More Americans Seeking Surgery Abroad

More Americans Seeking Surgery Abroad

Oct. 18, 2006


(WebMD) Dismayed by high surgical costs in the United States, increasing numbers of American patients are packing their bags to have necessary surgery performed in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore.

"This is not what is sometimes snootily referred to as 'medical tourism,' in which people go abroad for elective plastic surgery," says Mark D. Smith, MD, MBA, president and chief executive officer of the California HealthCare Foundation in Oakland.

Today's "medical refugees," the term Smith uses in an article published in the Oct. 19 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, are going to foreign countries for lifesaving procedures such as coronary bypass surgery and heart valve replacement, and also life-enhancing procedures such as hip and knee replacement.

"People are desperate," Smith tells WebMD. "This illustrates the growing unaffordability of the U.S. health care system, even to people who are by no means indigent."

The report by Smith and his colleague, Arnold Milstein, MD, MPH, documents the case of a self-employed carpenter who couldn't afford private health insurance and would have faced financial ruin if he had surgery in the U.S. It also shows how some insured workers are being steered toward receiving less-expensive procedures outside the U.S.

 

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