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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dental Work Overseas

For most people needing medical care, the last thing on their minds is travel but a growing number of American medical tourists are setting out for Latin America, India, and Thailand for everything from dental work to breast implants to major heart surgery. Rising health care costs in the US push people to seek medical treatments elsewhere, while medical facilities in developing countries have not only caught up to western standards but also in many ways exceeded them. These tourists are usually surprised to find brand new facilities and equipment as hospitals and medical tourism hubs around the world join in the fierce competition for this fast growing market.

The price is the main reason most people initially cite for their decision to go overseas for medical treatment, but the situation is actually even better than the bare numbers suggest. Figures that are normally thrown out range from one quarter to one tenth the price of US care, with dental work firmly occupying the one-tenth corner.

Dental work is the biggest saver with medical tourism , as a rule of thumb, minor work on one tooth will pay for your plane ticket and a second pays for a week on the beach afterwards. Major surgery will pay for your entire family. Imaging and diagnostics are a large part of medical fees, and many US hospitals now contract with foreign laboratories to interpret X-rays and MRI images, where the physician time to analyze the image often costs as much or more than the image itself. Unfortunately, many patients aren’t able to travel if they need an MRI, but if it is a component of a surgery or checkup it is widely available at most high-end hospitals that medical tourists frequent, along with more advanced diagnostic equipment in some of the best facilities.

Beyond having a lower price, however, foreign hospitals are far more willing to provide upfront prices and quotes than US hospitals, which will generally equivocate and, if pressed, give only a rough estimate. More complicated surgeries will still be estimates at foreign clinics, but they are consistently more forthcoming about the cost of past procedures and for minor procedures they will often offer set packages that cap the total cost, barring complications. These caps are excellent for planning purposes and comparing options in various countries. This openness is a product both of intense competition for foreign patients and a confidence that regardless of how high a foreign clinics’ price may be, it will still be much lower than their Western competition. Medical tourism reverses the trend of many businesses and the tourism industry in general in that those looking overseas can expect more honesty up-front and fewer hidden costs than those considering a US hospital.

One common misconception is that while foreign medical procedures are much cheaper, they must be paid out of pocket. It is telling that even with this belief, the deductible for many insured patients is so high that they still travel overseas for treatment. The reality is that most insurers are not only willing to reimburse your medical expenses overseas, they will often be thrilled to solve your problem without paying domestic medical rates. The issue then becomes getting your records and receipts to the appropriate insurance official. Many hospitals boast strong ties with insurance companies and service with regards to clearing claims as their key advantage over competitors. If insurance reimbursement is an important part of your medical tourism deliberations, it is important to learn up front if your prospective hospital offers this service and it will be worthwhile to go to a more expensive center if they do not. This is particularly important when looking at Indian hospitals, which often are very poor in this regard. Tourists from countries with state-run medical systems like Canada and the UK can also often get their treatments reimbursed, though they will need to locate the appropriate offices and forms ahead of time.

Medical tourism it offers strong advantages both in the lower cost and in the superior service of the medical care while the opportunity to travel and vacation should not be underestimated. With few exceptions, medical tourism should be considered for any non-emergency procedure, from a filling to a hip replacement. Once the decision to go abroad has been made, the next step it to choose the destination


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