Seniors and Medical Tourism

When we are young, we tend to take many things for granted, particularly our health. But as we grow older, the scenario changes especially when it comes to health and finances. Many seniors today are rightly concerned about their quality of life in the so-called golden years because of weak personal finances and extraneous factors like ups and downs in the global economy.

Medical Tourism for SeniorsThough it is not the panacea to aging-related problems, the value of money cannot be overstated in the post-retirement period. From 1991 to 2007, the rate of personal bankruptcy filings among those aged 65 or older jumped by 150%, according to the Consumer Bankruptcy Project’s latest survey. The biggest jump happened among those aged 75 to 84, whose bankruptcy rate soared 433%. And what is of relevance to this article is that medical bills have played a major role in the debt that has forced many elderly Americans into bankruptcy proceedings, the study published in USA Today said.

However bleak the situation looks, it’s heartening to know there is an alternative to combat rising costs of medical care in the US: medical tourism. Medical, dental, and cosmetic procedures in established medical tourism destinations like India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, and El Salvador will result in a huge savings of at least 60-80% over US prices. In this article, we discuss the factors that make a compelling case for medical tourism and also talk about the rare cases where medical tourism may not suit you.

Rising cost of medical care in the US
Based on per capita health expenditures and total expenditures as a percentage of GDP, the United States has the most expensive health care system in the world, according to a study by the University of Maine.

Many factors are responsible for this high cost, an important one being the high administrative costs resulting from the complex multi-payer system in the US. For instance, it has been estimated that about 20-25% of the money spent on health care in the US goes towards administrative costs. And then there are other factors that contribute to the rising costs like the cost of medical technology and prescriptive drugs.

Because of the rising cost of medical care, often even the insured have to bear high co-pay expenses. You are then left with two choices: avoid the medical treatment and compromise the quality of your health; or go for the expensive treatment and enter a debt trap. Thanks to the advent of medical tourism, you now have another choice, another way of living, which does not compromise your finances or your health.

Un-insured seniors
About 15.3% of US citizens – 42.6 million people – are un-insured. And about 2% of the un-insured are seniors, that is, above the age of 65, according to a US census report. Many seniors lose insurance as more employers eliminate retiree health benefits, which typically provide supplemental drug coverage. As a result, out-of-pocket health care expenses for seniors go up.

A study which the White House released in April 2000 found that older Americans who had no insurance for prescription drugs were being charged 15% more than what the insured pay. In a scenario where even the insured find it tough to meet the healthcare costs, the un-insured have often no hope. If you are a senior and are un-insured, you are literally cut off from access to healthcare in the US. Again, this situation has changed, thanks to medical tourism. A lot of un-insured senior Americans are now opting for medical tourism, which is often their only option. This option works out very well for them not only because of the low cost, but also because of the high quality of medical care.

Lack of insurance cover for elective procedures
Most insurance plans will not cover you for elective procedures like dental and cosmetic procedures. Only under the following exceptional circumstances will insurance companies cover elective procedures:

  • Breast reconstruction after having a mastectomy
  • Reconstructive surgery after an accident
  • Rhinoplasty, if your breathing becomes a problem
  • Liposuction, if your weight is a hazard to your well being

Also, even if your plan does cover elective procedures, it may just be a partial cover and you may have to still shell out a substantial sum out of your own pocket for the procedure. Unless you can prove that a hip or knee replacement is vital to your survival, these procedures could be categorized as elective.

Seniors can’t wait
In a health care system run by the government, waiting lines are inevitable and many a times intolerable. This is a common and widely prevalent complaint in the UK, Canada, and European countries like Sweden. If you have to wait even for days or weeks for an appointment, it is that many days spent in pain and misery for you.

Waiting for critical medical treatment is not an ideal situation for an older person, as each day gone without treatment can complicate things that much. Also, a lot of valuable time is lost.

Many patients from developed countries like UK and Canada opt for medical tourism simply because of these long waiting lines, and not because they cannot afford it in their home countries. Also, as the world becomes your oyster, you have unlimited choice. You can choose between a range of prices and facilities, hospitals in different countries, and also between the top doctors of the world.

Retired seniors have the time for medical tourism
Even if a particular medical procedure abroad demands that you recuperate for at least a week or two before taking a long flight back home, retired seniors can do it as they do not have an office to rush back to. They can take advantage of this extra time they have and choose among the best medical tourism countries in the world, irrespective of their distance from the US.

Also, a foreign trip is not something that seniors do every other day. Hence, within the limits prescribed by their doctor, they can take some time to see the country they have visited for the medical procedure. Again, this is something that younger patients cannot do because of time restrictions. (This, of course, depends on the seriousness of the surgery you have been put through. If you are going abroad for dental work, you can usually combine it with a nice vacation. However, if yours is a major surgery like cardiac surgery or weight loss surgery, then it would be best to recuperate within the hospital or somewhere close by.)

When is medical tourism not right for a Retired Senior?
There can be situations where medical tourism may not be right for you, like:

  • If you have a major illness which makes you unfit for long-distance travel. However, there is always the option of going to medical tourism destinations that are close by. For instance, if you live in the US or Canada, you could easily go to Mexico or Costa Rica. And if you are from the UK, Belgium is a better choice.
  • If, after the procedure, you will need constant follow-up. If the procedure requires follow-up once a year or so, you can still manage to go back. But procedures like dental work may need many follow-up visits in a short span of time. Again, the situation can be managed by going to a nearby country rather than a far away one for such procedures.
  • If you can very well afford the procedure in your home country without impacting your finances or if your medical insurance covers the procedure completely at home.
  • If the total cost of medical treatment abroad (including the cost of the procedure, accommodation, travel, etc) doesn’t result in a huge difference compared to US prices.

Barring these situations above, medical tourism gives seniors an opportunity to live a better, healthier life without weighing them or their family down with liabilities.