NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Residents Seek Mexican Medical Care

April 29, 2002

U.S. residents -- primarily tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants -- are flocking to Mexico to seek health care. Mexico's affordable health care draws both the poor and middle-class, both with and without health insurance, who live hundreds of miles from the border. They visit Mexican physicians for dental work and for treatment of chronic ailments such as gallbladder problems, heart disease and diabetes.

  • Many go because it's their only option -- as in California, where Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the estimated 4 million uninsured.
  • Another factor is Mexico's heavily government-subsidized health care.
  • One California woman paid $2,800 in Tijuana for removal of a cancerous cyst -- surgery that would have cost $7,000 at home.
  • A Dallas woman would have paid $3,000 for porcelain fillings, but went to Mexico for the same procedure, working in a visit to her family and a small vacation in the bargain -- all for less than what she would have paid at home.

Another factor is the language barrier. As Joanne Spetz, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California explained, "If it's difficult (to understand HMOs) for anybody who speaks plain English, how difficult can it be for immigrants who do not know the language?"

When it comes to major surgeries, like open heart surgery, heart and organ transplants or cancer treatment programs, patients and physicians on both sides of the border say they prefer care in the U.S., although Mexican care is improving, especially in urban centers. And while plastic surgery is cheaper in Mexico, there are quality assurances in the U.S. that don't apply south of the border.

Source: Alfredo Corchado and Alfredo Carbajal, "Many Patients Seek Treatment - And Lower Bills - In Mexico," Dallas Morning News, April 29, 2002.


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