Get Well Soon – Love, C.R.

by Devon Magee , | 2008-11-06

Chuck Neudorf, from the U.S. city of Seattle, is combining his vacation to Costa Rica with a root canal.
Although he is insured in the United States, he has exhausted his dental benefits for the year.

"The cost of dental work seems to be around a third to a half of what I'd pay at home, and I feel perfectly comfortable working with medical professionals in Costa Rica," he says.

Neudorf is part of a growing number of foreign visitors coming to Costa Rica not for its beaches, volcanoes or cloud forests, but for its hospitals.

Once a euphemism for cheap cosmetic surgery abroad, medical tourism is now a booming industry that is filling the gap between affordable health care and unaffordable health insurance.

"With the looming health care crisis in the U.S. (over 45 million uninsured) – and Costa Rica's positive image, strong health care infrastructure and proximity – it was really no surprise that potential patients and companies would start taking an interest in Costa Rica," says Bill Cook, international patient coordinator at Hospital Clínica Bíblica in San José.

According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board, 95 percent of the estimated 5,000 medical tourists who come to Costa Rica each year are from the United States. The majority are uninsured or underinsured.

Medical treatment is not only less expen sive here than in the U.S., but it is often less expensive than the deductible insured patients would pay for the same treatment at home.

"Labor costs are so different here. Health care prices are 30 to 40 percent lower than in the U.S.," says Carole Veloso, director of the Hospital CIMA in Escazú, a western San José suburb.

While cosmetic surgery costs in the U.S. have adjusted to compete with cheaper alternatives overseas, the medical tourist today is more interested in a knee replacement or a gastric bypass than a facelift. Clínica Bíblica focuses on weight loss, orthopedic and minimally invasive procedures.

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