Foreign Bodies

Just how far should you go for affordable health care?
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the April 2007 . Subscribe »

Your employee asks for some time off for a trip to India. But she's not going to tour the Taj Mahal. She's going for a knee replacement, because the surgery would cost too much through your company health plan.

Medical tourism is growing as U.S. health-care costs continue to increase. In fact, some entrepreneurs are actively looking beyond U.S. borders for health care that won't break the bank when an employee needs expensive treatment.

One company benefiting from this trend is Calabasas, California-based PlanetHospital, which helps Americans find medical care abroad. Co-founder and president Rudy Rupak reports that recent inquiries have come almost exclusively from entrepreneurs exploring strategies to reduce their health-care burden. And with an estimated 40 percent to 60 percent savings over Medicare rates, PlanetHospital's affiliates in Argentina, El Salvador, India, Mexico, Panama, Singapore and Thailand are looking more attractive to cash-strapped businesses.

"Companies--especially small businesses--are desperate, and they're looking at [overseas treatment] as a [way] to reduce their costs," says Joel Miller, senior vice president for operations at Washington, DC-based National Coalition on Health Care.

While he understands the reasons for medical tourism, Miller is apprehensive about it. "I don't think this is a solution, and it could make matters worse," he says. His concerns involve the lack of legal recourse in cases of malpractice, the lack of continuity of care and the possibility that a patient could be cut off from their network of support and caregivers while in another country.

However, as businesses increasingly view health care as a commodity, the lowest bidder generally wins the business. In this case, those bidders are in places like Delhi and Bangkok.

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