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What Are The Forces and Drivers Behind Medical Tourism?

Over the last ten years, several factors have contributed to the increasing popularity of medical tourism. Chief among these are rising health costs.

In the U.S, the rising cost of healthcare is pushing people to look for other options and is also responsible for millions of Americans being uninsured or underinsured. In 2006 the US Census Bureau stated that the number of uninsured Americans jumped in 2005 from 15.3% uninsured and a total of 44.8 million to 15.8 percent of people in 2006 for a grand total of 47 million. Based on these numbers one can only estimate that in 2007 the number will be close to 50 million uninsured Americans. Contrary to popular belief, these people belong not only to the lower class, but to the middle and upper middle class as well.

Additionally, in 2005, 60.2% of those people with health insurance were provided it through their employer. In 2006, this percentage decreased to 59.7%. This means in 2006 over one million Americans had lost their health insurance through their employer.

Let’s take a look at how a person might actually begin the medical tourism process. Say we have a fictional character named Tom Gruber, who is a 54 year old retail store owner living in middle America. During an exam his primary physician discovers that he needs prostate surgery. The price he is quoted is close to $50,000, and under his individual health insurance policy, he would still be responsible for $17,000 of the tab.

Through a friend Tom hears that there may be more inexpensive options abroad. An internet search brings up a hospital in Central America where Tom learns that the exact same procedure costs only $7,000 dollars. After carefully researching the hospital and talking to doctors and former medical tourism patients, Tom decides to fly there for his procedure. His total expenses including round-trip air-fare and lodging? $9,500 dollars. With savings like this, it’s not hard to see why medical tourism is becoming so attractive.