Cutting Healthcare Costs Without Cutting Corners (Part 3) – Seek Treatment Overseas

Sun, Sea, Scalpels - the Lure of Combining Surgery with a Vacation Abroad (courtesy TIME)

As recession threatens to throw the world economy into a deep slump, many consumers are cutting back on their expenses; but when it comes to healthcare, do expect the unexpected and when illness strikes, be prepared. In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal (9/22, A1, subscription required) reports, “As the credit crunch threatens to throw the economy into a deep slump, Americans are already cutting back on healthcare, a sector once thought to be invulnerable to recession.”

In earlier posts, two ways of cutting costs were covered: the use of generic drugs and taking up an adequate health insurance. For those in high-cost areas where insurance may not provide adequate cover, seeking treatment in good affordable medical centres located overseas is a viable option, the so-called medical tourism initiative.

The media is littered with articles and promos of how Mr X was in despair about the long waiting-list for his planned surgery at home-base and how he decided to fly off to some faraway country to successfully get it done at a fraction of the cost with hardly any waiting time. There’s a lot of truth in this and I have written about it here (Malaysia – one of the top 5 health tourism spots in the World) as well as being interviewed by Time some years ago.

Forbes magazine last month wrote about how Americans (45 million remain without medical insurance today) can get substantial discounts by travelling abroad for surgery. A knee replacement surgery costs $4500 compared to $16,000 in the US. See below:

Soon, to minimise the bursting health budget, governments may give the green light and pay for such surgeries overseas. A paper in the Patients Rights Bill in the UK proposes that the NHS pay for treatment abroad when NHS hospitals miss waiting time targets. More details here.

Medical tourists must do their homework before jumping on the plane. Some of the things to look out for:

  1. Check the doctor’s qualifications with a professional body; and the hospital’s standards with an accreditation body.
  2. Check on the contracts and costs and what it doesn’t cover.
  3. Ensure that the surgery is covered by the health insurance policy- get their OK in advance.
  4. Arrange for follow-up care when back home by establishing communication with the health providers.
  5. Should things do go wrong, have an alternative plan ready.
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4 responses

  1. What about people from low-cost countries – where can they go to cut costs?

    Doctor2008 says: If you are referring to countries like Malaysia, then you don’t have to go anywhere for treatment of the vast majority of medical conditions; given the excellent facilities and expertise, especially in the private sector. In terms of cost, Malaysia is still very affordable in comparison to other countries but I recommend coverage by a suitable health insurance policy before anything happens.

  2. As a person living in Penang, many Medan folks come to Penang for treatment. Namely, Island Hospital, Gleneagles, Adventist are three top choices.

    Haha, I was looking for ways to find treatment in Indonesia to cut cost, looks like Indonesians come over instead.

    -woody.

    Doctor2008 says: Thats a tribute to the high standards in Malaysia! Thanks for dropping by…

  3. Doc, with regard to point No.1, how does one go about checking the credentials of doctors, especially specialists?
    Thank you.

    Doctor2008 says: At least 3 ways: check with fellow doctors, word of mouth from other patients, and official websites.

  4. Doc, as far as official websites, I understand that there is a Specialist Register.
    But do those in charge really check the credentials of docs registered with them or just take their word for it?
    Doctor2008 says: I can assure you most specialist registers are taken seriously and validated by the peer review body.

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