Now, 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....
There 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 Neveranurseagain on Nov 21, '08