In 2009, in my home state of Colorado, a friend faced an estimated expense of $30,000 for necessary dental surgery, an amount far in excess of what he could afford. After doing some research, he opted to have the work done in Costa Rica, where he ended up paying $6,000 for the same surgery. He was treated in a facility so modern that “it looked like something out of Star Trek”; the staff all spoke fluent English; and they were friendly, competent, and supportive throughout his stays. As a bonus, he was able to enjoy two relaxing vacations in a beautiful Caribbean country.
This kind of option for medical care, which has come to be called “medical tourism,” is rapidly increasing in popularity. U.S. patients are traveling to Colombia, Taiwan, India, Singapore, Turkey, and China for medical procedures ranging from cosmetic surgery, to joint replacement (notably hip and knee), to dental work, to liver and kidney transplants, to cancer treatment. Why are people traveling thousands of miles for health care that is available in their hometowns? In a word: cost.
In his article “Can Medical Tourism Save Us From Obamacare?” Jim Epstein reports news from a medical tourism conference last October in Miami that drew participants from ninety countries. For an indication of the sheer volume of business involved in this burgeoning industry, representatives from Turkey alone reported that some 500,000 foreign patients visited the country for medical treatment in 2011, generating $3.5 billion in revenue for the year. . . .