Medical Tourism is Worth Exploring

June 4, 2013

America has more top ranked medical schools than any other country. It also has high quality standards for care. However, America does not have the best health care system in the world. In fact, World Health Organization rankings ranked the American health care system outside its top 30 in 2000. And America’s health outcomes is just part of the problem, the other major issue is the costs.

Health care costs in America are much higher than in any other place in the world. It has been this way for a very long time; however, the conversation as to why this is the case has changed recently. Exposés in popular magazines and blogs and price data released by Medicare have shed light on why American-provided health care costs so much. Simply put, the American health care system charges very high prices for its services.

Medical Tourism

The American medical system pays its doctors and hospital administrators much higher salaries than their counterparts in other countries. It is also a much less regulated system than in other nations. With very few exceptions, there are no caps on what health care providers and drug makers can charge. And even with federal health care reform legislation now the law of the land, high prices continue to plague the system.

So, what can Americans do to find affordable health care? They can engage in medical tourism. Medical tourism is when a patient from a highly developed country like the US, travels to another country to receive medical or dental treatment at much lower prices.

Medical Tourism Cost Comparison Charts:


Organizations like the Joint Commission International (JCI) develop procedures and standards to help improve patient care and safety worldwide. The JCI accredits international hospitals and medical facilities that meet these standards.

How it Works

Medical tourism is not ideal for all types of medical care, including preventive and emergency care. But if you are need of a hip replacement or bypass surgery, you may want to consider it as an option. You will save a significant amount of money if you travel abroad for these types of procedures. For example, bypass surgery in the US cost about $144,000, and only $11,000 in India. Even after factoring in travel, lodging, food and essentials for yourself and a companion, you can save tens of thousands of dollars by having the surgery in India.

Once you decide you are a candidate for medical tourism, inform your state side doctor that you are planning to go abroad for care and the type of care. Ask her how she will handle your follow-up care when you return to the states.
  1. Hire a medical tourism agent to help you organize your trip. An agent can take care of airline tickets, visas, transportation, lodging, food and recreational activities. You also want to work with a medical travel facilitator who will arrange the medical aspect of your visit. Some medical tourism agencies may serve as both an agent and facilitator or an agent may handle your travel arrangement and refer you to an independent medical travel facilitator for the medical arrangements.
  2. Contract with an agent who is certified by the Medical Tourism Association.
    Medical Tourism Association (
  3. Check to see if the Joint Commission International or similar agency accredits the doctor and hospital.
    JCI Accredited Organizations (
  4. Requests a copy of all of your medical records including diagnostic tests results, before returning home.
  5. Consider what may go wrong (complications) and how to handle it. Ask your medical travel facilitator about liability insurance or any other protection against medical malpractice. Not every country has a financial system in place to address medical mistakes. Also, consider that even if there is a legal system in place in a particular country, the doctor or hospital may not have the resources to pay any judgment against them.
For more information on what to consider when contemplating medical tourism, review the American Medical Association’s
Guidelines on Medical Tourism.

Health Insurance

Lower costs and improving quality and safety standards allows countries like Singapore, Thailand, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil and others, to draw Americans away from the overpriced US health care system. Even individuals with US-based health insurance are taking advantage of the cost savings medical tourism provides. And with the growing popularity of high deductible health plans that require spending thousands of dollars upfront for care, health insurers may decide to add medical travel benefits to these plans.

However, currently, American health insurers are still in the experimental stage of offering medical tourism plans. At its lowest level, US health insurers may offer plans that allow for travel to another state to receive care. In addition, companies like WalMart, Boeing, PepsiCo, and Lowes now offer benefits that allow employees enrolled in their health plans to travel to another state to receive care for specific conditions. These large companies typically contract directly with the out-of-state hospital in lieu of working with an insurance company.

Some health insurers do offer plans that provide insurance coverage for foreign travel for specific services in a particular country like a hip replacement in Singapore. But, overall, US health insurers remain in the experimental stage with both in-country and international medical tourism.

The Future

U.S. health care reform efforts will have an impact on the medical tourism industry. What the impact will be is unknown. Medical tourism has long been an option for uninsured and underinsured Americans, but the Affordable Care Act’s (Obamacare) individual mandate and minimum coverage requirements may make American-based care a better option than it is today.
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