Hip surgery in India? Insurance may pay

by JoNel Aleccia ,  MSNBC | 2008-06-30

Burgeoning benefits could send hordes of U.S. patients abroad for care

Timmi Ryerson, a San Diego stock market analyst, says her left hip actually works again, thanks to an orthopedic specialist in India.

Stacie Mason, a civil rights worker from West Virginia, couldn’t fully appreciate her 170-pound weight loss until a plastic surgeon in Panama removed 20 inches of excess skin from her stomach and back.

And Ford Davies, a firefighter from Roseville, Calif., sports a realigned jaw and a mouthful of straight, strong teeth courtesy of a dentist in Mexico.

What's new about these procedures is not the exotic locales the three chose, but the way they paid for their far-flung surgeries.

While at least 150,000 Americans travel abroad for medical care every year, according to the American Medical Association, Ryerson, Mason and Davies represent a small but growing category of medical tourist: patients whose insurance companies have agreed to foot at least part of the bill.

“I think that’s the solution to our health care crisis," said Davies, 53, whose company plan, Delta Dental, maxed out his dental benefit, about $2,500, toward the $30,000 he spent to repair damage caused by years of grinding his teeth, a procedure that would have cost an estimated $80,000 in the United States.

Increasingly, some of the nation’s larger employers and leading health insurers agree.

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