Emma Patch Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
Brenna Williams, 28, of Fresno, Calif., has universal healthcare coverage, but when she started looking into fertility treatments to start a family, she was flattered by the out-of-pocket cost.
So while some friends in her shoes began looking for a job at an American company that would offer to offset or cover the cost of fertility care for their employees, and others took out second mortgages on their homes to pay medical bills, Williams had another idea: Mexico.
And so began Williams’ journey back and forth down the California coast to Tijuana, where she received three rounds of in vitro fertilization treatment for a fraction of the price offered to her at home. The first round cost $3,500 and $1,000 for the drugs, and each round after that was only $1,500 before the drug cost. In the US, nearly $20,000 was quoted for just one run.
Each year, millions of US residents travel abroad for medical procedures that cost much less than they would pay in the United States. The medical tourism industry is preparing for a new wave of medical travelers in 2023 as home healthcare costs continue to rise.
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Medical tourism first became popular decades ago, when wealthy people, mostly women, started traveling for expensive cosmetic treatments. Medical tourism now includes everything from dental implants to knee replacements.
Before you consider traveling outside the United States for a medical procedure, check out the quality of care. Making decisions based on price alone could easily put you at risk of infection or some other complication.
Stick to approved facilities, says Joseph Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, a medical tourism advisory agency. Where you find reputable and affordable facilities, you’ll also find cheaper clinics that set up shop nearby and are looking to entice clients with less expensive, affordable care.
Dental care is one of the most popular procedures in the list of medical tourism. If you’re going to travel for dentistry, make sure the dentist is board certified — or, at the very least, a member of the American Dental Association or the International Association of Cosmetic Dentists.
For other types of care, look for hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International. There are now over 1,000 JCI accredited hospitals in the world, all of which follow standards that ensure good hygiene practices as well as industry standards before and after surgery. You can find listings of internationally certified plastic surgeons at https://find.plasticsurgery.org.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides guidance for Americans traveling abroad for medical care, including recommendations to see a home healthcare provider beforehand to discuss your plans and potential risks; purchase traveler health insurance that covers medical evacuation; and understand the physical limitations your planned procedure may place during your recovery.
The CDC also warns of other complications, such as language barriers, and the risk of antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases and infections, which may be more prevalent in foreign countries. In addition, traveling after surgery can be risky as it often increases the risk of blood clots. For complete CDC guidance on medical tourism, visit https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/medical-tourism.