Medical Tourism Offers Big Savings, Big Questions

Need a cheap kidney? How about a quick and easy bypass operation? Medical tourism offers a way for people facing pricey medical procedures to both save money and see another country. And while some, including President Obama, disparage the practice, it’s on the rise as healthcare costs in the United States skyrocket beyond the budget of middle-class patients.

First, let’s make sure we understand what medical tourism is. It’s not something that happens when you fall ill on a vacation. It’s also not primarily a leisure activity although, if things go well, medical tourists might be able to enjoy the sights in Mumbai.

No, medical tourism is all about saving money on healthcare costs while taking advantage of modern travel and medical infrastructure. According to the Medical Tourism Association, the potential savings are enormous. A year ago, the group listed the average price of a heart bypass operation in the United States as $144,000. That same bypass in India would cost $5,200. Closer to home, you could get the bypass operation in Mexico for $27,000. With savings like that, medical tourism looks mighty appealing to a wide range of patients. The association calls it one of the fastest-growing areas of healthcare today.

Not everyone supports the concept. At an appearance last month, President Obama tut-tutted medical tourism, saying that he wanted people to stay in this country for their treatment. “I’d like you to be able to get it right here in the United States,” he told the audience at a town hall meeting.

Yet experts say that’s not always an option. Johns Hopkins professor Ravi Aron laid it out in a piece published on the website of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. With low costs and modern facilities, Indian facilities have much to offer patients, he wrote.

“The choice that these consumers of global healthcare services face is between care delivered overseas (Mexico, India, or elsewhere) and no care at all,” Aron wrote. “So asking them to stay in the U.S. is pointless. Until affordable universal care is a reality in the U.S., they will continue to travel abroad for healthcare services. This is not a discretionary spending that they can postpone or redirect.”

How do you feel about the practice? Would you go overseas for medical treatment? Would you feel safe knowing that U.S. laws and malpractice rules might not apply? Write in the comments section and tell us what you think.


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