NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 11, 2006

Going overseas for cheaper medical treatment, also known as "medical tourism," is one of the fastest-growing trends in modern health care, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

While no one officially tracks the phenomenon, the statistics at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, give a sense of how fast it is growing.

  • Last year, Bumrungrad treated 58,000 American patients, 70 percent of whom traveled there especially for such procedures as hip and knee replacement, angioplasty and prostate removal, said spokesman Ruben Toral.
  • That was 25 percent more U.S. patients than it treated in 2004, he said, and so far this year, American patients are running 20 percent above last year's figures.

At Bumrungrad Hospital, Toral said, the lower cost of living is a major factor in the savings, but so are differences in how the medical system operates:

  • Doctors in Thailand pay about $5,000 a year for malpractice insurance, compared with more than $100,000 for some specialties in the United States.
  • Thai courts will adjudicate malpractice claims, but the largest award ever issued was about $100,000 and the law there doesn't permit damages for pain and suffering.
  • Another major savings is that Bumrungrad doesn't have to spend much on processing insurance claims, since 75 percent of its patients pay cash.

"You can come to our hospital and pay for major surgery on your credit card," he said. "You could never do that in the states."

Source: Mark Roth, "Surgery abroad an option for those with minimal health coverage," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, September 10, 2006.


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