November 1, 2007
Wealthy patients from developing countries have long traveled to developed countries for high quality medical care. Now, a growing number of less-affluent patients from developed countries are traveling to regions once characterized as "third world," seeking high quality medical care at affordable prices, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.
- Reports on the number of patients traveling abroad for health care are scattered, but it is estimated that 500,000 Americans traveled abroad for treatment in 2005.
- A majority traveled to Mexico and other Latin American countries; but Americans were also among the estimated 250,000 foreign patients who sought care in Singapore, 500,000 in India and as many as 1 million in Thailand.
The cost savings for theses patients can be significant, says Herrick:
- Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India, charges $4,000 for cardiac surgery, compared to about $30,000 in the United States.
- Hospitals in Singapore charge $18,000 and hospitals in India charge only $12,000 for a knee replacement that runs $30,000 in the United States.
- A rhinoplasty (nose reconstruction) procedure that costs only $850 in India would cost $4,500 in the United States.
But if American health care consumers are to benefit to the fullest extent from global health care competition, there are legal reforms policymakers should consider, including:
- Recognizing licenses and board certifications from other states and countries and modifying the federal Stark laws limiting relationships between physicians and hospitals.
- This would enable health care providers to offer integrated medical services, including follow-up care for patients returning from treatment abroad.
In addition, the federal and state governments should lead by example by allowing Medicare and Medicaid programs to send willing patients abroad, says Herrick. Medicare in particular would benefit from cost savings due to its large volume of orthopedic and cardiac procedures.
Source: Devon Herrick, "Medical Tourism: Global Competition In Health Care," study No. 304, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 2007.
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