Richard Davis – Medical Tourism Can Certainly Save You Money — Especially If You Are Not Insured
More Americans than ever before are taking advantage of medical treatments in foreign countries. They are medical or health tourists. They are riding the growing wave of health tourism. Some of the travel is for elective surgery and some for major medical procedures. So far, the debate about health care and health care insurance by both Senator McCain and Senator Obama, has not included any great mention of this viable and important third option that exists between government controlled health care and a struggling private system of health care.
Medical or Health Tourism is a relatively new term, but those who have traveled for health have been around for eons. Ancient Romans traveled to the hot water baths (called thermae) from all across the world, as it existed then. No mere gushing spouts of water and bare rocks, these were elaborate establishments that served up cures but also served as places for the elite to meet.
In the United States, many places with “healing waters” were common until science and medicinal cures overtook a comforting soak. Look at a map, and in nearly every state is someplace with the word “springs” attached. Hot Springs, Arkansas, for instance, was a gathering place for Native Americans to take the cures that the 143 degree water offers. The Native Americans, and the white settlers that followed, traveled to Arkansas; they were the medical tourists of the day.
Modern Medical Travel:
It would seem that with the ease of modern travel that more and more people would be looking for treatment beyond their own city, state and even borders. It turns out to be true. It is estimated that 47 million people in the United States have no health insurance. Some have no insurance by choice (mostly younger and statistically healthier people) and some have been priced out of buying affordable insurance, or do not have it offered through their place of employment. Another 120 millions US citizens are believed to be under-insured.
For those uninsured or under-insured, travel to another country became an option, starting first with elective surgery –i.e., “plastic surgery”. Brazil became a leader in plastic or cosmetic surgery. Lately, destinations such as Singapore, India, Thailand, Costa Rica and a number of others have been receiving travelers from the United States and around the world, because they either specialize in certain types of treatments (India for heart surgery, for example) or they offer a package that includes transportation, procedure, and recovery for a fraction of the cost of doing the same in the United States.
Where to Go:
Just as your neighborhood has shops that specialize in men and women’s clothing, or a place that delivers excellent Asian cuisine, and a deli that has premium cuts of meat, so does the world have countries that have staked out areas of expertise in medical treatments. Costa Rica, for instance, has become known for dental work, India for heart procedures, and Singapore for general surgery, oncology and stem cell therapy. Each of these countries represent only a small selection of what the world supermarket has to offer for those who need or want to seek treatment abroad.
A more complete listing of destinations and the treatments available are in an excellent book “Patients Beyond Borders,” by Josef Woodman.
Is it Safe?
The answer is “yes” and “no”.
This is where you or the potential patient has to do some homework. Many doctors practicing in even obscure corners of the world have been trained in the United States or in other western countries. That said, you have to pay attention to the facilities as well. Many hospitals and clinics in foreign countries maintain the same health standards –or better– than in the United States. Often, they are accredited by the same US agency that certifies hospitals here, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. Recently, this Oak Brook, Illinois, not-for-profit organization has shortened its name to simply The Joint Commission.
Should you Go?
For most, it is the cost factor that will ultimately determine a trip abroad for medical care. Woodman, in Patients Beyond Borders, applies the $6000 rule. If you are quoted a procedure that costs $6000 or more, then seriously consider buying an airplane ticket. Along with this calculation is the factor of whether or not you carry health insurance, or if you do, the amount of the deductible.
Often medical procedures done abroad can cost less than a third of what the US cost would be, and that can include transportation, procedure, and even a private resort like convalescence.