Traveling for Treatment--Soaring U.S. health costs are driving more Americans abroad for medical treatment

by Anthony Mecir and Katharine Greider ,  AARP News Bulletin | 2007-09-01

Bruce Pearson, a 61-year-old plant nursery owner in Boynton Beach, Fla., was desperate for relief from excruciating back pain. Worried that his health insurance might not cover treatment, he searched the Web for options—finally choosing to have spinal stenosis surgery in Thailand. Pearson's total bill: $4,618.03 for services that would have cost him at least $14,000 out of pocket at home.

So pleased was Pearson with his care by a U.S.-trained doctor at Bangkok's Bumrungrad International Medical Center that he says unless it's an emergency and he can't travel to Thailand, he won't seek treatment in the United States again. "I will crawl back to Bumrungrad if I have to," he says.

Steven Cherkas expresses similar views. When he had a heart attack while visiting Thailand in 2005, his impulse was to rush home to Columbus, Ohio, for treatment. Advised that air travel could prove dangerous, the 64-year-old businessman underwent double bypass surgery at Bumrungrad.

"I was treated like a respected guest as well as a patient in need of good medical care," he says. "Press the button, and they respond." His surgery cost less than $17,000, and his insurance covered all but $3,000 of it. Stateside, he estimates, he'd have paid up to $20,000 out of pocket.

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