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
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 RetireEarlyLifestyle.com and check out their new CD book, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement.