Today amidst our national healthcare crisis, ideas are emerging. Americans are traveling overseas for healthcare. Perhaps you’ve heard of the rich and famous going for plastic surgery but now we’re talking about the rest of us going abroad for hip replacement and heart surgery.
It’s easy to see why Americans are frustrated about healthcare. Millions are underinsured or have no insurance at all. Many self funded companies can no longer afford to offer their employees and their family’s health insurance. Employer’s premiums have risen 73% and while employee contributions have risen 173% just in the last six years. Therefore, many companies and individuals have no option but to look elsewhere for solutions.
Overseas entrepreneurs are offering an alternative to the Americans in the form of medical tourism agencies. These agencies act as the “middleman” between patients here in the U.S. and hospitals and doctors abroad. Think of them as a travel agency that arranges your care, flight, hotel, and even sightseeing tours after you recuperate from your surgery. These agencies earn a commission and have contracts with facilities overseas to which they provide patients. These agencies are setting up here in the U.S. as entrepreneurs race to get in on the profits to be made. This industry is projected to grow to $40 billion annually by 2010. MedRetreat, a Maryland based agency, has been sending U.S. patients oversees for years.
Given the choice to go abroad for hip surgery for approximately $13,000 or stay in the U.S. and pay $40,000 for the same surgery, what would you do? In 2004 the average hospital stay in the U.S. was a little over $6,000, twice that of other Western countries. Savings vary but are anywhere from 40%-80% lower abroad than what Americans pay at home.
While this trend may not be affecting the average American yet, chances are it will soon. U.S. companies in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Florida are already looking into sending their employees overseas for medical treatments and surgeries. Blue Ridge paper Contracts, a North Carolina company, may soon allow it’s employees and dependants to go to India for certain company insured treatments. One state is trying to pass legislation to offer incentives for state employees to get treatment abroad. Business is booming and Americans are getting desperate.
Obviously there are countries all over the world with excellent doctors and well equipped hospitals however, considering distance, how can you decide which offer the best care and which you should avoid? Some of the directors of the medical tourism agencies are taking it upon themselves to fly over and check out the facilities for in person. These directors are not necessarily qualified to determine this for you. To open one of these agencies there are no licensing requirements. That means you need not have any medical training and even a lay person could open one tomorrow if he or she wanted to. I can only recommend you do your own research. Let say you’re going to India for hip replacement, contact India’s Embassy here in the U.S. and request information regarding their laws on malpractice. I’m sure there are many offering outstanding care and many that don’t. There are a lot of testimonials with raving reviews from patients (on the net) who’ve actually done this but if you’re one of the unlucky ones who gets substandard care beware that the legal recourse will be complicated. Some agencies will ask you to sign a consent or waiver to protect them in the event something goes wrong. But clearly regulation at some level is needed.
If global healthcare a.k.a. medical tourism affects your life in the near future, here are just a few of the countries who are ready to take your business and are rolling out the red carpet for American medical tourist: Brazil, Thailand, India, Turkey, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Africa. The American medical community perhaps should take notice of this trend but I suspect it will not until it affects their bottom line. And it is starting to do just that.
Ann Arbor is the city that has the most number of cases in plastic surgery and which has made the term rhinoplasty Michigan popular.