A 64 year old woman, an insulin-dependent diabetic, was so obese she was not able to climb stairs or even take a leisurely stroll. Her family doctor said she was an excellent candidate for gastric bypass surgery, but her insurance would not cover it and she could not afford the $60,000 cost. After doing extensive research, she had the surgery in Monterrey, Mexico. Five months later, she had lost 80 pounds, was no longer insulin dependent, and was in excellent health. Her total cost, including hotel, was $10,000.
A young woman was in need of a heart valve replacement and repair of a hole between her heart chambers, but had no health insurance. She traveled to Delhi, India for the surgery, and was hospitalized 4 weeks. Her total cost, including travel, was about 10 percent of what it would have cost in the U.S.
These are examples of what has become a viable option in healthcare, and every year more people are leaving the U.S. for routine (and not so routine) medical procedures. Most make the choice based on finances, and most voice the same opinion when they return home: the personal attention and quality of care are fantastic, and they would do it again in a heartbeat.
Compiling reliable data is difficult, and most sources seem to agree that between 1 and 2 million Americans are traveling overseas for medical care each year. It is predicted that with the implementation of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) medical tourism will increase as insurance companies look for ways to cut costs. Because the cost savings are so dramatic, some of the largest health insurers in the U.S. are already considering medical tourism programs.
How much money can be saved? The average cost for a hip replacement in the U.S. is $75,000. In India, the cost is $9,000. Heart bypass surgery averages $210,000 in the U.S. The cost in Thailand is $12,000. A knee replacement in the U.S. is about $35,000, and about $13,000 in Singapore.
While cost is the most significant factor most people consider, it isn’t the only factor driving people to travel outside the U.S. for healthcare. Sadly, medical desperation causes many people to spend a lot of money overseas on scientifically unproven treatments and procedures not available in the U.S., such as stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries.
If you decide to seek medical care overseas, do your homework and choose a doctor based on education, qualifications, experience and reputation. When choosing a hospital, one factor to consider is whether it is accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI). JCI is an accrediting organization affiliated with the Joint Commission, which is the most important accrediting body in the U.S. for American hospitals. Most hospitals in the U.S. must receive Joint Commission accreditation to be financially viable and to hold themselves out to the public as providing high quality care. JCI’s accreditation process is similar, but not identical, to the process used for U.S. hospitals. So far, JCI has accredited more than 500 health care providers in over 50 countries. JCI accreditation, together with a well-trained and qualified medical staff, can produce medical care comparable to that provided in U.S. hospitals.