Medical tourism may be the remedy for high US health care costs

by Michael Hoffman ,  The Daily Illni | 2012-05-04

While the Supreme Court quietly decides the fate of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, a trend has emerged in the American health care market that will be unaffected by the Supreme Court’s decision: medical tourism

This year alone, hundreds of thousands of Americans will travel to places like Singapore, India, Costa Rica, Mexico and Malaysia to receive everything from face-lifts to double-bypass heart surgeries — at steeply discounted prices.

Imagine: You experience whiplash from a car accident and herniate a disk in your neck. You are young, dumb and, of course, uninsured. The surgery will cost you a hefty $90,000 at an American hospital, but a United States-trained surgeon in Bangkok can do it for under $10,000 at Bumrungrad Hospital, the booming “marble-floored mecca of the medical trade.”

This is what really happened to Kevin Miller, a 45-year-old chiropractor from Louisiana, whose story was documented by Time. He wisely decided to hop onto the next plane to Thailand to save a clean $80,000. Nowadays, you can (almost) buy an entire university education for that.

Medical tourism is bound to strike the competitive chord that so naturally resonates in the American soul. According to Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton University health care economist, it has the potential to be an industry-wide rejuvenation that could mimic “what the Japanese auto industry did to American carmakers.”

The huge price-gaps are catching a lot of attention, and American firms are beginning to absorb this new demand. PlanetHospital, an agency that works with private insurance companies to incentivize their clients to go abroad, sent around 200 people overseas in seven months, then got 11,000 inquiries last March alone. Those types of numbers are certainly going to climb higher in the near future given astronomical costs of the current American health care system.

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