Monday, May 05, 2008

More Americans Shun "Best Health-Care System In The World" To Have Surgeries Performed Overseas

America has the best health-care system in the world. (Or so we've been told, over and over, by our corporate media and many of our political leaders).

Hmmmm, that I guess this would explain why more and more Americans who need complex, major surgeries are going overseas to have them performed.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

More who need major surgery are leaving U.S.

Robert Lupo of Santa Rosa had never been on an airplane until last month, when he flew to India to get his hip replaced.

The 45-year-old self-employed contractor had dropped his Kaiser coverage before an uninsured driver hit him last summer while he was riding his motorcycle. A $50,000 settlement covered those medical bills and living expenses while he was unable to work, but Lupo later learned he needed a hip replacement - a $30,000 price he couldn't afford.

With pain as his primary motivator, Lupo started researching his options online. He eventually found his way to WorldMed Assist, a 2-year-old Concord company that is part of a growing industry that makes arrangements for Americans to get medical care abroad.

Lupo's hip surgery and hospital stay cost $8,880 at Wockhardt Hospital in Bangalore. Even with the $1,300 airfare, the procedure totaled about a third of what it would have cost Lupo at a local hospital.

"My hip feels great," said Lupo, who was recovering at home while making magnets out of photographs from India to send back to the nurses and hospital staff in Bangalore. "But I really don't want to go to another Third World country again, to tell you the truth, unless I had to. This was a means to an end. But the pain was so bad I would have swum the English Channel if that's what it took."

No official statistics are kept on how many Americans travel overseas for medical care, but one estimate places the number at 150,000 in 2006.

Other trends are more clear-cut. Many Americans are uninsured - nearly 47 million at last count - and others have health insurance that does not adequately cover procedures they desperately want or need.

A medical tourism industry has grown to facilitate global health travel. A trade association to represent these companies formed last year. Also last year, a major insurer started a separate company to help members seek international care.

Crossing international borders for medical care is not new. For decades, Americans have sought certain types of care in other countries, specifically elective or cosmetic procedures, along with treatments that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But now, industry experts say, Americans are going overseas for increasingly complex surgeries. In addition, more patients seem willing to accept that quality of care in some foreign hospitals may be the same or higher as that found on U.S. soil, at a fraction of the cost.


Anonymous said...

"The 45-year-old self-employed contractor had dropped his Kaiser coverage before an uninsured driver hit him last summer while he was riding his motorcycle."

Puh-leeze! You have to use a better victim than this. The 45 year old has a motorcycle, but he does not have insurance??? Maybe he was planning to renew his coverage after his midlife crisis was over and when he quit buying expensive, dangerous toys instead of protecting his health.

This person could have avoided having surgery in a third world country if he had been responsible and conservative. I'll bet he also eats salty, fatty foods as well. Is he going to fly overseas when he has his heart attack?

Anonymous said...

Robert Lupo went to India because he couldn't afford a hip replacement in the U.S. Other patients travel overseas for procedures that aren't readily available or doctors here aren't as experienced.
A good example is Hip Resurfacing (, a procedure approved here by the FDA only in 2006. Doctors in places like Belgium and India are much more experienced in this surgery, and the cost difference makes it a viable choice for many. Check out WorldMed Assist ( for patients who tell their stories about orthopedic, coronary, liver transplant and other procedures they couldn't get at home.
Quality should be THE primary concern. Your research should include interviews with reputable medical tourism facilitators like WorldMed Assist who do in-depth quality research into overseas hospitals to make sure the quality is as good or better than what's available in the U.S.

Marc McDonald said...

In response to the first commenter: who is talking about "victims"? You missed the point of the piece.
This is an article about people going overseas to have complex, major surgeries done these days.
To me, the story highlights the irony of tens of thousands of Americans leaving this country to have major medical procedures done when our politicians and our corporate media keep insisting that the U.S. supposedly "has the best health care system in the world."
There's a major irony there---but I doubt people like you grasp the concept of irony.

Marc McDonald said...

In response to the second commenter, you said:
"Quality should be THE primary concern."

Actually, with the vast majority of Americans these days, the primary concern is simply being able to afford health care in the first place.

When a person is starving, he's more concerned about getting his hands on a crust of bread and a bowl of soup than he is concerned about sitting down to a magnificent banquet in a 5-star restaurant.

Blue Girl, Red State said...

Yes, anonymous. Riding a motorcycle. A lot more people are riding them these days because gas is four freakin' bucks a gallon, and has been hovering around three for almost three years. Just tossing out something for you to consider before you cast that stone of judgment.

Vishaldeep said...

Medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. Like mentioned above, different countries have been specialising in different medical fields for many years and uninsured patients have been taking this route for many years now. The article talks about American hospitals endorsed / approved medical tourism. Now that's what we need to wait and watch.

Mexico is emerging as a hub not just for dental care but also low cost lap band surgery and low cost wieght loss surgery. The surgeries in Mexico cost a fraction of the cost in the U.S. and what's more patients who have been there mostly come back with a good review. You can check this page, has some links to videos where people talk about their mexico experience:

Anonymous said...

Good blog very informative

Anonymous said...

Countries like India, Mexico, Costa RIca, etc. provide the same high quality medical treatments provided in the US, only at a fraction of the US cost. So, it's quite logical that people will choose a healthcare system that's not only superior, but also way way cheap.