Pushing a liberal talking point on America's health insurance "crisis", writer Tina Peng painted American medical tourists headed to Mexico as "refugees from an ailing health care system." Yet nowhere in her November 19 Newsweek Web exclusive did Peng put mention the lengths Mexico goes to encourage its poor citizens illegally in the United States on where to obtain free health care for better care, nor did she note that medical tourism is a huge industry in America.:
Dorthea, 72, a retired bank teller, lives in Harlingen, Texas, a city of about 67,000 in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. Like a lot of Texans, she's crossed the border to Mexico a few times to buy cheap medication. But she'd never considered undergoing complicated medical procedures there—at least, not until she was quoted the prohibitive price of $30,000 for a gastric-band procedure, a treatment for obesity in which a band is placed around the stomach to limit food intake. It wasn't covered by her insurance, so Dorthea, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, opted to drive south and pay less than $10,000 for the outpatient operation at an American-owned hospital in Reynosa, Mexico, 10 minutes over the border and about an hour from her home. The outpatient surgery was a success, and she's planning on returning for follow-up care. "It was very good treatment," she says.
Medical tourism, which used to be mainly for elective surgery, and aimed at people who could afford weeklong trips to Brazil, is becoming an increasingly viable source of more basic health care for some of those sidelined by the insurance system in America, where 47 million people are uninsured and many millions are underinsured. Now, Americans like Dorthea who live along the Mexican border are driving and even walking south in search of treatment that can cost half or less of what it does in the United States.
Dorthea will be treated in a private, American-owned private hospital and treated, presumably, by doctors who would be held to higher standards than lower-paid counterparts in the Mexican government's hospitals. Yet Peng failed to explore how a difference in U.S. versus Mexican regulation and labor costs is what's really at play in cross-border medical tourism.
What's more, it seems to not have occurred to Peng that the reason Dorthea was denied insurance coverage for gastric surgery was because her age and obesity presented significant risk of adverse complications and/or death in a surgery that is, after all, elective.
And while she noted that "medical tourism worldwide continues to grow" from "an estimated $60 billion in 2006" to "hit $100 billion by 2012," Peng failed to mention that many of those tourists hail from Canada and other countries with universal government health care who can find better quality care in private facilities in the United States.