The United States’ health care crisis has become a huge issue in the 2008 presidential campaign trail. Democratic candidates are proposing more inclusive proposals to resolve the gaps in coverage, inefficiencies and costs that North Americans face. Today, there are over 45 million uninsured and 25 million under-insured individuals in the United States.
The problems of the US healthcare system are highlighted in filmmaker Michael Moore's latest documentary Sicko, which compares the headaches and bureaucracies of private health care management organizations (HMOs) to the universal healthcare regimes in Canada, France, Great Britain, and Cuba. North Americans are clamoring for changes in the US health care system, but solutions provided by politicians and bureaucrats will unlikely come to fruition for years. In the meantime and until hospitals can provide affordable medical procedures, many individuals have opted to find quality care at a fraction of the cost in Thailand, India, Singapore and Malaysia. Another growing destination in what has become known as medical tourism is the U.S.'s southern neighbor—Mexico.
Going to another country for health care when the US has some of the best medical facilities in the world may appear perplexing, especially if it comes from a country most North American's associate more with bursting borders and unremitting poverty than with advanced technology and education. But for years, many North Americans living along the US-Mexico border have been going to Mexico for inexpensive dental care and pharmaceuticals. More and more North Americans are coming to realize that Mexico has hospitals and doctors on par with the best in the world. The well-known Cross Border Health Insurance has existed along the border states of California, Texas, and Arizona. Researchers from the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin who studied the program discovered that Mexicans and North Americans have become comfortable receiving their health care in Mexico and can get that care for less than half the cost of similar procedures in the U.S. Mexican medical care is more affordable, in part, because salaries for Mexican hospital staff are less than what they are paid in the U.S., and institutions across the border there do not have to take out huge insurance policies to protect themselves from lawsuits. But more importantly the Mexican system does not suffer from exorbitant costs associated with HMOs. In the US, about half of what is paid out for medical fees goes to cover the administrative costs of insurance providers.
The majority of people's experiences in Mexico have been very positive, and they return for other procedures as well as inform others about the possibilities. One example is Mark Sawko from Phoenix who required a total knee operation but was denied by his HMO. The operation would have cost him over US$40,000 in the U.S. out-of-pocket. But instead he paid $12,500 to have the operation done in Puerto Vallarta. Hysterectomies cost $40,000 in the U.S., but only $3,800 in Hermosillo. Arthroscopic surgery: $20,000 in the US, and only $4000 in Mexico. Given the cost difference, even major self-insured employers in the U.S. which pay the bills of their employees are looking at medical tourism in Mexico in order to save vast amounts of money spent on health care costs.
The biggest concern when receiving medical care abroad is quality. Indeed, there are strong warnings from the heads of dental colleges who recommend against dental procedures overseas. And there are grave reservations from physicians around the country warning that if there are complications, there would be no one to care for the patients on their return to the United States. Rather, your physician would be an airplane ride away if you suffer any delayed complications. Many in the medical field caution patients to consider more than just price when deciding to have an operation in another country.
But the medical facilities in Mexico are some of the finest in the world. The infrastructure for medical tourists includes hotels, transportation, restaurants, and airlines. Language and the culture of Mexican health care providers are very familiar to North Americans since our countries are so close geographically. But equally important is that our peoples understand each other. In fact, most Mexican hospitals employ English-speaking nurses and staff since they are already familiar with taking care of the millions of U.S. and Canadian expatriates that live there permanently. In addition, many of the Mexican physicians have received their post-graduate medical training in the United States or Canada and are familiar with North American customs and expectations.
People that are not well-traveled outside the United States may have extreme reservations about seeking health care in a developing country. Just leaving the familiarity of the family physician, the close network of doctors in our communities, and the local hospital in which our families have received care for years may prove daunting. But having surgery in the U.S. often places a heavy financial burden on these patients and their families years afterwards. But there are others who have had the opportunity to become medical tourists, and they have provided wonderful testimonials of outstanding health care. The biggest obstacle encountered by people who have never received a surgery abroad and would like to save a fortune is reliable and accurate information. This is where Medical Tourism brokers come in. Having spent years living, working and traveling in Mexico as medical practitioners, MedToGo International provides the trust, familiarity and quality of service to insure you receive care from Mexico's top physicians and in the best institutions, as well as arrange for transportation, hotels, and recovery.
Robert H. Page, MD and Curtis P. Page, MD are authors of the MEXICO: Health and Safety Travel Guide and the Healthy Traveler Regional Series.