One perennial defense of the United States’ health care system is the fact that wealthy foreigners regularly come here to receive medical care.
But medical tourism goes both ways. Among those for whom cost is a concern, the U.S. health care system is not an ideal vacation destination.
A new report by Visa Oxford Economics projected that the number of Americans traveling abroad for medical care will increase 25 percent annually over the next decade. That means an estimated 1.4 million will leave the United States for treatment this year.
Americans are traveling abroad for treatment that either isn’t covered by their insurance or which, even with insurance coverage, is far cheaper elsewhere.
As the Fiscal Times points out, Indus Care, a company that provides employee medical tourism benefits to employers, estimated that a knee replacement that would cost $35,000 to $65,000 in the United States can be obtained for only $23,000 in Costa Rica or India, and that’s including the cost of travel and lodging.
But cost isn’t the only factor driving Americans abroad for health care. Some like the idea of turning a medical procedure into an exotic vacation. What better way to recuperate from knee surgery than on the beach in Costa Rica?
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be reluctant to travel to a foreign country for a serious medical procedure. Language barriers and other cultural differences might complicate an already stressful situation. And of course, depending on where you go, the quality of care could be substantially lower.
“The people who get into trouble are the ones that price shop and don’t pay attention to quality,” says Josef Woodman, chief executive officer of Patients Beyond Borders, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based publisher of medical tourism information.