Home Personal Finance Kiplinger’s Personal Finance: Health care bargains abroad

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance: Health care bargains abroad

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Breana Williams, 28, of Fresno, Calif., has comprehensive health insurance but was overwhelmed by out-of-pocket costs when she began considering fertility treatments to start a family.

As such, several friends in her position began looking for work at US companies, offering to offset or cover the costs of fertility treatments for their employees. Others took out second mortgages on their homes to pay for medical bills, but Williams had another idea: Mexico.

Thus, Williams drove up and down the California coast to Tijuana and underwent three rounds of IVF treatment for a fraction of the amount estimated at home. The first round cost him $3,500 and his medication cost $1,000, and each subsequent round cost him only $1,500 excluding the medication cost. In the US, she was estimated at about $20,000 for just one of her rounds.

Each year, millions of US residents travel abroad for medical procedures that are far cheaper than they would pay in the US. The medical tourism industry is also preparing for another surge in medical travelers in 2023 as the cost of medical care at home continues to rise.

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Medical tourism first took hold decades ago when wealthy people, mostly women, began traveling for expensive beauty treatments. Medical tourism now includes everything from dental implants to knee replacement surgery.

Research the quality of care before considering traveling outside the United States for medical procedures. Making decisions based solely on price can easily be compromised by infection or other complications.

Stick with accredited facilities, says Joseph Woodman, CEO of medical tourism consultancy Patient Beyond Borders. When you find a reputable, affordable facility, you’ll also find an even cheaper clinic that’s set up next door, he says, in an attempt to attract clients with less expensive and lesser care.

Dental care is one of the most popular procedures on the list of medical tourism. If you travel for dental care, make sure your dentist is board certified. At a minimum, make sure you are a member of the American Dental Association or the International Association of Cosmetic Dentistry.

For other types of care, look for hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International. Today, there are well over 1,000 JCI accredited hospitals worldwide, all of which follow standards that ensure good hygiene practices as well as industry-standard pre- and post-operative care. A list of internationally accredited plastic surgeons can be found at: https://find.plasticsurgery.org.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides guidance for Americans traveling abroad for medical care. This includes recommendations to talk to your healthcare provider at home beforehand to discuss planning and potential risks. Take out traveler’s health insurance that covers medical evacuation. And understand the physical limitations that your planned procedures impose during your recovery.

The CDC also warns of other complications that may be more prevalent abroad, such as language barriers and the risk of infections and antibiotic-resistant infections. Additionally, flying after surgery can be dangerous as it often increases the risk of blood clots. For complete CDC guidance on medical tourism, please visit: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/medical-tourism.

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