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Hack the Cost of Healthcare with Medical Tourism

   Posted On: March 31, 2015  |    Posted In: Personal Finance 101  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

The following article is a guest post from Chelsea of Broke Girl Gets Rich.

‘Affordable’ Health Insurance = Basically Useless

Even though I was able to save almost $1,000 for my 2015 premium costs during this years’ open enrollment period, I still can’t get over what a joke it is that the “Affordable Healthcare Act” has skyrocketed my premium costs and my out-of-pocket expenses, rendering my health insurance basically useless.

I didn’t use it one single time in 2014.

The only reason I keep it is to save myself from an emergency bill of $90,000+. At least if that happens, I’ll “only” have a $6,600 bill to deal with.

There has to be a less expensive way to deal with this.

But, whether or not US politicians and health care leaders figure out how to pass an actual Affordable Care Act any time soon, there is a way to get insanely affordable, quality healthcare: fly overseas.

Yes, I’m serious. Get on a plane and go to a doctor.

No, not for a regular checkup – but for any non-emergency health procedure or surgery that would otherwise cost you an arm and a leg.

How I Reduced Thousands of Dollars to Less than $300

DSCN5233Here’s the thing, I’m self-employed, so the only “affordable” health insurance policy I could find was $140 per month, and I have to pay $6,600 out of my pocket before my insurance company so much as hands over a penny.

But I’m kind of lucky in the sense that life led me to living in India for two years, where healthcare is readily available and inexpensive.

Before moving out of India in November, I went on a doctor appointment spree: any doctor I could think of, I visited.

I knew I could never afford to do the same thing once I arrived in the US, and I was due for some check-ups.

Here’s the breakdown of my costs in rupees to dollars.

  • Dermatologist consultation & removal of four moles: ₹2,600 = $44
  • Eye exam: ₹120 = $2
  • Fling designer frames: ₹1,590 = $26.50 (normally $100+ in the US)
  • Carl Zeiss lenses: ₹1,020 = $17
  • 1 Year of contact lenses (Bausch & Lomb): ₹3,000 = $50
  • Dental consultation: ₹200 = $3
  • Dental x-ray: ₹200 = $3
  • Orthodontist consultation, teeth molds, realignment tray: ₹3,500 = $58
  • Gynecologist checkup: ₹400 = $7
  • Pap smear: ₹620 = $10
  • Infection medication: ₹65 = $1
  • Ultrasound: ₹1,305 = $22
  • 1 Year of birth control pills: ₹2,580 = $43

Pretty awesome, right? And again, that’s the costs without health insurance.

Why I Might Be a Medical Tourist Again

In my last week in India, I went to the gynecologist for a routine checkup. She discovered a pin-head-sized cyst on my cervix.

She assured me that it was nothing to worry about at the moment, but that I should get another checkup in three months—there was a tiny chance, that if it grew, it would have to be removed in an out-patient procedure involving anesthesia.

I looked it up online, and she was right—chances are high that I won’t have to do a darn thing about it.

But if I do… um… it’s costly.

My dad recently had an out-patient procedure on his eye, and his bill for just being a patient in the hospital for four hours (not to pay the surgeon or the anesthesiologist or anything) was $24,000. No, that’s not a typo. Thank goodness his company provides decent insurance, right?

So if I do have to get it removed, and I do it in the US, I’m spending $6,600. No question about it.

But if I go to India to have it removed, it’s about $1,500 for a cheap round-trip ticket, plus $160-$195 for the procedure (my doctor’s estimates of ₹10,000 to ₹12,000, maximum), plus the hotels, transport and food, which for one month can cost an average of $400 for everything, staying in a decent but simple hotel.

So that’s $2,100 instead of $6,600.

A $4,500 savings. (I don’t know about you, but that’s more than I earn in a month.)

I’d say it’d be worth jumping on a plane.

Medical Tourism is Expanding Popularity

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s stumbled upon this incredible money-saving hack. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 750,000 Americans go abroad every year for some kind of medical treatment, mostly for the purpose of saving money.

Patients Beyond Borders has a little higher estimate, guessing that 1.2 million Americans went overseas for medical treatment in 2014, and that the medical tourism market is worth up to $55 billion.

This money-saving thing is a real deal: MedicalTourism.com has a chart of cost comparisons for different countries on a procedure-by-procedure basis. The prices are from 2013, but they can still give you a great idea of what you’d end up spending.

For example, Lasik eye surgery (which usually isn’t covered by health insurance at all), costs $4,400 for both eyes in the United States, $1,800 in Costa Rica, and just $477 in Malaysia.

Choosing the Right Doctor

I realize some people claim that health standards may be lower in some of the places people travel to for medical tourism, especially the cheaper countries—and that may be true, to a point.

But I was in one of the cheapest places, where you can save up to 90% on a medical procedure, and I had nothing short of an incredible experience with all of my doctors. The offices were clean and the treatment was very thorough. (Though I would suggest avoiding public hospitals in India, opting for private care instead.)

To make sure you get the best care possible, all you need to do is contact a few doctors ahead of time and ask for a consultation. These meetings are not expensive and will help you find the doctor (and office) you feel most comfortable with. I saw two dermatologists before choosing the one I liked the best to remove my moles, but other than that, I had no problems with the first doctor I went to throughout my entire stay in the country.

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11 responses to “Hack the Cost of Healthcare with Medical Tourism

  1. Eesh, I count myself very lucky to have Medicare. And when’s the last time someone could say THAT?

    Now that we’re making decent money (I was on disability and, since I’m still disabled, I’m allowed to keep buying Medicare), the health costs would kill us. We both have big health problems so… yeah.

    I think your idea is brilliant.

  2. If you do apple to apple comparison between India and Western countries, treatment in India would be 1/10 of the cost.
    And with advent of internet healthcare companies like http://www.credihealth.com has become so easy to get quotes from 3-4 hospitals, compare and take an informed decision.

  3. I completely agree, the Affordable Care Act has increased my expenses considerably. My premiums doubled the first year and now I pay everything up to my $5250 deductible out of pocket other than one preventative visit. They also charge me extra at that preventative visit if they “diagnose” anything, whether they treat it or not.

    I had to have surgery a couple years ago and I did shop around to find the cheapest price. I was too scared to try somewhere like India though.

    I’ve read stories about tourists dying in India (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/british-girl-killed-indian-clinic-botched-attempt-harvest-organs-parents-article-1.1344022) and whether it’s true or not, it does scare me a bit. There are also places offering stem cell treatments in India that I don’t think will work because the technology has not advanced far enough yet. This also makes me question the healthcare system there.

    How do you choose a place to go for medical tourism? I’m all for saving money and would happily travel to have non-emergency medical care performed if it’s safe. Do you know if there are online reviews or other sources of information to help you choose?

  4. Wow this is helpful, I too am a self-employed broke millennial and have only heard about medical tourism for lasik and cosmetic surgery recently. While I’ve been relatively healthy before this past year the Affordable Healthcare Act made my past year of finding out I have asthma and a stomach problem (no surgeries but inhalers and treatment are apparently not covered in any way) and other necessary consultations nearly bankrupt me. I’ll be bookmarking this page for the future – I might just plan all my necessary non emergency doctors appointments for the end of the year and head to south america or india.

  5. Medical tourism is one of the quickest and largest growing industries in the world. As the number of uninsured people and those with high deductibles continue to go up, many of them opt to be treated outside their native land, where they can manage to pay for the treatments they need in a timely fashion.

  6. Great article. It’s very true- Medical tourism is a great way to save a ton of money. But I don’t think it’ll be effective for specialized procedures like lasik or cataracts. I wouldn’t let anyone touch my eyes without the having the proper qualifications. I did consider getting my lasik done in India or in China, but then decided against it, and got it done [site moderator removed promotional link]. Better safe than sorry folks.

  7. There are basically four types of medical care: preventive, palliative, curative and rehabilitative. Preventive medical care may seem to cost you or dig into your pocket since it has to be ritual but it’s the cheapest and safest form of medical care. I’m a big fan of achieving a sound health and best way is to go for medical checkup from time to time. We can not continue to guess on the happenings of our body system.

    http://www.healthriskfood.com/2016/12/types-of-medical-care.html

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