Rising Healthcare Costs Drive More Americans Overseas for Surgery


Every year, an estimated $15 billion in healthcare revenue leaves the United States. Due to rising healthcare costs in the USA, an increasing number of Americans are packing their bags and traveling overseas – sometimes great distances – to access cheaper medical care abroad.

Top destinations include regional medical tourism hubs in Costa Rica and Mexico. However, an increasing number of Americans are traveling long distances to exotic destinations like Malaysia and Thailand to get elective and essential surgery without the crushing costs of the American domestic healthcare industry.

Medical surgery has long been associated with elective procedures like plastic surgery or cosmetic dentistry. But as health care costs rise in the United States, many patients – often lacking sufficient medical insurance at home – are traveling internationally to receive care and treatments for cancer, heart disease and other serious, life threatening conditions.

Industry experts believe this trend will continue, particularly as countries like Cuba, which have long been locked off from the United States, open up their healthcare industries to international visitors. Countries with more established medical tourism infrastructure, such as Mexico, have built large industries around the competitive pricing they can offer compared to American private hospitals and clinics.

While most American medical tourists pack their bags for nearby countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica, the vast majority of international medical tourists travel to Asia for low-cost treatments. In 2010, more than 89% of medical tourists traveled to three destinations – Thailand, India and Singapore – for elective medical care, with an astounding 500,000 people traveling to Thailand alone specifically for healthcare.

As of 2012, Thailand’s medical tourism industry was growing at 16% annually. Facilitators, who previously served a clientele primarily based in Australia and New Zealand, now deal with patients from a wide variety of countries, including an increasing number of North Americans. Michael Benford, spokesperson for Thailand-based dental tourism company Veneers Bangkok, states: “we used to deal almost exclusively with Australian customers, but in the past five years Americans and Canadians have grown to more than 20% of our customer base.”

“Many are attracted to Asia, and specifically Thailand, because of the low cost of medical care here. Even with the cost of hotels and flights added in, our patients spend about 50% less than they would back home.”

With the cost of healthcare rising significantly faster than inflation and bills like the Affordable Care Act doing little to reduce healthcare costs for most Americans, it seems likely that we’ll see more and more patients leave our shores for cheap medical care overseas, whether to further afield destinations like Singapore and Thailand or nearby countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica.

James McNeally