February 16, 2009. At first blush it’s a little hard to see what medical tourism – where you travel to a foreign country for a medical procedure or operation – is all about. After all, if you have any kind of medical insurance, why would you travel to a new country to have an operation when you you could have it done in the USA?
The fact is however, with health care costs increasing at six percent per year for the next decade, and medical tourism offering savings of up to 70 percent after travel expenses, there are plenty of reasons to travel. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions announced in its new study, “Medical Tourism: Update and Implications,” that 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2007. Barring any tempering factors such as supply constraints, resistance from health plans, increased domestic competition, or governmental policies, Deloitte projects that outbound medical tourism could reach
upwards of 1.6 million patients by 2012, or 35 percent annual growth in coming years.
So why do people choose Medical Tourism?
Medical tourism to the U.S. has long been very popular, as wealthy patients from around the world seek out top U.S. health care facilities and specialists. Americans travel abroad primarily for medical operations such as cosmetic surgery and dental work, procedures not commonly covered by medical insurance. Almost 39% of Americans say they would go abroad for an elective procedure if they could save half the cost and be assured quality was comparable,with younger people and men more likely than others. Outpatient procedures account for 75% of medical tourism outside the U.S.
Value versus cost is the main reason for foreign travel. Patients can have procedures done for as little as 10% of the cost of U.S. treatment, which provides sufficient room to cover all travel costs, have a short vacation, and still save money. As one example, a knee surgery that would typically cost over $11,000 in the U.S. could be performed for a low average of just $1400 in other countries. State legislatures and health insurance companies have launched initiatives to explore the potential benefits of incorporating medical tourism into health plans as a way to save money. Many of the leading U.S. hospitals and health care systems have programs where foreign affiliates conduct procedures for U.S. residents.
Does it Make Sense for Retiring Baby Boomers?
Since Medicare will cover just about most major expenses when American baby boomers turn 65 (and none have done that yet), there isn’t much reason for older retirees to practice medical tourism. However, if you have no insurance coverage and aren’t under Medicare, it might be a very good idea. Likewise if you need extensive dental work or want cosmetic surgery at any age (which won’t be covered by Medicare), that’s another reason to consider it. High deductible and co-pay costs might be another reason to consider going to a foreign country for a big operation.
The Hot Countries for Medical Tourism
The Philippines, India, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Gulf States, Germany, and Costa Rica are some of the main providers of medical services for U.S. residents.
Plenty of Resources
The medical tourism industry is surprisingly well organized. There are several companies that will help organize your trip and screen providers for you (or have their own network). PlanetHospital is one of those, along with insurer Mondial USA and publisher Patients Without Borders. The Joint Commission International, U.S.-based provider of foreign hospital certifications, is another great resource. Its website has information on more than 200 certified facilities in more than 30 countries.
What You Should Consider
The Deloitte survey on Medical Tourism has an excellent list of considerations that everyone should keep in mind before they embark on any medical tourism. Most are common sense, but they include things like making sure that the trip is voluntary, that HIPAA privacy concerns are protected, that patients are informed about all risks and costs, and that the procedures are done at an accredited facility.
For further reference
The original 2008 Deloitte Study on Medical Tourism (very informative)
US News article on Medical Tourism