I had started this series which looked at ways to obviate the negative effects of losing the Health Insurance at an old age due to job loss or other reasons. Not all the alternatives we discuss will be applicable to all, but I am hoping that some of the alternatives may be a fit for someone’s needs. It is obviously based on individual needs and requirements.
Here is the next in the series: Medical Tourism. In recent years it has become big. What is it? Medical Tourism is the practice of “practice of traveling across international borders to obtain health care.”
Typically such health care needs catered to from abroad include the elective procedures like joint replacement (knee/hip), cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. However, one could access a host of other health care from Psychiatry to Alternative treatment to even Burial services. Some of the popular destinations for Medical Tourism are:
- Costa Rica
- South Africa
Obviously, all of these countries do not cater to all the care needs. Some are good at some areas and others at something else.
For example Argentina is a great destination for Cosmetic Surgery. A country One out of 30 people have had some type of cosmetic surgery and a country which leads the world in that procedure is a great place to go for such procedures.
India, on the other hand, could be a good place for heart surgery. The Escorts Heart Institute, for example, performs over 15,000 operations each year while maintaining a mortality rate that is actually less than half of that in many U.S. and European hospitals. The costs could be 10% of that in the US. So, for those elderly who need a by-pass and can travel to India, there is a hope at much lower cost!!
What are the risks?
There are some risks in this area. Let us know them as well:
1. Regulation. Medical professions in some of these destination countries lack regulation with respect to the certification and licensing compared the US and European standards. It does not mean that the doctors are not always qualified. They may be more qualified than your own physician.. but you need to check on the credentials of the particular doctor you are going to visit. Usually, you could check with your own hospital and see if any doctor of with origins in a particular country can recommend you to some expert he knows and trusts best!
2. Legal recourse. If something, god forbid, goes wrong, then in some countries you have little legal recourse. Probably, that is why the health care is so much cheaper in that country, as the lawyers in the US have completely messed up the insurances of the doctors and the hospitals making health care really expensive!
3.. Hygiene and Recovery. In some countries the hygiene may not be of the same standard as the US or Europe. Also, there may not be enough emphasis on recovery after surgery. Make sure you can get living areas that are safe and clean and you insist on the recovery aspect and build enough time in your travel towards that.
4. Track Record. While some facilities have great record in some areas, all are not alike. And in most countries you will not find a reliable accreditation agency that you can depend upon. So enquire. Talk to others who have gone on such trips .. people whom you can trust and not a travel agent.
5. Tourism and Travel. It is Medical Tourism. So do not forget the Tourism aspect of it. Make sure you have schedule that piece properly and it does not interfere with your medical procedure.
A few trends are interesting.
1. More and more foreign hospital chains are affiliating with the US hospital majors. For example,
- Harvard (India’s Apollo Hospital)
- Cleveland Clinic (facilities in Canada, Vietnam, Austria, and the UAE)
- Johns Hopkins (Panama’s Hospital Punta Pacifica and Singapore’s International Medical Centre).
2. Companies have started offering regular Health Insurance packages that include Medical Tourism! For example Hannaford Bros. Co., a northeastern US organic grocery chain, offers medical tourism as a health benefit for employees who need hip or knee replacement.
They have been working with the National University Hospital , Singapore for this service, in coordination with Aetna who provides the administrative services for this benefit.
Hannaford covers the entire medical bill including deductibles and copays, and travel for the patient and a companion. Soon more and more employers may start doing this kind of deals to lower the costs.
Maybe individuals should also explore ways to get such packages from the existing insurance companies in the US!
In the end, you need to know that this can be part of your portfolio of “health care alternatives”.
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