Most patients are well aware that Americans spend more money on healthcare than any other nation, but many consumers signing up for Obamacare health insurance coverage now know they will also invest plenty of time.
Americans who didn't get very far on the Obamacare exchanges that opened for enrollment this week may be pleased to know that medical tourism offers reduced waits and fewer glitches at a fraction of the cost than procedures and treatments available in their local neighborhoods.
Ask John Wilson, 66, who first traveled to Panama on vacation, where he heard about the country’s medical tourism opportunities and first-class health system.
“When I was at the airport and met other people who were coming to Panama, they were taking about the medical system here,” he said.
Wilson, a retired telecom worker from Atlanta, had been told that he needed dental implants, which is an expensive procedure that his insurance didn’t fully cover. After doing some research, he ended up at the Pacific Dental Clinic in Panama City.
Still, he wasn’t convinced. Wilson told CBS this Morning that he instead decided to talk to people who had already been to the clinic.
“I went down and I sat outside the office here and I watched people coming out and when I saw Americans coming out I’d ask them of the quality of the care they got here,” he said.
Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association, said many uninsured Americans don't have the luxury of waiting and seeing if healthcare reform can offer a solution to their conditions and have turned to medical tourism instead.
Pain waits for no one, said Edelheit, who will appear on KDKA-AM radio, with Robert Magino, Oct. 9, 2013, 10:05-10:30 p.m. Many patients have medical conditions that require immediate attention — when the patient needs care and for a price that he or she can afford.
Well Worth the Trip
Wilson said he was quoted about $27,000 for dental implants in the United States and will pay $7,000 in Panama. Popular destinations for medical tourism can also be found outside of Panama. In Colombia and Vietnam, hip replacements, one of the most popular surgeries, average less than $10,000, but it can set back the patient $50,000 in the United States, according to Medical Tourism Association figures released to the CBS broadcast.
The same can be said for heart bypasses, they cost as little as $11,000 in Malaysia or $25,000 in Israel. However, in the United States they cost $144,000.
Many of the doctors that Wilson crossed paths with in Panama were likely educated in the United States and trained specifically to cater to visiting Americans at hospitals affiliated with some of the most reputable institutions in the world including the Cleveland Clinic and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
For some Americans, traveling abroad for medical tourism is not just a money saver, but a way to receive treatments not available near their homes. Susan Sportsman visited Panama from Texas for stem cell treatments not approved by the FDA. She hopes they will help cure her arthritis, at least temporarily.
“What I’ve invested here, I expect will be a short gain of a long run because I won’t be on medications, I won’t have complications from those medications, I won’t have to have joint replacement, so forth and so on,” she said.
Sportsman said she is pain-free and doing well. She plans to return to Panama for additional treatment, and a vacation, in the next six months.