Good Candidates for Medical Tourism
As patients become more innovative about how to save money on healthcare, the prospect of travelling to foreign countries for medical services has spawned an industry called medical tourism. In many cases, the savings realized by seeking care outside the country more than makes up for the travel abroad and even a vacation while there.
Countries like Thailand, Malaysia, India, Turkey, and Costa Rica are increasingly investing in medical tourism as a focus industry for their economies. In many cases, these countries have natural beauty or fascinating history that can attract vacationers for more than the medical service – and places like South Africa even lure patients with "medical safaris." The bang for the buck on saving big money is the main attraction, however.
American travel agents have even gotten into the mix. A cottage industry of travel arrangers specializing in medical tourism can now do everything from booking your airfare and hotel to scheduling the appointment with a surgeon.
With the increasing focus on medical tourism, and costs here in America continuing to escalate, which services are the most popular or best candidates for being done overseas? Before we provide some ideas, keep in mind that it is up to you to ensure the medical services will be credentialed to your comfort level, and that not all services are a good fit with the long flights and activity level that is common during overseas trips.
Plastic Surgery. Places like Egypt and South Africa, among many other countries, have become popular for performing plastic surgery at discounts of 60% or more. Liposuction, for example, can cost as little as 10% abroad of what it would cost here at home. What makes plastic surgery such an appealing service to have done overseas is that many U.S. insurance companies will deny covering a plastic surgery because it may not be medically necessary. If you are going to pay out of your own pocket, shop the globe.
Dental Procedures. Countries such as Hungary and India are drilling a niche in the area of dental services. Major dental services, such as root canals or reconstruction, can cost 50% less or more in these countries, all in a day when more and more people are dropping dental coverage at home because of questionable value.
Joint Replacements. As Americans remain active at much older ages than they used to, things like hip replacements are becoming more commonplace. The twist is that more and more people are having these replacements done in their pre-Medicare years, creating potentially large out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedures. Going to Thailand for the replacement, according to the Medical Tourism Association, will cost you $12,000 in instead of $43,000 at home.
Heart Surgery. While you need to do extra diligence to ensure you are a good candidate to travel for a service like this, and the ramifications of having someone unqualified perform the service are obviously significant, the price difference is hard to ignore. A heart valve replacement, for example, costs $15,000 in Costa Rica versus $160,000 in the United States – a whopping 90% savings. Before you book the trip south, though, check with your local cardiologist to see if he or she will discount their price, perhaps significantly, to keep your service at their shop.
In short, medical tourism is growing for a reason – you can save lots of money on the exact same service. But be sure that you are a good candidate for the travel, and that you are choosing a service that is done with excellence in the foreign country.