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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid