Medical Tourism - one answer to rising health care costs?

by Deborah Shlian , | 2009-08-03

Why spend $160,000 on heart valve replacement surgery in Boston when the same procedure costs as little as $8,000 in India or a $43,000 hip replacement in New York when it can be done in Thailand for about $12,000? And that includes airfare, luxury accommodations, US or British trained doctors and, English speaking staff, 

Ten years ago, the practice of traveling to another country for medical care known as medical tourism usually involved people getting breast implants or face lifts abroad. However, more Americans than ever are opting for significant medical and dental care thousands of miles from home, many taking these so-called “medical holidays” because they can not afford the high costs of similar procedures in the states when faced with rising health insurance premiums, high deductibles or no insurance at all.

According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, in 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad to receive some kind of elective medical treatment with India, Singapore, Thailand, and Costa Rica as favored destinations.

And it’s not just individual patients considering overseas care. In the last few years, major insurers and employers have signed contracts with companies to cover a range of elective medical procedures performed at international facilities catering to medical tourists. Outsourcing of healthcare is a growing business.

In January of this year, Wellpoint, the nation’s largest health insurer in terms of renrollment included an India outsourcing benefit for employees of Serigraph, Inc. in Wisconsin. Healthbase Online Inc, a Boston based medical tourism facilitator is collaborating with Wellpoint on a pilot basis to provide global health care coverage to these employees. Those who choose to have non-emergency care in India such as major joint replacement or upper and lower back fusion have their deductibles and co-insurance waived as well as all medical costs and travel paid for the patient and a companion,

Blue Shield and Health Net of California offers its members care in Mexico. Aetna has a program for small businesses that allows immigrant workers to receive all of their care—not just selected procedures—in "network" hospitals in Mexico, through Vitalidad México con Aetna.

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