copy and post by Mei Ling Lin
WHEN Ben Schreiner, a 62-year-old retired Bank of America executive, found out last year he would need surgery for a double hernia, he started evaluating possible doctors and hospitals. But he didn’t look into the medical center in his hometown, Camden, S.C., or the bigger hospitals in nearby Columbia. Instead, his search led him to consider surgery in such far-flung places as Ireland, Thailand and Turkey.
Ultimately he decided on San José, Costa Rica, where just a week or so after the outpatient procedure and initial recovery, he and his wife were sightseeing throughout the country, then relaxing at a lush resort. He was home four weeks later, with no complications.
Mr. Schreiner is what’s known in the health care world as a “medical tourist.” No longer covered under his former employer’s insurance and too young to qualify for Medicare, Mr. Schreiner has a private health insurance policy with a steep $10,000 deductible. Not wanting to spend all of that on the $14,000 his operation would have cost stateside, he paid only $3,900 in hospital and doctor’s bills in Costa Rica.
“I didn’t have to fork over my entire deductible,” Mr. Schreiner said. “What’s more, they bent over backwards there to take care of me — no waiting, a friendly staff, everyone spoke English.”
At least 85,000 Americans choose to travel abroad for medical procedures each year, according to a recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Treatment includes dental implants, hip and knee replacements, heart valve replacements and bypass surgery. The cost of surgery performed overseas can be as little as 20 percent of the price of the same procedure in the United States, according to a recent report by the American Medical Association.
Medical tourism is expected to expand quickly in the coming years because of rising health care costs in the United States, increasing availability of international facilities with United States accreditation, and the fact that insurers and employers are beginning to embrace the practice.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, for example, has started a subsidiary company, Companion Global Healthcare, to offer medical tourism services to individuals and businesses. Hannaford supermarkets in Maine recently added an international option for hip replacements to its health care plan.