Thursday, October 20, 2005
A Passage to India
Chaos mentioned in a recent post on health care that roughly 44 million Americans are uninsured. Middle-aged or older people who lose their jobs find that replacement coverage is difficult to get and outrageously expensive. Uninsured people facing major surgical procedures have had no good options. Fortunately, the free markets and global outsourcing have come to the rescue. Many countries around the world, including Thailand, Costa Rica, and South Africa, are now advertising themselves as destinations for "medical tourism." The country leading the pack in this field, however, is India, where the government is handing out support and incentives and growth has been upwards of 30% per year. With prices for some procedures at about 1/10th that of those in the U.S. and other Western countries (even allowing for post-op care and a vacation thrown in), this trend has skyrocketed in the last 10 years and promises to get even bigger in the future, as health care prices increase in the U.S. and access to surgery in Canada and Great Britain becomes more limited. (Note the subtle criticsm of the single payer system: if people can't get the surgery they need in a timely fashion, is that better than the ER-last resort system of the US?) Concerned about the quality? The providers are way ahead of you: facilities in Costa Rica, Thailand and India are acknowledged to be first class, with more staff and highly qualified doctors, many of whom have practiced in the U.S. or are board certified specialists. Some Indian health providers claim to have a lower margin of medical errors than hospitals in the U.S. When a heart valve procedure costs $200,000 in the U.S. but only $10,000 in India, expect more people to vote with their feet and reject the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system.