Why Go Abroad for Medical Care?
Cost savings. Most people like to get the most for their dollar. The single biggest reason Americans travel to other countries for medical treatment is the opportunity to save money. Depending upon the country and type of treatment, uninsured and under-insured patients, as well as those seeking elective care, can realize 15 - 85 percent savings over the cost of treatment in the US. Or, as one successful health traveler put it, “I took out my credit card instead of a second mortgage on my home.”
As baby boomers become senior boomers, costs of healthcare and prescriptions are devouring nearly 30 percent of retirement and pre-retirement incomes. With the word getting out about top-quality treatments at deep discounts overseas, informed patients are finding creative alternatives abroad.
Better quality care. Veteran health travelers know that facilities, instrumentation, and customer service in treatment centers abroad often equal or exceed those found in the US. Governments of countries such as India and Thailand have poured billions of dollars into improving their healthcare systems, which are now aggressively catering to the international health traveler. VIP waiting lounges, deluxe hospital suites, and staffed recuperation resorts are common amenities, along with free transportation to and from airports, low-cost meal plans for companions, and discounted hotels affiliated with the hospital.
Moreover, physicians and staff in treatment centers abroad are often far more accessible than their US counterparts. “My surgeon gave me his cell phone number, and I spoke directly with him at least a dozen times during my stay,” said David P., who traveled to Bangkok for a heart valve replacement.
Excluded treatments. Even the most robust health insurance plans exclude a variety of conditions and treatments. You, the policyholder, must pay these expenses out-of-pocket. Although health insurance policies vary according to the underwriter and individual, your plan probably excludes a variety of treatments, such as cosmetic surgeries, dental care, vision treatments, reproductive/infertility procedures, certain nonemergency cardiovascular and orthopedic surgeries, weight-loss programs, substance abuse rehabilitation, and prostheticsto name only a few. In addition, many policies place restrictions on prescriptions (some quite expensive), post-operative care, congenital disorders, and pre-existing conditions.
Rich or cash-challenged, young or not-so-young, heavily or only lightly insuredfolks who get sick or desire a treatment (even one recommended by their physician) often find their insurance won’t cover it. Confronting increasingly expensive choices at home, nearly 40 percent of American health travelers hit the road for elective treatments. In countries such as Costa Rica, Singapore, Dubai, and Thailand, this trend has spawned entire industries, offering excellent treatment and ancillary facilities at costs far lower than US prices.
Specialty treatments. Some procedures and prescriptions are simply not allowed in this country. Either Congress or the FDA has specifically disallowed a certain treatment, or perhaps it’s still in the testing and clinical trials stage or was only recently approved. Such treatments are often offered abroad.
One example is an orthopedic procedure known as hip resurfacing, for most patients a far superior, longer lasting, and less expensive alternative to the traditional hip replacement most often practiced in the US. While this procedure has been performed for more than a decade throughout Europe and Asia, it was only recently approved in the US, and its availability here remains spotty and unproven. Hundreds of forward-thinking Americans, many having suffered years of chronic pain, have found relief in India, where hip resurfacing techniques, materials, and instrumentation have been perfected, and the procedure is routine.
Shorter waiting periods. For decades, thousands of Canadian and British subscribers to universal, “free” healthcare plans have endured waits as long as two years for established procedures. “Some of us die before we get to the operating table,” commented one exasperated patient, who journeyed to India for an open-heart procedure.
Here in the US, long waits are a growing problem, particularly among war veterans covered under the Veterans Administration Act, for whom long queues are becoming far too common. Some patients figure it’s better to pay out-of-pocket to get out of pain or to halt a deteriorating condition than to suffer the anxiety and frustration of waiting for a far-future appointment and other medical uncertainties.
More “inpatient-friendly.” As US health insurance companies apply increasing pressure on hospitals to process patients as quickly as possible, outpatient procedures are becoming the norm. US hospitals are under huge pressure to move inpatients out of those costly beds as soon as possible. Medical travelers will welcome the flexibility at the best hospitals abroad, where they are often aggressively encouraged to spend extra time in the hospital post-procedure. Staff-to-patient ratios are usually lower abroad, as are hospital-borne infection rates.
The lure of the new and different. Although traveling abroad for medical care can be challenging, many patients welcome the chance to blaze a trail, and they find the creature comforts often offered abroad a welcome relief from the sterile, impersonal hospital environments so often encountered in US treatment centers. For others, simply being in a new and interesting culture lends distraction to an otherwise worrisome, tedious process. And getting away from the myriad obligations of home and professional life can yield healthful effects at a stressful time.
What’s more, traveland particularly international travelcan be a life-changing experience. You might be humbled by the limousine ride from Indira Gandhi International Airport to a hotel in central New Delhi or struck by the simple, elegant graciousness of professionals and ordinary people in Thailand, or wowed by the sheer beauty of the mountain range outside a dental office window in Mexico. As one veteran medical traveler put it, “I brought back far more from this trip than a new set of teeth.”
Excerpted from Patients Beyond Borders World Edition
Last updated on 29 June 2011