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Medical Vacations: The Retiree Health-Care Solution?

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The debate over U.S. health-care reform rages on. But why wait for someone else to dictate your future? You have many options -- if you're willing to take a vacation. If recovering from a medical procedure while lying on a palm-swept beach, relaxing by the hotel pool, or shopping for terrific bargains sounds good, then medical vacations may be exactly the right solution for you.

From hip replacement to heart surgery, more people are discovering the advantages of traveling abroad for their medical needs.

A big growth industry
In just the past few years, medical vacations have gone from a tiny niche market to an impressive growth story with substantial market-share gains. From Mexico to India, Costa Rica to Thailand, hospitals are taking advantage of this global trend. And U.S. companies are taking note as well. Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina are among the health-care companies tailoring their corporate health insurance plans to give employees the opportunity to head to India or elsewhere for surgeries such as knee replacements and the more modern, less invasive approach to hip replacement, hip resurfacing.

In the Western Hemisphere, Costa Rica is currently the "in" destination for travelers, especially for dental and cosmetic surgery needs. You can schedule online and receive a custom-made package, appointment and prices in your email response.

For years, people in the American Southwest have capitalized on the high-quality dental work available south of the border for a fraction of U.S. prices. Now more people are traveling to Guadalajara in Mexico for body augmentation and other surgeries, too. Many of the doctors there are U.S.-trained, and the equipment is top of the line. (We know, because we've used it.)

In Asia, one of the world's most acclaimed hospitals is located in Bangkok, Thailand. Bumrungrad looks more like a five-star hotel than a medical facility -- until you get to the third floor. World leaders from around the globe fly here for medical procedures. Bumrungrad's website is user-friendly, as is its professional, English-speaking staff. The hospital has more than 200 surgeons who are board-certified in the United States. We have quipped many times that the cheapest health care plan is an air ticket to Bangkok.

Also close by is the Bangkok Heart Hospital. Both of these facilities are located in the center of the city, with easy access to shopping and attractions. If necessary, they will arrange your hotel stay along with the medical procedure you're having performed, all without waiting times or disqualifications. Your entire extensive physical will be done in one morning, with your blood results and consultation that afternoon. In and out in a single day. How's that for service?

Is it safe?
Many people interested in medical tourism are concerned about the quality and safety of going abroad for technical and complex medical care, and how to get post-operative care once they return home. All of the hospitals mentioned here use the latest equipment and are either internationally accredited facilities or have U.S.-trained physicians on staff. Some U.S. health plans also provide an in-state network of physicians who will treat a patient who's gone abroad for medical care. The one thing that sets these hospitals apart from many of their U.S. counterparts is their attention to customer service -- they are professional and courteous in a way you rarely see anymore at home.

According to 2005 statistics from the University of Delaware, Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi and Faridabad, India, performs nearly 15,000 heart operations every year, and the death rate among patients during surgery is only 0.8 percent -- less than half that of most major hospitals in the United States. India also has top-notch centers for hip and knee replacement, cosmetic surgery, dentistry, bone marrow transplants, and cancer therapy. Virtually all of these clinics are equipped with the latest electronic and medical diagnostic equipment.

Sounds good, but what's the cost?
Even though you get high-quality care at these hospitals, prices are quite a bit lower than what you'll find in the U.S. Several sources report big cost savings in recent years for many procedures. For example, coronary angiography in Bangkok costs less than $900. A metal-free dental bridge that runs $5,500 in the U.S. costs about $500 in India, and a knee replacement in Thailand with six days of physical therapy costs about a fifth of what it would in the States. Cosmetic surgery savings are even greater. A full facelift that might cost $20,000 in the U.S. runs about $1,250 in South Africa.

The attraction is straightforward. The costs for everything from facelifts, dental implants, or hormone therapy to reverse the effects of aging can be one-half or less for comparable procedures in the States. Have your surgery, then recover and recuperate in a beautiful mountain setting or at a resort hotel.

Most procedures can be found online, letting you know what's included in the cost. The figure quoted to you will cover everything, including follow-up visits. There are no hidden charges, and the price includes the room, doctor, and staff.

If you'd like to retire soon, but you're held back by health-care issues, or if you've got the health-care blues and need a holiday break, why not do some research online and take a vacation?

And when it's time to recover, don't forget your suntan lotion.

Fool contributors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli write regularly for the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. They retired in 1991 from the brokerage and restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website at and check out their new CD book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2008, at 1:56 PM, acroswel wrote:

    The lower than US average death rate at the Escorts Heart Institute in India for heart surgery quoted in the article could be misleading if they do a reasonable percentage of their business from travelers. Emergency heart surgery has a much, much higher death rate than scheduled surgery. Travelers are necessarily not emergent cases. It would be much more enlightening to see how the death rate compared between scheduled surgeries.

  • Report this Comment On August 14, 2008, at 6:03 PM, LisaPA wrote:

    Frankly, I'm appalled at your blithe attitude to the health care crisis in this country. "Health care here sucks! So go overseas! Boost their economy and take a vacay!" I also find it odd that this is how you recommend retirees should spend their money.

    Additionally, from an unfortunate personal experience, I know that you may be denied care in a foreign country because they believe it's important for you to be near home to get certain treatments, especially if you will need follow-up care.

    This is the strangest, least helpful article I think I've ever read at the Fool.

  • Report this Comment On August 18, 2008, at 9:05 PM, Traveling4Health wrote:

    I applaud you for encouraging the concept of global solutions for health care and floating the idea that a health care experience can be more rewarding by combining a selective surgery with a vacation.

    I would advise that if you're going to combine a vacation with surgery, TAKE THE VACATION FIRST, as that's the feedback I get from patients I've interviewed for my own website

    Personally, I started out traveling for dental care and paid for excellent care + 11 days of vacation for the same price I would have paid out of pocket even with insurance in the U.S. (Same old story and experience you hear from many sources). It's about having a choice and shopping around.

    I think another great way for people to spend their money wisely is to take mini-retirement vacations in their 40's and 50's, perhaps with their parents, and discover what the rest of the world has to offer in terms of global lifestyles which includes foreign medical care and insurance.

    I think foreign competition is good for the U.S. health care crises. It's about a free market. And if more people spend less on health care locally because of outsourcing, that will boost the economy because people will save money, insurance companies will save money, and if people retire abroad our government will save money.

    Remember 77 million baby-boomers will be eligible to draw social security benefits in 2011 at a cost to our government (taxpayers, that's us) of $21,000 per oldster per year according to 'The Coming Generational Storm', among others. The same book reports research that concludes Medicare and Medicaid benefits dwarf the unfunded liabilities of Social Security (approx 6 times larger).

    So outsourcing medical care is helping the U.S. economy, simply because people getting medical treatments abroad saves us taxpayers money in terms of government health care programs and personally in terms of our own medical expenses. It's a good thing when you have the option to have surgery done somewhere safe and equal in quality -- and you don't have to deplete your life savings to get the job done!!

    One other point, I think its good advice to have certain surgeries done where you can recuperate with family support. I applaud some foreign hospitals that make accommodations for relatives, and even more I recognize the importance of U.S. insurance companies offering medical insurance policies to employers that would allow insured, legal immigrants the opportunity to have surgeries done in their home countries where they have family support; a humanistic and compassionate policy that will also save vast amounts of money; a win/win for insurance co's, employers, and the employer's insured employees (not just the employees who take advantage of outsourcing).

    You got to love a free market!

  • Report this Comment On August 20, 2008, at 3:24 AM, Healthbase wrote:

    Medical tourism can serve as a catalyst in a few ways:

    - to reduce the price we pay for healthcare at home

    - to improve the quality of care

    - to reform the health system

    Check out what patients who traveled overseas for care are saying:

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2008, at 12:24 AM, Sigyama wrote:

    Medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. Like mentioned above, different countries have been specialising in different medical fields for many years and uninsured patients have been taking this route for many years now. For some medical tourists, combining a vacation with the medical procedure is the attraction. For most, though, vacationing and leisure tourism is secondary. Patients doing research can check out for more information in medical tourism and the offers available.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2009, at 2:14 PM, gnju wrote:

    The quick and easy way to solve medicare budget problem would be to cover any medical expense occured in foreign countries like EU. Now it is time for American to get out of that "Only America" mentality. America is still no. 1 country in terms of military might and law suit but not all others. It is the era of 'global' for everything.

    I was surprised of seeing the country which used to be one of the poorest 40 years ago now has better welfare and technology than USA now. And a lot cheaper, one tenth at most on medical.

    No more arrogance, gringos. Wake up or USA will be the third world country 40 years later. I will move out from USA when retire also.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2011, at 2:50 PM, travelideas wrote:

    Medical travel is a exccelent option :

    - Varied choice of locations

    - Flexible Medical Travel plans

    - Access to some of most advanced hospitals with highly qualified doctors

    I recommend going to Spain ;)

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2012, at 4:53 AM, thaimakeover wrote:

    I think thailand medical tourism is the best option for health recovery and it provides several facilities as well. Thanks for continuing to write such wonderful articles.<a href="" rel="nofollow">medical tourism </a>

  • Report this Comment On October 23, 2013, at 2:06 AM, violetaswright wrote:

    Medical Vacation engages the option made by patients to look for healthier procedures for health conditions abroad, typically with the purpose of finding treatment options at affordable price.

    Like packages given by:

  • Report this Comment On October 09, 2014, at 4:52 AM, luisgbourg wrote:

    This article is very helpful. I am so honored to read this post. Here is what I can share to you, Surrogacy Clinics in Mexico (,Surrogacy,/search.htm... that relates to medical field. Thanks!

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