New recipes

Medical Tourism: Are Cheaper Procedures Worth The Risk?

Medical Tourism: Are Cheaper Procedures Worth The Risk?

Stethoscope. Photo courtesy of iwanbeijes.

While even the thought of needing to take a trip to the hospital while on vacation is enough to make most travelers shudder, others make this the center of their vacation. With costs and wait times for treatments increasing rapidly in North America and Western Europe, more patients are choosing to outsource their treatment; however, these faster and cheaper treatments can come with their own costs as the field of medical tourism is shrouded in ethical controversy and cases of unsafe practice.

History

Medical tourism is by no means a modern concept. The first documented cases of it stem from ancient Greece, with pilgrims traveling to a sanctuary in the Saronic Gulf to seek the powers of the healing god, Asklepios. For centuries to follow, populations across the globe have been traveling for medical reasons, such as taking trips to spa towns home to mineral waters that were said to have been religiously blessed with healing abilities.

More recently, medical tourism has moved away from being tied to religion, and throughout the past few decades most medical travelers were either those who were uninsured in their own country, or wealthy enough to seek out specialized cosmetic surgeries not available in their home country. This period created a questionable image for the industry, but rising global healthcare standards in recent years have made it possible to receive treatment from internationally accredited doctors and hospitals in developing countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Surgery. Photo courtesy of asterisc21.

Modern Medical Tourists

Today, majority of medical tourists come from either North America or Western Europe. Most American medical tourists are seeking lower health care costs, while Europeans look for shorter wait times for treatments. As an example, Americans pay up to $144,000 USD for a heart bypass, while Brits can expect to face wait times of over a year. Comparatively in India, the same treatment can be sought from a Harvard educated doctor for $5,200 USD with a waiting time of under a month. With significantly lower costs, American insurance companies are now even beginning to cover international medical expenses, and even associated flights in order to cut costs.

Medical Tourism in India

While cheap, no-wait treatments from internationally certified doctors may sound like a dream come true, medical tourism (which India along with 50 other nations recognizes as a national industry) still has a darker side.

In India, the healthcare industry contains both a public and private sector from which domestic and international patients can receive aid. Doctors working in the private sector have significantly higher earning potential, considering India has one of the lowest levels of public health care support across the globe. With this, the majority of Indian doctors seek work in the private sector. Last year, 150,000 foreign citizens were able to receive private healthcare in India, with procedures ranging from cosmetic facelifts to life-saving heart transplants.

With so many doctors treating higher-paying foreigners, residents in India are left with only four doctors for every 10,000 domestic citizens. These low rates have led to over 500,000 deaths in India being caused by tuberculosis and another 600,000 deaths from easily preventable diarrheal diseases on a yearly basis. The government has been highly criticized for putting price tags on the lives of its own citizens and allowing a large market of illegal commercialized organ “donations”; however, government officials have claimed the system will have a trickle-down effect for domestic citizens, as more Indians are looking to pursue careers in medicine.

Pills. Photo courtesy of CathyK.

Additional Risks

In addition to the ethical controversies behind medical tourism, there are several physical risks to looking for international procedures. Uncertified practitioners may expose their patients to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and typhoid and even clean facilities can leave foreign patients with diseases that are normally overlooked if locals have developed immunities. Following the procedure, post-operative care can vary significantly — if it’s available at all — and lacking laws around medical malpractice can make lawsuits over unsuccessful treatments virtually impossible. Finally, there is a risk in traveling soon after receiving a surgical procedure and embarking on a long-distance flight can lead to embolisms and deep vein thrombosis.

Regardless of the location or procedure, there is always a risk in traveling for medical support. Potential patients should work with their local doctors to review all the information about foreign procedures before beginning any type of treatment.

What’s your opinion on medical tourism? Please share in the comments below.

The post Medical Tourism: Are Cheaper Procedures Worth The Risk? appeared first on Epicure & Culture.


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


What is Medical Tourism and Why is Becoming So Popular?

For decades, Patrick Follett beat the hell out of his body, taking to the mountain-bike trails five times a week and skiing more than 100 days a year. By the time Follett turned 58 last year, his left hip joint was a ragged mess of flayed cartilage, forcing him to limp around his job as ski-lift supervisor at California's Snow Summit Mountain Resort and drop recreational skiing altogether. A surgeon told him he had sports-induced arthritis and would need a total hip replacement to get back to biking and skiing.

RELATED: Rules for Overseas Surgery

"With the insurance deductible, it was going to cost me $10,000 out of pocket," says Follett, with the remaining $32,000 covered. Like some 1.6 million Americans did last year, he decided to go out of the country for a cheaper alternative. He found a reputable surgeon in Mexico who could do the whole operation for $10,000, covering doctors' fees, room charges, and five days in the hospital – paid entirely by his company. Follett underwent surgery in Mexico in March 2012. One year later, he was back in action, able to ski 140 days in the season and, this past fall, complete a five-day, 335-mile cycling trip north to Mammoth Lake, California. "I feel better than I've felt in 15 years," he says.

It's an enduring national frustration that even insured Americans can't afford many kinds of surgery. The average cost of a hip replacement, among the most common surgeries for active people under the age of 65, in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past decade, rising from an average of $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 in 2011. Elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors, for as little as $6,500. Nearly all medical travel is elective. Therefore, the most common procedures, after dental and cosmetic surgeries, are cardiac bypass and arterial stents, hip and knee replacements, spinal disk repairs, and spinal fusions. Replacements are way more common than, say, ACL surgery because you're likely to be more mobile and international travel is less burdensome. Thanks to the steady increase in the cost of health care in the U.S. – and the consequential growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans – traveling around the world for life-changing procedures has become safer and more cost-effective and appealing for Americans than ever.

The Price of Surgery in the U.S.

Until a few years ago, most Americans going abroad for medical care were either uninsured or wealthy and traveling for cosmetic surgeries. But what you pay your insurance company, as much as 30 percent in some cases, has made going abroad a worthwhile option for a lot more people. For example, if a hip replacement in the U.S. costs $65,000 and you have to pay $19,500 (30 percent), then going to Costa Rica and paying $11,500 is a huge saving. In some cases, insurance companies won't even cover a procedure if they consider it a preexisting condition, leaving you with the entire bill (the Affordable Care Act looks to do away with this still-common practice in 2014).

A handful of large insurance companies, like Aetna and WellPoint, as well as several smaller ones, have partnered with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save up to 90 percent on major claims. Most of these policies, however, are still in the experimental stage because insurers, employers, and workers remain skeptical of the quality of care and concerned about legal responsibility should something go wrong. For most Americans, the decision to go abroad for surgery comes down to simple math: what you would pay to have it in the U.S. minus the price of the international surgery and travel expenses.

The Rise of Surgical Tourism

Over the past decade, medical tourism has become big business, complete with packages, resort-like accommodations, and travel agents. There are now 100 or more specialty companies, like PlanetHospital, 360 Global Health, and MedVoy, that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals, charging them a percentage of the overall procedure costs. They usually offer trips to major health care facilities – like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients from all over the world each year – and have dedicated outreach staff, Web portals, and overseas marketing campaigns. Bumrungrad and other similar facilities treat foreign patients, and their cash payments, like minor royalty. "Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us," says Ralph Weber, who grew up in Thailand and is now chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop online for lower-priced medical care. "There's one nurse for every two patients, and catered meals. It's like walking into the Ritz-Carlton versus the Comfort Inn." The rooms usually have kitchens, flatscreen televisions, and room service from local restaurants. Patients spend anywhere from a day to a week in the hospital recovering and being monitored before they are released. After recovery, most patients return home and begin post-treatment with local doctors and rehab facilities.

But much of the allure is the destination itself. Some 90 percent of U.S. citizens traveling overseas for medical care are sightseeing days before the surgery. Top destinations are Nicaragua and Honduras for the beaches, and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the nightlife and culture. "If you're going to a foreign country for a week of care, you're bringing a companion and you both want to look around," says Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association. "That's one of the reasons this is growing."

Booking Your Next Hospital Holiday

No surgery is without risk. That's why people travel abroad most often for replacements – procedures with high success rates (up to 95 percent for hip and knee in the U.S.) and low risks of error or infection. Still, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to getting surgery abroad. The first is to go with a big hospital. "There are hospitals in India and Thailand that have a performance record as good as our best hospitals'," says Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health. These countries' best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany and the United Kingdom.

But, as with hospitals throughout the U.S., quality varies. "What you want to look for first is a hospital that does large numbers of what you need," says Cram. Also, you want to make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and find out some more about your surgeon by asking where he went to medical school and how many procedures he has performed, and by reading what former patients say online.

RELATED: The Face-Lift Vacation

Make sure to take advantage of the many medical travel companies (see "Rules for Overseas Surgery") looking to place patients in big hospitals, too, since they will have the most experience with the largest variety of surgeries. Jeff Wheeler, a construction worker from Maine, dislocated his left shoulder in the 1980s and some 20 years later needed a new one. At home, his surgery would have cost $60,000, and because it was a preexisting condition, his insurance wouldn't cover it. Wheeler turned to the medical travel company Planet­Hospital and arranged to have the surgery done at Piyavate Hospital in Bangkok for $10,000, plus airfare. He would pay for it using part of a workman's comp settlement he had recently received from the accident.

Wheeler even attended a seminar at his local hospital on what to expect during and after joint replacement surgery. But he didn't want to go halfway around the world "just to see the inside of a hospital," he says. So he turned it into a three-week vacation, taking 10 days to first see Vietnam and Angkor Wat – before he went under the knife. "It was the best trip of my life," says Wheeler.

Shopping for Domestic Deals

Not all affordable medicine requires an international flight – some of it is just over the state border. If you're looking to shop around for better deals within the country, you'll want to go to a company like MediBid. Since starting three years ago, MediBid has helped 2,500 patients find more affordable health care, saving businesses up to $1.5 million a year in the process by cutting out insurance companies, and with them a bloated, data-driven system that adds layers of cost to our nation's $2.7 trillion yearly health care bill.

When you desire an elective surgery, you fill out a form with MediBid and it will come back to you with several quotes from doctors around the country and the world. Unlike an insurance company that takes 120 days to pay a doctor or hospital, the company cuts on-the-spot deals. "We go in and say we'll pay $12,000 instead of $16,000, but the patient can pay at the time of service – no coding and no denial of service," says MediBid's Ralph Weber. "It's a good deal for everyone. That's why we're getting good prices."

This past June, MediBid helped Perry Hunt, a 50-year-old home developer in Orange County, California, get a new right hip in Texas. Hunt's local surgeon said the operation would cost $100,000. Hunt was uninsured and did not want to pay that. MediBid had found quotes for India ($8,000), another hospital in California an hour from Hunt's home ($14,450), and one in San Antonio ($21,000).

Hunt did not want to travel overseas. And even though the Texas surgery would cost far more than the nearby California alternative, he chose to go there because the doctor could perform the procedure with an anterior approach, going in through the front of the hip rather than the buttocks or side, and avoiding cutting through muscle, which makes for less trauma to the body and a speedier recovery. "It's not always about the price," says Weber. Hunt was back to playing golf within four months. "I was up walking the very next day," says Hunt. "I was able to go home the day following surgery, as well, and was given exercises as my rehab. I couldn't be happier with the results of my experience and the surgery."

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!


Watch the video: ΣΥΝΕΔΡΙΟ ΘΑΛΑΣΣΙΟΣ ΤΟΥΡΙΣΜΟΣ (October 2021).