This year, an estimated eleven million people scaled the globe for low-cost medical procedures. For the most part, these “medical tourists” simply sought cheap boob jobs, face lifts, and whatever cosmetic procedures even a Bravo television show wouldn’t perform. But, perhaps alarmingly, this billion-dollar industry is soon expected to grow by up to 25 percent, and, with Congress considering the removal of the Affordable Care Act, which would leave nearly 20 million without insurance, this percentage could grow even larger.
A study on medical tourism and trends by VISA and Oxford Economics revealed that the rise of medical tourism stems from exponentially increasing cost of medical treatments, the aging of societies, and the advancement of international transportation. By 2025, they expect this industry could reach $3 trillion.
Looking at the prices, it’s no surprise the CDC estimates between 750,000 and 1.8 million Americans choose to undergo procedures abroad. According to Patients Beyond Borders, an organization dedicated to studying medical travel, Americans going abroad for medical procedures can save anywhere from 20 to 80 percent. In Brazil, for example, surgeries are 20 to 30 percent cheaper, and, in Mexico, savings, on average, reach 40 to 65 percent.
So why are these Americans traveling to places like their southern neighbor for medical procedures? It’s not for dental work or face lifts. The main reason: Cancer treatment.
Although the number of American medical tourists is only a fraction of country’s population, there are companies trying to tap into this industry. MedRepublic, for instance, connects doctors with people around the world who need medical. One of the company’s primary aims is to destigmatize the American perception of international medicine. While the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of risks connected to cheap medical treatments in other countries, MedRepublic hopes to destigmatize that notion by helping Americans see that a hospital in India, for example, offers the same quality as a hospital in the United States. If current projections are correct—and with so many Americans potentially soon without health care—this realization may come sooner rather than later.
Tom is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.