Saturday, June 20, 2009

Medical tourism

I believe that the best way to address health care is to treat it like any other good out there -- shop around for the best price. By shopping around we can promote competition and drive down costs, enabling more people to obtain the health care they need.

People who object to this usually say that health care is very unique and subject to a different competitive environment. Such people usually point out that, unlike shopping for a TV, you can't decide to forgo the purchase. You can't say, "Actually, on second thought, I won't get that liver transplant after all." There is a perception that health care is a necessity that you can't go bargain hunting for.

Au contraire.

First off, the fact that health care is a necessity is irrelevant. After all, so is food. If you don't eat, you die. Although more so than food, housing and clothing aren't terribly optional either.

More importantly, however, as the medical tourism industry demonstrates you can shop for health care procedures. Even heart surgery. Indeed as this site notes, you can get procedures in India for $8,000 that would cost $30,000 in the U.S. And you don't seem to sacrifice much in quality:
Renowned Indian hospitals like Apollo and Escorts Heart Institute are equipped to handle all phases of heart diseases from the elementary to the latest clinical procedures like interventional cardiac catherisation and surgical cardiac transplants. Their success rate at an average of 98.50% is at par with leading cardiac centers around the world.
It isn't just India. When I passed through El Salvador earlier this year I saw advertisements for a variety of medical procedures. You can even go there for dental care:
In all my husband had three teeth pulled, seven implants, a bone graft and a sinus lift. He also has a mouth full of beautiful temporaries. The procedure took about 4 hours. He didn’t feel a thing and never had any pain. The entire process far exceeded our expectations. Dr. Lorenzana loves what he does and he loves his country. He has a real desire to let the world know what a great place it is to visit and that the quality of care really is first class.

...It’s bittersweet to leave. In the short time we were there we made friends for life, some now are like family. I’m sold on medical tourism as a way to save a whole lot of money and get a vacation in the process. Our original estimate here in the states: 60 thousand dollars. The cost in El Salvador 19 thousand. Add a few thousand for travel expenses and we’re still saving over 30 thousand dollars. Doug’s temporary teeth look like a million bucks. We can’t wait to go back in July.
Those are some pretty substantial cost differentials between the U.S. and India and El Salvador. Imagine if we could bring that kind of competition here to the U.S. and what it would do for health care.

Instead it seems that we are moving towards a more pronounced embrace of the insurance model and further government interventions in this sector.

1 comment: said...

Medical tourism is the future and I'm glad that people have options. But it is important to do research before you decide to travel to another country.