In 2017, an estimated 1.4 million patients traveled outside the U.S. for care, according to Josef Woodman — author of Patients Beyond Borders
and CEO of the Patients Beyond Borders company. That’s almost 10 times more than the 2008 estimate
published in Time magazine.
Some of the top destinations include India, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea and Turkey, according to Woodman. Typical operations include orthopedic or spine surgery, reproductive operations, cardiovascular surgery and eye surgery.
A coronary artery bypass graft in the U.S. will cost an estimated $92,000; the same operation in India would cost about $9,800. A total knee replacement in the U.S. will cost around $31,000; in Thailand, that price would shrink to around $13,200. Operations in Costa Rica tend to cost 45 to 65 percent less than in the U.S. In Malaysia, patients can expect to pay 60 to 80 percent less.
Meanwhile, medical debt drowns almost a quarter of the U.S. population. According to a 2015 study performed by the Urban Institute
, 23.8 percent of Americans find themselves in medical debt.
In effect, medical tourism is a Band-Aid for the country’s bleeding health care system, explained Woodman.
“I don’t think you can penetrate this with philanthropy,” he told Salon. “It’s gonna be baby steps all the way. But in the meantime, medical tourism is a really important option.”
Woodman also noted he doesn’t like the term “medical tourism,” because for the patients, it’s not a sunny beach vacation.
He added that patients who can’t afford dental work, in vitro fertilization or orthopedic surgery in the U.S. should consider traveling abroad. He tells patients if their operation or treatment is expected to cost them $6,000 out of pocket in the U.S., they’ll save money by traveling to another country — even with the plane ticket.