Narayana surgical hospitals in India provide heart surgery for much less than U.S. facilities

I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to write this post since I was reading an article about this topic several weeks back that helped prompt me to launch The Self-Pay Patient.

I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve written a book to help the uninsured and those with high-deductible health insurance to find affordable, quality care in a health care system that isn’t particularly friendly to self-pay patients (the book will be available this fall, early winter at the latest).

I read an article about coronary bypass surgery in India offered by the Narayana chain at prices significantly lower than those available in the U.S., and I realized just how fast the market was moving for self-pay patients. While it didn’t mean my book would be outdated or irrelevant by the time it was published, If felt it did mean that readers of the book would likely benefit from an ‘evergreen’ blog that built on the concepts and information in the book and provided frequent updates on both new and old options for the uninsured, high-deductible, or even fully-insured self-pay patient. 

I recently referenced the story about heart surgery in India in a discussion on an online medical economics and policy website, The Incidental Economist, and it reminded me that I needed to share the information here. This appeared in Bloomberg several weeks ago, concerning the Narayana surgical chain in India.

Heart Surgery in India for $1,583 Costs $106,385 in U.S. 

Devi Shetty is obsessed with making heart surgery affordable for millions of Indians… Cutting medical costs is especially vital in India, where more than two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day and 86 percent of health care is paid out of pocket by individuals.

Shetty is… a heart surgeon turned businessman who has started a chain of 21 medical centers around India. By trimming costs with such measures as buying cheaper scrubs and spurning air-conditioning, he has cut the price of artery-clearing coronary bypass surgery to 95,000 rupees ($1,583), half of what it was 20 years ago, and wants to get the price down to $800 within a decade. The same procedure costs $106,385 at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services…

A 300-bed, pre-fabricated, single-story hospital in the city of Mysore cost $6 million and took six months for construction company Larsen & Toubro Ltd. to build, Shetty said. Only the hospital’s operating theaters and intensive-care units are air-conditioned, to reduce energy costs.

This sort of medical tourism is a fast-growing part of the options that self-pay patients face. Admittedly, traveling to a foreign country for major surgery is probably not most people’s first option. But a growing number of Americans have direct roots in other countries, and it’s easy to see how the option of going to India or another country where family already live can be an attractive option.

Plus, if it’s a matter of getting the surgery done overseas by qualified doctors or not getting it done at all – well, I know which choice I’d be making.

If international travel for medical procedures, typically known as medical tourism, is something you’re interested in exploring, there are several web sites you can visit, a simple Google search of the term “medical tourism” will bring them up. If you’re interested in a particular country, enter that as a search term as well.

Some helpful sites I’ve seen include the Medical Tourism AssociationPlanet Hospital, and All Medical Tourism. Needless to say, once you find an overseas facility you’re interested in, be sure to check it out as much as possible!

For those with a less international view of self-pay options for major surgery, there are also domestic options for medical treatment. One of them simply requires the ability to get to Oklahoma City, where the Surgery Center of Oklahoma offers real prices to self-pay patients for many common surgeries including hernia repair, cochlear implant, anterior cruciate ligament repair, and septoplasty.

If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, you might want to try using either the MediBid or North American Surgery websites, which can match you with hospitals and surgical facilities across the country willing to give self-pay patients a fair price.

And don’t forget Health Care Blue Book, which should be the starting point for anybody wanting to find out what the real prices are for medical services, as opposed to the inflated ‘chargemaster’ prices that unsuspecting self-pay patients can get stuck with.

Using this site, you can find out that the typical price paid by an insurance company for coronary bypass surgery in the U.S. is about $74,601, somewhat below the $106,385 charged by the Cleveland Clinic but still significantly above what it can cost at a Narayana facility in India.

Recently, I mentioned to a reporter that while the options for self-pay patients were generally easy to find for primary care, one of the main challenges was hospital and surgical care. Medical tourism, both foreign and domestic, is probably the leading option for many uninsured or those with high-deductible plans or even those with ‘comprehensive’ insurance that won’t cover certain procedures.

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