The Growth of Medical Tourism 1


Despite the United States having arguably some of the best healthcare in the world, it also has the singularly most expensive. For such a wealthy country it has alarmingly high infant mortality and untreated psychological illness rates. It also suffers from an alarmingly unequal access to health services dependent upon income and where you live. Furthermore, thanks to recent tweaks to reduce upfront premiums it is also afflicted with a largely high-deductible health insurance system that disincentivizes going to see the doctor for preventative care till its an emergency.

Competition for your scarce healthcare dollar is pretty much non-existent if you happen to reside in a small or rural community and that's where providers are inclined to charge whatever they like - simply because they can, in an almost totally unregulated private marketplace with near vertical demand for life sustaining services.

We have all heard the story of the hundred-dollar Aspirin. Many of us have experienced first-hand scandalous price gouging by some mainly for-profit health systems, or received surprise billing for out of network services at an in-network hospital. Despite the recent attentions of the US Congress to make these practices illegal, ridiculous markups at some US hospitals continue in an attempt to profit from - sometimes in excess of 1,000% or greater markups on everything from an Aspirin to a box of tissues placed at the patent bed. The fact is that the US spends twice as much on healthcare as most comparable nations, yet has quite frankly, terrible patient outcomes if you happen to be poor, don't have insurance, or live in the wrong part of the country.

As the costs of US health services continue to spiral, consumers are facing ever-increasing healthcare charges. This includes massive annual deductibles which effectively negate the value of health insurance, and combine with increasingly high co-pays that cause many to forgo their prescription medications and doctor visits in order to pay rent, or put a meal on the table for their family. In fact according to physicians, 30% of prescriptions are never filled and another 30% are not taken as prescribed - many of which are eked-out to save having to pay for a refill.

Just ask anyone who works in the profession how the advent of high-deductibles and other rising out of pocket costs is affecting their businesses. Designed to contain employer and employee healthcare costs, high deductibles have led to much higher out of pocket costs for consumers and quite seriously changed user consumption patterns. Many medical practices are empty at the beginning of the calendar year when a fresh deductible kicks in, for all but the most serious of emergencies. What's more, it stays that way for months on end, till patients have met their annual deductible and are no longer dis-incentivized to visit their medical providers by the lack of insurance coverage.

Most of us who have tried to purchase medications in the US that are not included in our medical insurance formulary list have experienced first-hand unregulated US pharmaceutical prices that gouge consumers for $200 or more for the exact same medication that sells outside of the US for $20 or less. It’s no wonder that so many Americans stock up on their prescriptions when on vacation abroad, regardless of whether they have health insurance at home or not.

Yes - Your over-the-counter drug price in other countries is often cheaper than your insurance co-pay at home!

But what other aspects of their healthcare are Americans looking abroad for?

In this multi-part blog, I explore the rise of medical tourism and how it is often better and cheaper to get on a plane and fly across the world for treatment in a modern top-notch accredited hospital rather than subject yourself to the co-pays, high-deductibles, obscured billing practices, and unexpected / underhanded out-of-network surprise charges not covered by your US health plan.

Read Part 2 of this story

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