Why Are Patients Racing Out of America for Healthcare?


If you think health care costs in America are outrageous, looking at the prices of procedures in other developed countries isn’t a good idea. Americans are paying a stunning amount for procedures that would be considered routine — and are highly affordable — in places like Australia, Spain, France and South America. As a result, more patients are deciding medical tourism is the best solution for health issues.

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When you can pay over 70 percent less for dental procedures (as you can in Costa Rica) or drop $17 on a visit to a joint specialist (as you would in Panama), the idea of combining a tropical vacation with some much-needed health care fixes makes perfect sense. CNN reports the medical tourism industry accounted for 9 percent of the global G.D.P. in 2011, a number that is expected to grow as health care costs in the U.S. continue to skyrocket.

While essential procedures like hip replacement don’t require patients to get on a waiting list in most low-cost havens, cosmetic procedures like face lifts are draws for their extremely affordable rates (the procedure in Brazil costs about one-fifth the average price in the U.S.). In most cases, medical tourists don’t receive lackluster treatment. Countless expatriates living in Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica have seen improvements in terms of personal attention and commitment of physicians. Most attractive of all, patients normally don’t need insurance of any kind in foreign countries…

The reason is the prices are so low out-of-pocket that it makes sense in many cases for visiting patients to forego the hassle (and cost) of foreign insurance. The Costa Rica Medical Tourism Summit held in late April brought together clinics, hospitals, insurance companies and hotels to present a total package to foreigners in need of treatments of all kinds.

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What has gone wrong with U.S. health care? The debate continues to rage on, yet the need to somehow curb the cost of drug prices and insurance plans is clear. Something all U.S. political parties agree on is that it should not cost $2,800 for MRIs that cost $118 in Argentina. Similarly, the price of an emergency room or walk-in visit to a hospital in Panama ($2) is enough to make Americans factor the price of hotel and plane tickets and still see themselves come out ahead on the flight home.

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