NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 18, 2007

Mexico is quickly transforming its border cities into catch basins for millions of bargain-hunting and uninsured Americans.

For example:

  • Arizona retirement communities now organize regular bus tours for Mexican dental work and inexpensive drugs.
  • New hospitals have opened in Tijuana, because some U.S. health plans have begun covering services in Mexico.
  • And tiny border communities, some about an hour from Ciudad Juarez, are becoming dentistry boomtowns to handle an ever-growing flow of American patients flying in from as far away as Alaska.


  • In a recent University of Texas study, 86 percent of low-income El Paso residents surveyed -- half of whom were illegal immigrants -- said they receive medical care or buy prescription drugs from Mexico.
  • Similarly, a study published in the Pan-American Journal of Health found that more than 37 percent of uninsured New Mexico border residents get medical care in Mexico.

Americans travel to Mexico for stomach surgery, eye exams and routine checkups.  But it is the "dentistas" -- thousands of them strung along the border -- who are in the vanguard in attracting U.S. health consumers:

  • Mexican dentists often charge one-fifth to one-fourth of U.S. prices.
  • Their operating costs are substantially lower than those in the United States, and because the Mexican legal system makes it almost impossible to sue them, they don't have to worry about high malpractice insurance premiums.

With such a differential, El Paso residents sometimes decline dental insurance to avoid paying even modest premiums for employer plans, said Nuria Homedes, a public health expert at the University of Texas.

Source: Manuel Roig-Franzia, "Discount Dentistry, South of The Border," Washington Post, June 18, 2007.

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