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US Should Reduce Medical Tourism

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The "obvious customers for medical tourism are the uninsured, who have to pay the entire cost of their care," because according to a recent report, "[g]ood foreign facilities offer many common treatments at 15% of the U.S. price," columnist Froma Harrop writes in the Providence Journal. "The attraction is obvious, and not just to patients without coverage," Harrop writes, adding, "Some U.S. employers who cover their workers now pay for treatments abroad."

According to Harrop, "This is nothing less than the globalization of medical care." She continues, "Economists used to say that health care was the one thing that couldn't be outsourced." However, U.S. medical centers soon "started sending X-rays to India for analysis" and it was "just a matter of time before the patients" followed "their photos," she writes.

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"What does this all mean for American medical providers?" Harrop writes, adding, "It means they had better get cracking on supporting a national health care system that insures everyone and controls costs," because "[c]learly, they no longer have a monopoly hold on the U.S. consumer." She continues, "The medical interests are already lobbying their elected officials to make it harder for Americans to seek medical care in other lands -- 'for the good of patient safety,' of course." Harrop writes, "We've already seen the drugmakers try to stop Americans from getting cheaper prescriptions from Canada and Mexico. This doesn't work when the price differentials are enormous."

According to Harrop, "The wiser path is to offer American consumers a better deal and let the cost of travel give domestic providers a competitive advantage." She writes, "Most patients would rather have medical treatment close to home, anyway" (Harrop, Providence Journal, 8/24).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.