NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 31, 2008

Consumers increasingly are trying alternatives to their local hospitals and doctors, from going abroad for less-costly surgery to seeking quick, basic care at new clinics in drugstores and discounters, experts say.

For example:

  • The number of people heading abroad for "medical tourism" could jump tenfold in the next decade, to nearly 16 million Americans a year seeking cheaper knee and hip replacements, nose jobs, prostate and shoulder surgery, and even heart bypasses, according to a forecast by health care consultants at the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
  • Meanwhile, the number of "retail clinics" operating in pharmacies, big-box and discount stores and supermarkets has jumped from about 200 in October 2006 to nearly 1,000 this month, according to a second report from the Deloitte center.

Surgery in some of the countries that have become hubs for medical tourism, from Thailand and Singapore to Mexico and Brazil, can cost less than half the U.S. price tag, even when including outlays for airfare, hotel and meals abroad.  In a few cases, procedures overseas can cost one-tenth as much.

Many of these countries actively market their programs in wealthier nations and have new, 21st-century hospitals.  Most of their physicians are U.S.-trained and know all the latest techniques:

  • About 750,000 Americans headed abroad for major health care last year and an estimated 1.5 million will do so this year, according to the report.
  • The Deloitte report projects the number could jump to anywhere from 10.4 million to 23.2 million in 2017, with 15.8 million the most likely number.
  • Deloitte's projections would equate to U.S. medical tourists spending roughly $50 billion abroad in 2017, with U.S. providers losing about $373 billion that year, given the difference in costs.

Source: "Americans looking near, far to save on health care," CNN, July 29, 2008.


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