February 20 2008 02:00 | Last updated: February 20 2008 02:00
Healthy US interest in medical tourism
By Christopher Bowe in New York
Two in five Americans would consider travelling abroad for a medical procedure if it cost half the US price and quality was at least equal, according to a Deloitte consumer health report published today.
The data highlight the exploding interest in so-called medical tourism, where patients seek treatment for elective surgeries such as hip replacements available more cheaply overseas.
Medical tourism has surged into the healthcare debate as costs rise and consumers are asked to share a growing proportion of up-front expenses. The practice was once seen as a desperate move to seek care that was unavailable, unapproved or dangerously cheaper than procedures in the US. But healthcare experts have noted increasing interest in the practice from consumers, hospitals and even employers. Some researchers are looking at whether US employers would be willing to pay for a covered employee's medical procedure of equivalent quality abroad so as to lower overall healthcare costs.
Healthcare has been a critical issue in the US presidential campaign this year, with both Democratic candidates fighting over the detail of their respective healthcare programmes.
But data such as that in the Deloitte study show that US attitudes to how and where they purchase their healthcare are in flux.
In the survey, 39 per cent said they would consider an elective procedure abroad, if it was half the cost and of equal quality, while 27 per cent might travel abroad for healthcare in the future.
The survey, part of a larger study on consumerism in American healthcare by the consultancy Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, found that 3 per cent have already travelled outside the US for treatment. The results show that Americans are shopping for healthcare procedures across the US.
The survey found that 38 per cent might travel outside the community for care in the future, and 12 per cent have travelled beyond their local areas, while 88 per cent would consider getting medical treatment outside their community if the treatment outcomes were better and the costs equivalent.
The data also showed that people with commercial health insurance were more likely to consider travelling to another country for treatment than those on Medicare and Medicaid. More than 40 per cent with insurance said they would consider it, versus 28 and 30 per cent on Medicare and Medicaid, federal programmes for the elderly and poor, respectively.
Younger people, as well as Hispanics and Asians in the US, were more likely to consider medical tourism.
Providers, such as large research hospitals, have also been monitoring the trend.
Countries seen as destinations for medical tourism, include: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.
The Financial Times Limited 2008