British Columbians before they need more acute care in the first place.”

“I am deeply concerned about this program, and the burden it puts on British Columbians who are already undergoing sometimes unbearable stress due to their cancer diagnosis,” added Camille Currie, B.C. Green candidate for Langford-Juan de Fuca and founder and President of B.C. Health Care Matters. “When a patient is undergoing cancer treatment, they need their support systems the most. That includes friends, family and their community. 

“At best, patients will be able to travel with one caregiver, but many don't have someone to travel with them; what support will they have in a foreign country? Patients will also be in a city they do not know, living out of a hotel. That is stressful enough for anyone, but then add to that the fact that many expenses such as gas, accommodation and meals for both the patient and caregiver will have to be paid out of pocket, before being reimbursed. Many British Columbians don’t have that kind of money, especially during a cost-of-living crisis, when they are not working because of their treatment or because they are fogoing wages while traveling as a caregiver. My heart breaks for people in this situation.”

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Attached: Cost analysis (below)

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Backgrounder - cost analysis

Using the most restrictive numbers, such as travel from Vancouver by car and accommodation at 2-star hotels, this analysis estimates that the program could cost at least $72 to $86 million. When more expensive costs are added, such as travel from various locations by various modes (eg: air travel), more expensive accommodation, ambulance services, emergency treatments, and caregiver costs, in addition to factoring in substantial administrative expenses to coordinate this care, the total cost of this program could significantly eclipse the $78 million allocated by Health Minister Adrian Dix. 


Minimum cost for 4-week treatment (rounded)

Minimum cost for 8-week treatment (rounded)


Radiation therapy



Expected cost for radiation therapy for breast and prostate cancer (per patient) based on analysis by Andrea Woo/The Globe & Mail ($12,277). (1)




Based on $92 per night, the lowest price for a 2-star hotel for 20-40 nights. (2)

Radiation typically occurs 5 days per week for 4-8 weeks. 




$45 per day for 20-40 days.




Vancouver to Bellingham is 90 km; a return trip is 180 km. 4 round trips (1 for each week of treatment) totals 720 km.

In an ultra compact car, 720 km could be completed with 1 tank of gas. This analysis uses the cost of gas in Bellingham (3), as it is cheaper than gas in Vancouver.

Total per patient




Total program

$72 million

$86 million

Cost for 4,800 patients


(1) “Sending B.C. cancer patients to U.S. for care will triple the cost”, The Globe & Mail, May 18, 2023, by Andrea Woo

(2) Google Travel, rate for May 21-22, 2023

(3) GasBuddy

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