Monday, March 12, 2012

Medical Tourism Update

Earlier this year, Mike reported on a relatively new (or at least seldom reported) phenomenon known as "circumvention medical tourism." This refers to cases where the patient seeks treatment that would otherwise be illegal in his own country.

But here's a more compelling reason to travel abroad for health care:

"If you're willing to hop on a plane, you can find significant savings abroad."

And it's not just about cost, but choice:

"Some procedures lend themselves to international travel ... The five most-popular overseas procedures ... are cosmetic surgery, dentistry, orthopedics, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive services, and weight-loss surgery."

Obviously, some of these would be excluded from insurance coverage here (eg IVF and certain weight-loss procedures). But the point is that careful consumers could save money and (in some cases) receive higher quality care by hopping on a jet (or taking a cruise, one supposes).

Of course, not all procedures lend themselves to this method:

"Cancer is a gray area, with travel dictated less often by potential cost savings and more often by the desire to undergo treatment close to friends and family."

And the cost of the actual care doesn't include ancillary expenses (such as airfare and hotel rooms). Most insurance plans aren't going to help pay for this, unless one's plan specifies that it's covered, or one has a supplemental plan for the purpose.

And there's this: many folks also participate in "alternative benefits" plans (HSA's, HRA's and FSA's). According to our favorite Alternative Benefits Gurus, as long as the procedure would have been eligible had it been performed in one of the 58 states, then it should also be eligible if done elsewhere. So, for example, a purely elective cosmetic surgery that wouldn't be eligible here wouldn't pass muster if performed "over there," either. But, as in the back surgery example cited in the JWR piece, one could use some of one's Health Savings Account (for example) dollars to offset the costs.

Margaritas (probably) not included.

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