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There was a time when the rich and famous were the main practitioners of medical tourism — all the better to hide the occasional facelift or tummy tuck from prying eyes back home. But today, the rising number of under-insured or budget-conscious patients has made going abroad for medical care much more prevalent and for more complex procedures. It’s also getting the support of domestic insurers.
In a study released late last year, the Deloitte Center for Health Care Solutions reported that in 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care — a number expected to increase to a whopping 6 million by next year. The so-called medical tourism industry has grown up in medical centers built for this purpose in countries like India, Thailand and many countries in Europe and Latin America. News stories describe hospitals that are the match of any in America — with doctors trained in the United States and prices for major surgeries that are between 30 to 80 percent less than at American hospitals.
But before you hop on the plane, it’s best to do significant financial due diligence. The good news is that some major health insurers have started to jump on the medical tourism bandwagon. Aetna, WellPoint and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina are among leading health care insurance providers making foreign facilities available in their physician and hospital networks and even arranging one-stop shopping for overseas treatments, including care, travel and lodging.