US Citizens Traveling Abroad for Medical Care

According to a report in the New York Times, with the rising cost of health care in the United States rise, an increasing number of Americans are going overseas for elective procedures.

Michael Shopenn went overseas for a hip replacement surgery in 2007 which would have cost close to $100,000 in the United States. But it cost just $13,660 – including all medicine, doctors’ fees, and round-trip airfare – at a private hospital in Torhout, Belgium. The Belgian government regulates medical fees, though most doctors’ offices and hospitals are privately run.

“In the past few years, Americans are definitely more willing to go overseas and now appreciate that there is quality there, whereas seven years ago they didn’t have that perception,” said Jonathan Edelheit, the chief executive of the Medical Tourism Association, a group that plans such travel.

As per the Times article, while five years ago most American patients who went abroad for cheaper care went to countries like India and Thailand and over the border to Mexico, many are now going to Europe, where care at top hospitals frequently costs much less than what is charged in the United States.

People from the East Coast tend to travel to Europe, while many from the West Coast go to Asian countries including South Korea or Thailand, Balazs Stumpf-Biro, executive director of the European Medical Travel Alliance, said. “The numbers are really growing because of the costs in the U.S.,” he added, “but the main driving factor is quality and a common background.”

Medical tourism does not have to be international. Some economists point out that health plans in New York City, a relatively expensive market, could save money by sending their patients to Buffalo in limousines.

Companies such as MediBid allow patients to shop online for lower-priced medical care, whether local or in another state. Ralph Weber, the chief executive of MediBid, said the service recently sent a patient to Glendale, Calif., for a hip replacement for $14,450 and another to San Antonio for $19,000 – comparable to European rates.