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- by getmeoutofhere Nov 21, '08Now, Mexican medicine. American companies are building hospitals south of the border to serve refugees from an ailing health-care system.
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Nov 19, 2008 | Updated: 1:29 p.m. ET Nov 19, 2008
Dorthea, 72, a retired bank teller, lives in Harlingen, Texas, a city of about 67,000 in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. Like a lot of Texans, she's crossed the border to Mexico a few times to buy cheap medication. But she'd never considered undergoing complicated medical procedures there—at least, not until she was quoted the prohibitive price of $30,000 for a gastric-band procedure, a treatment for obesity in which a band is placed around the stomach to limit food intake. It wasn't covered by her insurance, so Dorthea, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, opted to drive south and pay less than $10,000 for the outpatient operation at an American-owned hospital in Reynosa, Mexico, 10 minutes over the border and about an hour from her home. The outpatient surgery was a success, and she's planning on returning for follow-up care. "It was very good treatment," she says.
Medical tourism, which used to be mainly for elective surgery, and aimed at people who could afford weeklong trips to Brazil, is becoming an increasingly viable source of more basic health care for some of those sidelined by the insurance system in America, where 47 million people are uninsured and many millions are underinsured. Now, Americans like Dorthea who live along the Mexican border are driving and even walking south in search of treatment that can cost half or less of what it does in the United States. In response, American hospital chains are starting to buy into Mexico; Dallas-based CHRISTUS Health has built six hospitals in Mexico, including the Reynosa facility Dorthea visited, through its partnership with a Mexican chain. Most of its doctors are Mexican with Mexican medical degrees.
The Mexican health-care option is particularly appealing for Texans because the state has such a high uninsured rate; it was 25 percent in 2004. Along the border, that number is even higher. Incomes in the area are low, too, so even when employers do offer insurance, the cost of medical premiums still may prohibitive for employees, according to a 2007 report prepared by Texas state authorities.
And though hospitals on the U.S. side pour hundreds of millions of dollars a year into charity care, they and other community health centers are strained. The Hope Family Health Center in McAllen—right across the border from Reynosa—sees from 50-100 uninsured patients a week, but always has a waiting list, says interim executive director Rebecca Ramirez, who adds that she has some family members who will drive to Mexico for their medical care....
- Nov 21, '08 by classicdameThere is a reason the fees are so low. Wonder what they pay nurses? Do they even utilize nurses or do on-the-job-training to techs? What if she DID have a complication? Can they provide adequate care? A nurse I work with (in Texas) did this same thing. She got an infection and was too ill to travel back to Mexico. Her USA insurance would not cover the cost of treating the infection due to "pre-existing condition" clause related to the surgery done out of the country. As always, buyer beware.
- Nov 21, '08 by suzanne4The above poster is very correct. You go someplace else for a procedure and then develop a complication when you return home; and you will be paying for it 100% out of pocket.
Many people forget about that. Especially with going to Mexico border towns for care. Does not mean anything that it is American-owned. That does not say that the US government has anything to do with it, just someone that has American citizenship owns it. And most of the hospitals or clinics like this are privately owned by the physicians that work out of there in the first place. They most definitely do not have JCAHO approval in any form, and that is something that you really need to consider.
- Nov 21, '08 by awsmfunThere is some accrediation according to the article: Procedures performed in CHRISTUS's Mexican locations cost a third to two-thirds less than they would in America. And when its biggest hospital, in Monterrey, became one of the first in Mexico to be accredited by the international Joint Commission (www.jointcommission.org), an independent nonprofit hospital-safety accreditation organization, its foreign patient load increased exponentially, from one patient a week to eight or nine. People come from as far away as Alaska in search of bariatric, plastic and cardiovascular procedures, as well as knee and hip replacements and hospital officials plan to start hiring more English-speaking staff, translators and concierge services, says Arturo Garza, CEO of the CHRISTUS Muguerza Group in Mexico. He expects the volume of American and other foreign medical tourists to only grow.
With the healthcare system failing here in the US, outsourcing medical procedures is the only way some people can afford procedures. Hospitals in the USA have made record profits for years, mostly off self pay pts. who don't get large discounts like HMO and insutance companies, and end up paying too much for healthcare. I sadly see this as a viable option for Americans.Last edit by awsmfun on Nov 21, '08
- Nov 21, '08 by oramarThis is crazy. Illegals are coming up here to get free healthcare because they know they can't be turned away from emergency. Mean while our citizens are going down there to pay for care. PS I know the care isn't free for the tax payer that ends up picking up the tab.
- Nov 21, '08 by caliotter3I was associated with a surgical tech who is involved with recruiting people to go down to Mexico for lap band procedures. She was always denigrating OR nurses and stating how great she was at her job, how the surgeons asked for her by name, and how she would go beyond her scope of practice and actually do parts of procedures for the surgeons. I also overheard her telling people on the phone and in person that she is a "surgical nurse". She doesn't refer to herself as a surgical tech, but as a "nurse". She said this to doctors! She also made comments about the way things are done at the facilities that she goes to. Frankly I would avoid those facilities and those people like the plague after listening to her. I always wondered if she was so good and capable of making so much money, why she didn't work as a surgical tech in the US.
- Nov 21, '08 by smoke over fireWorst case I ever had was a botched gastric bypass. The patient went for repair after repair and when "too sick to return to" Mexico came to our ER. No one ever told this woman they had removed over 2/3's of her small intestine.
She was young and beautiful. I don't think I'll ever forget how "perfect". Aside from all the scars on her abdomen she looked like an actress.
I dunno, I think there may be some people looking for necessary procedures, but it seems like what I have read is that this medical tourism attracts plastic surgery people more than others.
I don't want to get too off topic, but this type of service also appeals to organ harvesting from poor people with little legal resources.
- Nov 22, '08 by ♪♫ in my ♥Classicdame and suzanne4 have put it very well.
Unfortunately, for many people it's either that or do without.