Surgical Centers Are Quickly Becoming the Hot New Travel Destination

An article in Newsweek highlights a growing trend: travelling to a foreign country to undergo major surgery. Americans are flocking to countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, India, Thailand, and Mexico, as well as European destinations such as Germany, for affordable surgical procedures.

Americans often move for relief from the high cost of living after they retire and 56 million Americans under age 65 will have trouble paying medical bills. Interstate migration to certain states is high (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas). State and local taxes are one consideration, but health care is a significant consideration for many people. Some foreign countries have made an industry of attracting American expats (Costa Rica, Panama) and even offer low-cost health insurance.

An article in the January issue of Newsweek highlights a growing trend: travelling to undergo major surgery. Americans are flocking to countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, India, Thailand, and Mexico, as well as European destinations such as Germany, for affordable surgical procedures. Heart bypass surgery, a $113,000 investment in the U.S., costs $10,000 in India and $13,000 in Thailand.

Termed “medical tourism,” this industry is growing. Approximately 16 million Americans will travel abroad for treatment by 2017. This represents $373 billion that will be spent on medical procedures and accommodations on foreign soil. The World Health Organization indicates that procedures that are expensive in the U.S.—hip and knee replacements, back surgery and cosmetic work—are more affordable elsewhere.

The article describes existing medical tourism programs, including German Surgery, an organization that matches patients’ needs to physicians and hospitals that can meet them. This medical concierge service also works with insurers. Frank Rothmaier, general manager of the Munich-based company that owns German Surgery, estimates that a total hip replacement costs 30% to 60% less in Germany than in the US.

Some US health insurers have initiated medical tourism programs for members who enrolled self-funded health plans. Their rationale is that despite airfare and accommodations, savings can be large. Note that the website medicaltourism.com reports that 458 hospitals around the world are Joint Commission International accredited; accreditation is one factor patients desire when they travel to have surgery. This web site advises patients considering traveling for care to select a travel companion carefully. They also note that 70% of patients rate their care as excellent.