Last fall osteoarthritis patient Adrienne de Forrest of Colorado had her hip resurfaced in Chennai, India, by orthopedic surgeon Vijay Bose. Texas contractor David Jones had triple heart bypass surgery in New Delhi. Both surgeries for the uninsured Americans were arranged by the Massachusetts-based medical tourism company Healthbase.
De Forrest's surgery cost $8,000, and Jones paid $16,000 including travel. In the U.S., where a host of regulatory distortions have raised the price of health care, De Forrest would have paid about $45,000, and Jones' bill could have been as high as $250,000.
The uninsured are not the only Americans going abroad. The Mumbai-based PlanetHospital is now offering surrogacy services for gay couples. In November the health insurer Wellpoint launched a pilot program in which patients who choose elective surgery in India pay no out-of-pocket medical costs and get free travel for both the patient and a companion. And for years, Americans who live near Mexico have been taking advantage of the cheaper dental and other medical services available south of the border.
A recent study by the New York–based consultancy Deloitte estimates that 750,000 Americans traveled aboard in 2007 for medical care and predicts that the number would balloon to 15 million by 2017. The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company offered a more conservative estimate of 60,000 to 85,000 global inpatient medical travelers in 2007, but that figure does not include outpatient services such as dental care or elective cosmetic surgery.