Several months ago I had a guest blog post from Kevin Mercadante, who runs the terrific blog OutOfYourRut.com. He wrote an article for his readers that he allowed me to repost here titled ‘What to do if you absolutely can’t afford health insurance.’ Kevin’s blog features a lot of topics, with a focus on how to save money when buying goods and services.
This morning I found another great post from Kevin, this one on the blog ChristianPF.com (the PF stands for personal finance, as near as I can tell). The article is ‘What is medical tourism… and why is it becoming popular?’ and it gives an excellent overview of this industry. Needless to say, for self-pay patients (including many of those with health insurance who either have high deductibles or find that a needed treatment isn’t covered or available) the option of medical tourism can literally be a lifesaving one, not to mention a financially attractive one.
Here are a few excerpts from Kevin’s article, I highly recommend you read the whole thing!
Rising healthcare costs are forcing modern consumers to search for different ways to reduce expenses and still get the medical service they need. In recent years another solution has appeared. Medical tourism has people living in one country and traveling to another to seek medical, dental and surgical care…
There’s actually nothing new about medical tourism. The direction of the flow is what is new. Historically, people from poor countries traveled to wealthy ones in search of advanced medical attention. The flow is reversing today, as people from wealthy countries now hunt healthcare in less developed areas where it’s less expensive…
Patients travel overseas seeking a high quality of healthcare, affordability, and access of care, but the most basic reason to go to a third-world country is the cost. In many developing countries, one can have major surgery for a small percentage of the cost in the U.S., Canada, Japan, or Western Europe…
Most elective surgery – such as cosmetic surgery, certain dental surgeries, and even hip replacements – are not covered by insurance in the U.S. But if the cost is much lower overseas, you might elect to make the trip for surgery.
There may also be procedures, such as fertility, cancer treatments or other therapies not approved in the U.S. or in other rich countries. A couple desperate to have a baby, or a terminal patient looking to participate in experimental cures, might find attractive options in a poorer nation.
Even in countries with single-payer national health insurance, medical tourism is growing. In such systems, surgeries involving non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries can land you on a waiting list lasting for months or years. Many people then seek relief through medical tourism…
A major medical procedure performed in a foreign country may cost less than the out-of-pocket costs for the same procedure in the U.S. – to say nothing of the possibility of a claim disallowed after the fact for some unimagined reason. For example, a heart bypass surgery might cost over $150,000 in the U.S., but can cost less than $10,000 in India…
The list of what we might call “hot” medical tourism destinations varies from year to year, and is also largely determined by the type of treatment or surgery. There is no one country as a haven for medical tourism, however, Mexico, Costa Rica, India, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea keep coming up on various lists.
Consider two factors influencing the country you choose to seek for medical care . . . .
The first is the quality of care related to specific illnesses, ailments, or injuries. This can vary staggeringly from country to country. Narrow your choices down to the one, two or three countries offering the best care for your need.
The second consideration is cost. Even in poor and developing countries, the cost of certain medical care can change substantially from one country to another. This isn’t to say you want to look for the lowest cost destination; you want to balance out cost with the quality of care.
…There are agencies, commonly called medical tourism providers, who coordinate your surgery and travel. They handle every detail of your trip, often including potential follow-up sources once you are back home. One site, advertising on Google searches, is MedToGo.com, which seems to specialize in Mexico as a destination.
Payment will typically be in cash since there is no insurance company paying or acting as an intermediary. However in the past few years, some health insurance providers have dipped a toe into the medical tourism phenomenon. Companies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of California, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of South Carolina, and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Wisconsin have at least experimented with limited participation in medical tourism…
The CDC issues the following risks associated with medical tourism:
- Language barriers that could cause treatment problems.
- Transmission of diseases, such as HIV, from reuse of syringes.
- Unregulated and/or poor quality medications.
- Anti-biotic resistance may be more common in some countries than in the U.S.
- Questionable blood supply.
- Flying after surgery increases the risk for blood clots.
Still, medical tourism seems destined to follow other major industries into greater public acceptance.
Kevin’s article gives a good overview of the potential benefits and risks of medical tourism. In addition to MedToGo.com, other major firms in the medical tourism industry include MedRetreat and Planet Hospital. There are smaller operators as well who can offer excellent services, many of whom specialize in particular countries.
As the article notes, there are some risks associated with travelling overseas as a medical tourist. Doing your homework, including checking out whether a facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI). I’m the last person to say an official credential is proof of excellence, or that a lack of a credential suggests poor quality, but JCI is a pretty reputable organization as near as I can tell. Working through a medical tourism company seems to me to be a must, although American citizens and residents who are natives or have spent a lot of time in the country they travel to might feel comfortable handling it themselves.
And don’t forget there are domestic medical tourism options as well – anyone in the country who can get to Oklahoma City and the Surgery Center of Oklahoma or New York City and Regency Health will find prices that typically beat (sometimes by 80 percent or more) the prices a self-pay patient might be expected to pay at their local hospital. Medibid and North American Surgery can help to find domestic options as well.
The cost of healthcare shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving care, and by considering medical tourism options many self-pay patients can bring previously unaffordable treatments into reach.