Wednesday, August 20, 2008

new era of adventure travel: medical tourism

Recently, I freelanced on a campaign for spare body parts, trying to get patients needing replacements to ask docs for them by name (who knew knees and hips are now being branded?!) So I was alert to a rather alarming article in The Economist reporting a new kind of tourism.

Last year, 750,000 Americans travelled abroad for medical treatment, and not just to Caracas for a nip and tuck. They're going to Singapore and Thailand and India for hip and heart surgeries, hysterectomies, shoulder angioplasties. The number is expected to soar to 6 million in two years. Why? Most people find it cheaper to fly overseas and pay for an operation than to shell out for deductibles and co-payments charged for the same procedure at home. 

Corporate benefits offices, of course, are encouraging this. Hannaford, a grocery chain, now offers its employees the option of saving $3000 in copayments by getting their medical procedures done in nearby...Singapore. Not to miss out on the action, Aetna is brokering deals with hospitals there.

So if the thought of getting a D&C in Hyderabad alarms you, you might want to read the fine print on your company's benefits policy.


Anonymous said...

The traveling abroad for medical procedures has been talked about during dinner parties I have attended over the past 6 months. But, if the Economist has written about this, it has become more than an oddity.

A friend, a single mom, is supporting her little family and her mother by writing children's stories--not a lucrative job. When it became more than apparent she could no longer afford to keep her mother in a nursing home, she researched alternatives.

Her mother is now in Thailand, with full time care, in a house she purchased. The cost of keeping her mother in much better surroundings with 24 hour care, including her quarterly airfare from the East Coast?

One third of the amount she was paying for extended care in a moderate US nursing home.

Being of a 'certain' age in an aging population, I wonder if my nearest and dearest will find it necessary to travel abroad to see me in my 'final' years.

Maybe so, given the cost of heath care in this country.

Garden Broad

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks for this thought-provoking (if alarming) comment, GB. Kudos to your friend for figuring out a creative, cost effective solution to a problem that's becoming epidemic: how to care for aging relatives. But how does it work, exactly? I mean, what happens when a nurse doesn't show up for her shift? Or the meds aren't picked up? Situation seems daunting to manage from afar. But, you're right, of course--what's the alternative? Better enroll for Thai language lessons soon.

Anonymous said...

i can't top the depth of or amend the previous comment.
(wait... can you even top a depth?)

any matter, this doesn't surprise me. as a documentary-phile i remember that an episode (i think) of Taboo explained that thailand is the number one destination for those seeking sex change operations, as many other governments have placed restrictions on the procedure.

another thought came to mind as well, that celebrities have probably been doing this for a while and the economist has thrown a bright red and very damp towel their way. this is probably already obvious, but those are my two (or four) cents, depending how how you count them.

all the best to the family exercising this option, i'm sure i would prefer to travel a similarly beautiful and exciting route when the time comes.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that Thailand being THE center for transexual surgery was a factor in my friend's choice for her mother!

I do know, though, there are a handful of other American 'Seniors' nearby in very similar circumstances. They are all seen by a US educated Geriatrcian MD (Cleveland Clinic and Hitchcock). Meds come from the UK (way less expensive than from the US) and there are always three ladies with my friend's mother at all times.

Given that Asian culture venerates the elderly and lovingly cares for them, her being left alone and helpless is not a concern.

-Garden Broad

Anonymous said...

Garden Broad, I heard a talk radio segment on that, that it costs on average about $145 a week to ship mom or pop off to a home in India. This is contrary to what a lot of business analysts say is the best job market for people here to get in to - home healthcare and nursing. Those were supposed to be jobs that you couldn't easily off-shore (is that a verb?).

On the Hannaford issue, will insurance pay for airfare and accomodations? What about a spouse or loved one accompanying you? Does it make THAT much cheaper if you have to pick up those costs yourself? Requires further research....

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@anonymous--ha, Thailand as last resort for transgender geriatrics--I can see that campaign now. Suspect you're right, that globetrotting celebs have been exploiting this secret for years.

@GB--meds from UK, docs from US, caregivers from Thailand--sounds like a perfect place to spend one's last days. Get me the reservations desk...

@Auntie--Well, there goes my second career as a Nurse Broad. RE: Hannaford: I'm sure those are considered "unremunerated incidentals." And speaking of things they won't cover--"health concierge." I just read that in nyc, you can pay $2-$4000/mo. to get 24 hr. access to doc who makes housecalls and can get you admitted to hospital without long wait in ER. Who says $$ can't buy health and happiness?