Over a half million Americans travel abroad for surgery on a yearly basis. Escalating health care costs in the United States, as well as difficulty in receiving medical care due to rules and regulations by HMOs, has prompted frustrated Americans to seek health care elsewhere. It is a well-known fact that foreign destinations often offer medical procedures identical to those in the United States for a fraction of the cost.
The reduction in cost is not attributable to any lack of quality, education or retraining. As a matter of fact, many foreign destinations use state-of-the-art equipment and procedures not currently in use in the United States. In addition, many foreign health care providers do not experience the burden of carrying large amounts of malpractice insurance that is now required in the U.S., and which drives up health care costs. Medical tourists have saved nearly $20 billion dollars in health care treatments, procedures and surgeries in the past year by traveling abroad for their medical needs.
For example, heart bypass surgery in the United States may cost an individual over $130,000. The same procedure costs under $7,000 in India or $35,000 in Korea. Likewise, a hysterectomy in the United States may cost between $20,000 and $30,000, while the same procedure in Costa Rica costs less than $5,000.
In many cases, foreign medical destinations are not only luxurious, but include the latest state-of-the-art technology and equipment available in various fields of practice. It is common for medical care contracted through a medical tourism provider to also include 24-hour observation and care as well as private nursing and private room facilities.
Not to mention the fact that individuals who travel abroad for medical care are also able to enjoy a bit of vacation time in unique or exotic locations such as Thailand, Singapore, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and more.
Changing Opinions on Quality Health Care
The old saying, "If you can't beat them, join them", seems to be holding true for many major medical and health insurance providers in the United States. Because finances are at the bottom of individual decisions to travel abroad for medical care, American health care providers are finally paying attention.
For example, CIGNA, a large carrier in the United States, is considering offering reimbursement for hip and knee surgeries in foreign destinations. Other insurance companies and their subsidiaries, such as Companion Global Healthcare Inc., of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina, is beginning to offer international care as an option available in their basic health insurance plans. Indeed, many healthcare service providers are expecting and anticipating that medical tourism will be standard in the healthcare field by 2015.
Medical Insurance Companies Get On Board
Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna and CIGNA are in the process of developing pilot programs for limited coverage in foreign care scenarios. Some plans are waiving co-payments, and even reimbursing patients who choose less expensive services and procedures abroad. Employee Benefit Management Services Inc., a firm located in Montana, has already offered medical tourism care plans to over 100 of its self-insured clients. In addition, they also cover medical costs, as well as paying for airfare, traveling and lodging expenses for patients and one companion in many of their plans.
Changing attitudes in medical benefits and coverage is finally taking place within medical insurance provider boardrooms, catalyzed by the ever-growing number of individuals seeking more affordable health care abroad.
Patients traveling abroad should always verify the quality of care and facilities by ensuring that the Joint Commission International, an accreditation agency, or the International Society for Quality in Health Care, approves them. Currently, the Joint Commission International has certified nearly 200 hospitals and medical centers around the globe. A large majority of physicians and surgeons who practice in international destinations have been trained as well as certified in the United States.
Foreign medical providers are held to high standards of medical training and experience, but medical tourists should always ensure that their international medical providers are accredited by local as well as international standards of care and training.