News / Health

High Costs Drive Americans Overseas for Medical Help

Travelers take a vacation from high prices by having medical procedures performed abroad at a fraction of the price

John Freeman paid $18,000 for a heart procedure in Turkey that he says would have cost him $120,000 in the United States.
John Freeman paid $18,000 for a heart procedure in Turkey that he says would have cost him $120,000 in the United States.

Multimedia

Audio
Jan Sluizer

With the passage of America's Health Care Reform bill, more Americans will have access to affordable health insurance. But they have yet to see lower costs for medical treatment. Because of that continuing expense, many Americans choose to go abroad for one-time medical surgeries or procedures.

Grim choice

John Freeman took that gamble a few years ago. The 62-year-old retired computer analyst dropped his health care insurance because the high monthly premiums and a huge deductible were eating up his retirement savings. He hoped he would not need major medical care until he turned 65 and qualified for the government's Medicare insurance program.

But last year, Freeman had a heart attack. He was told surgery in his hometown of Reno, Nevada, would cost close to $120,000. Freeman felt he faced two grim choices: use up all of his savings or die.

"I thought that the American medical system was going to take away my life savings and essentially ruin any prospects I had for a pleasant retirement after the operation," he says.

Freeman chose Anadolu Medical Center in Turkey, in part, because its website stated an affiliation with Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Freeman chose Anadolu Medical Center in Turkey, in part, because its website stated an affiliation with Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Exploring his options

So Freeman did what hundreds of thousands of Americans do each year. He went abroad for the surgery.

After some research, he decided to have his operation performed at the Anadolu Medical Center outside of Istanbul, Turkey. The price was just 15 percent of what it would have cost in Reno: $18,000, all-inclusive, except for airfare.

Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons have acknowledged that medical tourism is a growing industry because of lower medical costs overseas. They have issued statements encouraging patients to seek out the treatment that best suits their needs. However, both organizations also warn patients to make sure they choose certified doctors and surgeons at health care institutions that have met high standards of accreditation.

John Freeman took that advice seriously when he researched Anadolu Medical Center.

"When I first looked at the website, there's a logo that says 'Affiliated with Johns Hopkins University' and I think that really helped my comfort zone because I knew there was an affiliation with a well-known American hospital," he says. "I knew my doctor was in meetings with American doctors about things like heart surgery techniques."

Medical tourism

Americans first began going abroad for cosmetic surgery such as facelifts, breast implants and reductions, and tummy tucks in the 1980s and 90s. Today, common medical procedures sought overseas include cardiac surgery, knee and hip replacements, liver transplants and dental work.

Wouter Hoeberechts, CEO of WorldMedAssist, helps ailing Americans find accredited and affordable medical treatment in six countries.
Wouter Hoeberechts, CEO of WorldMedAssist, helps ailing Americans find accredited and affordable medical treatment in six countries.

"We have a problem delivering affordable quality health care in this country," says Wouter Hoeberechts, CEO of WorldMedAssist, the medical tourism provider that helped John Freeman find his surgeon in Turkey.

He founded WMA three years ago to offer ailing Americans accredited and affordable medical treatment in six countries.

Hoeberechts, originally from the Netherlands, says all the hospitals affiliated with his company meet high U.S. standards and many of their board-certified doctors and surgeons trained in America.

"What we try to do is - for each hospital that we work with - become the number one or number two provider of U.S. patients, so that we really can build a very good relationship with those hospitals and make sure that patient benefits from that," says Hoeberechts.

Freeman did a little sightseeing while in Turkey for a medical procedure.
Freeman did a little sightseeing while in Turkey for a medical procedure.

Surgery abroad

John Freeman can attest to that. He says he received professional surgery and excellent care from attentive doctors and nurses.  

"If one can say that about such an essentially unpleasant thing, I actually really enjoyed the whole experience and the price was very good," he says. "I got it done and can still have a retirement."

Hoeberechts says WorldMedAssist has successfully sent several hundred patients abroad for medical treatment at a discount. WMA is one of a growing number of companies providing this service.

But medical tourism is not for everyone. Prospective patients must be fit for travel, the cost must make economic sense, the length of stay should be relatively short and follow-up care must be predictable and fairly brief.

Aftercare challenges

Aftercare is the challenge John Freeman faces. Now that he's back home, his doctor wants him to take some expensive post-operation tests. But, still without insurance and feeling okay, Freeman says he doesn't want to spend the money.

That attitude concerns neurosurgeon and Harvard educator, Dr. Teo Forcht Dagi. He oversaw the writing of the statement on medical tourism for the American College of Surgeons. Dagi stresses that overseas medical treatment is not for routine or on-going health problems. He notes aftercare is of concern to both the ACS and the American Medical Association because follow-up is rare.

"So what you get may be cost, but what you give up may be the on-going relationship, the communication, the follow-up care, and things, traditionally, American patients have held very dear," says Dagi.

Seeing growth potential in medical tourism, many major American health care insurance providers have started pilot programs that offer overseas coverage. If a subscriber can get quality care for less overseas, the companies calculate they will have to pay out less money in reimbursement.

Medical industry observers expect to see an increase in medical travelers, as continuing costly health care at home drives more Americans to seek medical services overseas.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid