A recent report from the Hastings Center explores the phenomenon of “medical tourism”. This refers to people who travel to other countries for medical treatment or procedures. While many people seek care that is illegal in their own country, many others travel simply to receive care that is too expensive at home, or not covered by their insurance policy.
In 2005, in Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok alone, 400,000 foreigners were treated — 55,000 of them were Americans. This is a less publicized symptom of our inadequate health care coverage in the U.S. In fact, many self-insured U.S. firms actually give incentives to employees to seek treatment outside our borders, in order to keep their insurance costs down.
The state of West Virginia narrowly defeated a bill that would have provided medical tourism incentives for their state employees. What does that say about our health care system?
Of course, many concerns arise for the medical tourist, and for health policy analysts as well. Will this trend positively or negatively affect attempts to change our health care system here? What protections do such medical tourists have when treated abroad? And does the flood of foreigners to countries like Thailand and India prevent local citizens from having access to care?
Right now, this phenomenon raises more questions than it answers. Will our recent health care legislation change any of this? It seems unlikely, but time will tell…