NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2007

Global competition is an emerging trend in the health care industry as a growing number of high-quality health care facilities in developing countries have begun catering to so-called "medical tourists" or "medical travelers" from other countries.  Uninsured patients and those from countries where care is rationed by waiting are also attracted to high-quality health care that is up to 80 percent less expensive than the cost of care in the United States, say Milica Z. Bookman, professor of economics at St. Joseph's University and Rudy Rupak, founder of

For example:

  • Heart surgery can easily cost more than $50,000 in the United States.
  • Yet the same surgery might only cost $10,000 in India, $12,000 in Thailand or $20,000 in Singapore. 

The numbers of travelers and size of the industry are growing every year:

  • Medical tourism grossed an estimated $60 billion worldwide in 2006.
  • A report by McKinsey & Company predicts this total could rise to $100 billion by 2012.
  • Three-quarters of a million Americans are expected to travel abroad for health care in 2007.
  • This is estimated to increase to six million 2010.

Medical travel is not a new concept -- it has been around for centuries.  For decades, people from developed countries (usually the wealthy) escaped to international hotspots to be nipped and tucked in anonymity at bargain prices.  Today, in addition to cosmetic surgery, people are looking abroad for a myriad of medical services, ranging from basic MRI scans to complex open-heart surgery.

With the cost of health insurance rising annually, insurers are already looking for ways to add low-cost, international facilities to their networks.  This is expected to become commonplace by 2009, say Bookman and Rupak.

Source: Devon Herrick (moderator), Milica Bookman and Rudy Rupak, "Global Health Care: Medical Travel and Medical Outsourcing," National Association for Business Economics, Health Economics Roundtable Teleconference, July 25, 2007.


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