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"The Independent Artist"
Issue IV, October 2008

Medical Tourism: Is it for You?
by Cynthia Davis

Cynthia Davis

This article was inspired by a post on the NAIA forum by one of our members.

What would you do if you had inherited a very high risk for cancer and your doctor is recommending surgical intervention, but you dont have health insurance because you are at high risk? The cost of health insurance would be astronomical IF you could even get it. And the cost of such life-saving preventative surgery is over $100,000. What would you do?

NAIA member Paul Gerhold went to New Delhi, India.

Paul, a ceramist, happened to be cleaning up some papers at his fathers apartment and came across a Time magazine article on medical tourism. The subject was timely for Paul and he started to talk with other people about the concept. He was amazed to discover how many others had either done it themselves or knew someone who had. The Time article listed some companies that specialize in medical tourism and he started calling. Paul finally chose Med Journeys as his international health travel representative.

What IS Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism, or international health trvel, is a fast growing service industry that started in the US around 2000, though it has been in Europe since before then. The trend is really mushrooming in the US, however, because of this high costs of medical care here.

What exactly does a medical travel agent or representative do? Just like a regular travel agent, they facilitate some or all aspects of your trip. They help you choose a clinic and a doctor, arrange for airline tickets, ground transportation, meals, lodging, surgical after care, and more if you like. Probably more than anything else, however, when a health travel agency takes on these tasks, it allows the patient and his family to fully concentrate on the patients health.

They are experts at knowing the hospitals and doctors.

Pauls Story

Back to Paul. His US doctor gave him his blessing and Paul and his wife, Claudette, were off to New Delhi. Did he have concerns?
Of course, he says, Im not a world traveler and I was taking someones word that this hospital and doctor were good. But you are always taking a chance when it comes to this.
Luckily, the Gerholds fears were allayed, as they found that the testing and care they received at the hospital in New Delhi were unbelievable. The hospital was modern and clean, the doctors extremely competent, and the nurses very kind and sweet.

Claudette said the hospital staff made them feel very comfortable and welcome. She had accommodations right in Pauls room and so could be there for moral support as well as be his patient advocate. All meals for both of them (most of Pauls were intravenous, however!) were included and they had a private driver to and from the airport and wherever Claudette needed to go. They were also given a cell phone loaded with minutes so that they could keep in contact with their family in the US. After Paul was released from the hospital they went to a special post-surgery guest house for patients just like him, where they stayed until he was released to go home. Everything was top notch. Better than in the US, said Claudette. We definitely made the right decision.

Was the experience perfect? No, said Paul, not perfect, but he was totally satisfied with his care and would do it again, if necessary, as well as recommend it to others. But he strongly suggests going with an international health travel agency. They know the hospitals and the doctors. I wouldnt even think about doing a major surgery on my own.

And what did all of this cost the Gerholds? The cost of this surgery in the US would have been at least $100,000. The Gerholds paid $18,000 which included the airfare for both of them and all of their meals and

accommodations. A potential major financial meltdown became a manageable financial problem.

Several months later Paul and Claudette returned to India for a scheduled follow-up surgery. This time they also took a few days before the surgery to do a little sight-seeing and see the Taj Mahal. This was also arranged by Med Journeys.

Dental Care

Most of us can get some type of health insurance, but dental insurance? Well, it usually is just not part of the picture for an independent artist.

Wood artist, Galen Carpenter who lives in Sedona, AZ, needed to have major oral surgery due to a farming accident he had as a child. He happened to be discussing this with one of his long-time customers at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fa
ir who suggested that Galen go to Algodones, Mexico. His customer had gone there for dental surgery and he gave Galen the name and phone number of his oral surgeon.
Galen made an appointment and with his wife, Anne, drove the 250 miles from Sedona to Algodones which is just across the border from Yuma, AZ. It seems that Algodones has around 300 dentists, yet going with a recommendation is certainly helpful.
Galen was nervous at first, and the town of Algodones put him off a bit with its Mexican border-town feel. But when he got to the waiting room, he started talking to people and found that 90% of them were Americans or Canadians and some had been seeing this same doctor for 15 years. His anxiety began to ease.

Because of the complexity of Galens surgery, he had to make several trips to his new oral surgeon. Galen figures it would have cost him about $40,000 to have this done in the US. He paid $11,000 for it in Mexico (not including travel). Anne decided to have a crown and root canal done on one of the return visits. It cost $400 versus $2,500 in the US.

The doctor spoke English, his office was spotless, and he takes Visa and MasterCard. He was very professional and laid out a treatment plan for me. But I cant stress enough how personable and caring he and his staff were.

Dental Plus

Wood artists Michael Hamilton and Dee Roberts also went to Algodones. They found that dental work in Algdones is about one quarter of what it would cost in the US. Their experience was very positive as well and they would highly recommend it.

The medical equipment in my dentists office wasnt state of the art, but it wasnt necessary, especially with dental.

Michael and Dee found an extra bonus in Algodonesinexpensive eye care, glasses, and dermatologists. They got eye exams, new glasses, and were checked out at the dermatologist. All, again, for about one-fourth the cost.

Dee and Michael got their recommended dentist from an RVers web siteRV.net. There are lots of web sites for RVers (see inset) and they all have forums where people talk about this all the time and freely give out recommendations. Medical tourism is big with these folks. Obviously a health travel agent was not required in these instances. One can arrange their dental care in Algodones on their own.

Another tip Michael and Dee discovered is to park and get your hotel/motel in Yuma and just walk over the border and get a taxi to take you to your dentist. You dont have to worry about negotiating Algodones in your vehicle. Also, you wont encounter all the hawkers eager to take you to their dentist!

I can just see a surge now in applications to shows in the Southwest US! Dont forget your passport!

Elective vs Emergency

Another NAIA member, Carol Adams, has had both elective and emergency medical care in

Guatemala. The emergency was two broken wrists from a fall (see article in Summer 2007 issue of The Independent Artist.) Carol ended up having to have the surgery redone in the US. The complexity of one of the breaks, the

emergency situation, and the fact that she was not able to access the best specialist were the determining factors she felt. Still her insurance paid 80% of the costs per her policy.

Carol recommends that if you are in a foreign country and have an emergency, call the US embassy if you can. They have on file lists of doctors and specialists who are trained in the US and who speak English.

The elective medical care that Carol had was oral surgery: bridge, crown, root canal. She got the name of her oral surgeon from a personal friend and was very satisfied with the work. Carol estimates that her dental costs were 1/4 of what they would have been in the US - not including travel as she was already there.

Why Are Costs So Low?

As Josef Woodman says in his book, Patients Beyond Borders (see book review, page 15), This question is best answered by another question: Why is US healthcare so costly?

In the US medical education, equipment, hospitals, and research are expensive. Add in billions of dollars of unpaid hospital bills and high malpractice costs due to an over-the-top litigious society and, well, you get the idea. Woodman also points out that in other countries doctors and other medical personnel earn relatively less and the countries themselves have more modest standards of living. Their governments may even subsidize healthcare and malpractice litigation is not as prevalent.

$6,000 Rule of Thumb

Ive given estimations here of what the everyone spent vs the US equivalent. The destination, treatment and ones own personal and travel preferences will determine the costs and thus the savings. But Josef Woodman gives the $6,000 Rule of Thumb:

If your US specialist quotes you a price of $6,000 or more, chances are good that one or more foreign countries can offer you the same procedure and quality for less, even including travel and lodging. If your quote is less than $6,000, then you are probably better off having your treatment at home.

Is medical tourism for you?

Going out of the country for health care can be, well, a foreign concept to many. It probably isnt for everyone and there are many things to consider in making your decision. Here are some strategies for helping you to make that decision:

-- Evaluate your financial situation: Will your health insurance (if you have it) pay all or part? Does your procedure meet the $6,000 rule? Can you get financing if necessary? (Some health travel agents will assist you in this.) Create a budget. Remember that even though treatment may take place outside of the US, you can deduct it as a medical expense on your income tax return.
-- Evaluate your personal situation: What is your comfort level in traveling to a foreign country? Do you have a companion to bring?
-- Become informed: Read Patients Beyond Borders. Search the internet but dont rely on it. Talk to medical tourism companies. Read the RV forums for dental care. Talk to others who have done it. Get referrals if possible.
-- Should you decide to go, consider making the most of your savings by exploring additional exams and treatments for yourself and/or your companion.

Websites of Interest:

International, nonprofit association that promotes high quality medical tourism.

impartial medical tourism information and resources.

search medical tourism





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