AeroMexico's new service to New Orleans may boost medical travel

by Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune , | 2009-07-05

When Sue Sorey needed hip replacement surgery, her husband, the Rev. Galen Sorey, called hospitals in the couple's hometown of Baton Rouge to get estimates of the cost.

The Soreys planned to pay for the surgery themselves because Sue, a Type II diabetic, did not have health insurance. But the estimates they received ranged from $60,000 to $100,000, Galen Sorey said. The figures were so wide-ranging, he didn't know how to go about saving and planning for the procedure.

"Just by the Lord's good provenance, I read an article about medical tourism, and I started investigating it and realized she could have (the surgery) overseas," he said.

Instead of Baton Rouge, Sue Sorey's hip resurfacing surgery took place in Ghent, Belgium, in March. The couple spent $25,000 total on the procedure, lodging for two and meals in Belgium for 13 days.

"We are extremely happy," Galen Sorey said. "The relief was immediate. She was walking on it, and there was no pain whatsoever."

The Soreys are part of a growing number of Americans who are traveling outside U.S. borders for medical treatment, as health care costs rise and access diminishes in the States. Those Americans also represent a potential customer for New Orleans' newest airline.

The business community is expecting that the AeroMexico nonstop flight, which begins service Tuesday between New Orleans and Mexico City and continuing on to Honduras, will improve tourism and commerce between Louisiana and Mexico. But the flight service could also usher in new opportunities for medically related travel.

Destination for patients

Mexico is the second largest destination, behind India, for patients booking medical travel through Planet Hospital, a medical travel company that connects patients with 32 hospitals in 18 countries. Although bookings to the country have fallen off since the swine flu scare there, it's still a popular destination, said Rudy Rupak, the company's founder.

About 40 of the company's 3,000 patients during the past seven years of its existence have been from Louisiana and flown out of Louis Armstrong International Airport, Rupak said.

Mexico was a close second for the Soreys, who flew out of the country from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

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