Many Americans — including Baby Boomers — are considering crossing international borders to find more affordable health care.
According to a Gallup poll, up to 29 percent of Americans would consider traveling abroad for medical procedures such as heart bypass surgery, hip or knee replacement, plastic surgery, cancer diagnosis, and treatment, or alternative medical care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that thousands already do.
The question is: Why?
According to Ed Perkins, founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, people usually turn to medical tourism for one of four reasons:
- They have major dental problems that aren’t covered by insurance.
- They like the idea of combining low-risk medical treatments with a visit to a vacation destination.
- They are considering elective medical procedures not covered by their health insurance or Medicare.
- They don’t have any other option; the treatments or medications they seek aren’t approved or available in the U.S.
In the past, if medical treatments were needed, you had two options: pay for them (no matter the high price tag) or go without. Now you have another option — often more affordable, yet just as reliable. If you’re considering having surgery overseas, here’s what you need to know before you make up your mind.
What Procedures Are Available
According to Patients Beyond Borders, a consumer resource for international health care travel, the top medical tourism procedure specialties include:
- Cosmetic surgery
- Cardiovascular (angioplasty, CABG, transplants)
- Cancer (often high-acuity or last resort)
- Dentistry (general, restorative, cosmetic)
- Orthopedics (joint and spine; sports medicine)
- Reproductive (fertility, IVF, women’s health)
- Scans, tests, health screenings and second opinions
- Weight loss (LAP-BAND, gastric bypass)
Top Medical Tourism Destinations
Though medical care is available virtually everywhere, highly rated medical care isn’t. According to Patients Beyond Borders, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States are the top medical tourism destinations for world travelers based on trusted international accreditations.
In 1999, the U.S.-based Joint Commission launched its international affiliate agency, the Joint Commission International. In order to receive JCI accreditation, international hospitals must meet the same rigorous standards set for hospitals in the U.S. by the Joint Commission.
Other established accrediting agencies include The Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) and The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAASF). If you’re considering international health care treatment, make sure the organization you work with is aptly certified.
Say you’re able to find an accredited facility that offers the procedure you need. The big question is, how much will it cost?
If you were to have dental work done in Costa Rica or Mexico, you’d likely pay 50 to 80 percent less than you would for the same procedure in the U.S., according to Patients Beyond Borders.
If you’re headed to Europe, consider having your dental work done in Hungary where there are many high-quality, low-cost dental clinics because the country boasts more dentists per capita than any other in the world. Using U.S. costs across a variety of specialties and procedures as a benchmark, average range of savings for the most-traveled destinations:
- Brazil: 20-30%
- Costa Rica: 45-65%
- India: 65-90%
- Malaysia: 65-80%
- Mexico: 40-65%
- Singapore: 25-40%
- South Korea: 30-45%
- Taiwan: 40-55%
- Thailand: 50-75%
- Turkey: 50-65%
Deciding If It’s Right for You
Even if all of the logistics line up, medical tourism isn’t for everyone. How can you know if it’s right for you? First, you and your current doctor will need to determine if you’re a viable candidate for a medical tourism trip. Depending on the type of procedure needed, there are multiple factors to consider, such as recovery time and potential setbacks. Then determine if you’re healthy enough to make the trip.
You may also consider bringing a companion along to help communicate your needs to the health care staff and keep you company. If you’re feeling brand new earlier than expected, you may even be able to enjoy site-seeing in your medical travel destination country as a bonus.
Photo – Copyright: kzenon / 123RF Stock Photo
About the Author
Keri Lunt Stevens is a trained journalist who dabbles in editing, blogging and content marketing. Her experience ranges from entertainment and community news to personal money management and budget travel. She has unabashed dreams to inform and inspire, but secretly just aims to help readers stop being stupid with their money. Keri spends her free time planning future trip itineraries, biking, reading, and trying to figure out how to earn more air miles.