4/6/2012 3:51 PM ET|
Save big as a medical tourist
Going abroad for medical treatment can cut costs and offer access to procedures that are hard or impossible to get in the US. Still, Americans are largely reluctant to do so.
Medical tourism has been promoted as an inexpensive and even enjoyable way to see the world while getting high-quality cosmetic and elective surgeries for pennies on the dollar, compared with U.S. health care costs.
Yet despite that rosy prospect, most Americans are not interested in leaving the country for their health care needs.
The underlying conditions needed to support medical tourism are largely being met, experts say. The quality and depth of foreign medical facilities has continued to improve. Costs are still a bargain for many procedures, and medical tourism travel brokers have become better at putting together the packages needed for a successful experience.
Forecasts for attractive growth rates for medical tourism ran head-on into the recession, notes Paul H. Keckley, the executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a unit of the consulting firm that closely follows medical tourism trends. If that wasn't enough, the expected support of employers and health insurers has failed to materialize.
"We had estimated that employers would drive the medical tourism market," Keckley says. "We thought they would approach the medical insurance companies and tell them that they needed to add (medical tourism) benefits.
"But the major employers are not clamoring for medical tourism right now," he continues. Health care inflation has been under 4% each of the past two years, he notes, so employers are under less pressure to trim health care expenses. And while such savings are still a major priority, "medical tourism doesn't show up as a top-tier issue."
It's also not a top-tier priority for consumers. Deloitte conducts an annual survey of U.S. and global health care trends. Among consumers from a dozen countries, Americans are the least likely to go outside their home country for health care.
Only 3% of Americans would definitely consider traveling outside the United States for either necessary or elective care, Deloitte reported in its 2011 survey. And only 1% actually did so in the past year.
Uninsured consumers are more likely to practice medical tourism, Deloitte reported. And the willingness to travel varies with age. More than 30% of younger consumers say they would at least consider travel outside the United States for health care. The percentages decline for progressively older age groups and are only 21% for baby boomers and 17% for seniors.
While the total market for medical tourism may be flat, that's not true for all markets and providers, says Geoff Moss, a vice president at Planet Hospital. Based in Los Angeles, it specializes in medical tourism and has developed its own network of recommended physicians and hospitals. Moss estimates that company business has been growing at a 30% annual clip for several years.
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Three reasons emerge for medical tourism, and they have helped support Planet Hospital's expansions. First, procedures remain far cheaper in many overseas markets than in the United States. Second, some needed treatments are more accessible and can be scheduled sooner than at busy U.S. facilities. Third, certain specialized treatments may not even be available in the United States, due to differing health care regulations and even cultural acceptance of some health care practices.
"We still do the standard medical tourism procedures," Moss says. "We still do the hearts, and the knee replacements, and the spines and the hips." But the company has found a real niche in more sophisticated treatments that are either not available in the United States or are in short supply or extremely expensive here.
"We offer procedures that aren't available in the United States," Moss says. For example, his company works with several Chinese hospitals that provide stem cell therapies. It also works with medical facilities in Japan and South Korea for very expensive cancer therapies, including proton beam therapy.
"The U.S. has only eight to 10 beam-therapy treatment centers," he explains. And the cost can easily hit $250,000 for a 12-week treatment regimen. Costs in Japan and South Korea are only a fourth of that, and the treatment is more readily available.
Likewise, Planet Hospital has developed and expanded a surrogate birth program in India. "We may create the embryos here and then take them to India, where they are deposited in the surrogate," Moss says. "Or in some cases, our clients want an Indian egg donor." The legality of the procedure hinges on the baby needing to be genetically linked to one of the parents, Moss explains.
More than half of Planet Hospital's surrogacy work is with gay and lesbian couples, he says. And with same-sex marriages being recognized by more and more states, the demand by same-sex couples for surrogate birthing services has been expanding.
Accreditation bodies have been expanding their reviews of foreign hospitals to include more facilities and to provide accreditation of specific procedures and disciplines. The Joint Commission International is the major U.S.-based provider of foreign hospital certifications. It has a list of certified facilities and countries on its website.
A smaller list of recommended international health care providers has been drawn up by Patients Beyond Borders, a provider of medical tourism information.
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I traveled to Mexico some years ago for a face lift and to have my ears pulled back. It was a wonderful experience, combined with a fine few days seeing San Miguel de Allende.
Five years ago I traveled to Costa Rica for dental implants which was a necessity because after three different plates, I could not get one that fit correctly and could only wear them for roughly three hours at a time. That was a good experience, also.
Presently I'm going to start looking into having another piece of "vanity" surgiery done, to remove the many fine wrinkles on this 72-year old face. I'll price it here as well as else where and then make my decision on where to have it done.
I wouldn't hesitate to use a good Medical Tourist broker to make my itinerary and deal with the necesarry physicians.
I had many fillings done in Thailand for only $30 each rather than the $350 to $500 American dentists charge. It's American filling material and American technique, but cost effective due to operating a small office in a market that isn't so expensive by a dentish who is also usually the proprietor that isn't greedy. They don't have to charge arms and legs to earn a decent salary, it's just the American business people in charge of our offices are so greedy, stingy, and selfish. I got the most sincere high quality work out of those people over there who live by strong traditional values, spiritualism, and a culture of national pride to live by. I find Buddhists and Hinduists to be just perfect as service providers of all sortsn in my many travels while teaching English in Korea.
And after you get a scaling cleaning and 10 fillings for an affordable $335, you can get pampered with foot and body massages for $5 to $8 an hour; not $4000 for the dental services and $150 an hour for the massage like you'd pay in the US,. The quality was actually very high and incomparable to anything back home, but medicine is familiarly Westernized. Many say Thailand is a dirty 2nd or 3rd world poor country, but so is the USA as well today. All streets in all countries are dirty and contain poor dirty people in need, but the offices are clean and staffed by professionals. I trust going to Thailand and possibly India for care since I don't have benefits in the US like you'd have if living in a Western European country such as Germany as most of our jobs don't offer a decent benefits package nor do we have a social system to prevent the uninsured from falling through the cracks.
Americans need to travel more like the Eureopeans so we can better understand the world and our own country and then demand better out of our leadership.
Good idea, have an operation by some guy in Mexico who graduated from Taco Tech.
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