Thursday, November 29, 2007

Medical Tourists: A Near-Fatality & A Waitress Who Goes to Germany for Dental Work

Flying to Germany to fix a tooth? That's the medical tourism story I heard from an uninsured waitress in Miami. We met repeatedly while commuting on the bus. She's a very frugal German, who carefully counts her money and budgets for expenses.

She's either in her late 20s or early 30s (I didn't ask) and she can't afford health insurance or health care in this country. Her solution: She delays her medical and dental work until her annual visits back home to visit her parents in Germany where she has access to affordable care.

However, one time when we met on the bus, the waitress had a swollen mouth and a toothache that couldn't wait for a visit back to Europe. She finally managed to get an appointment at a clinic after a bit of pleading. By that point, however, she was in a lot of pain and instead of getting a crown or elaborate work--beyond her budget--she opted to just have the tooth pulled. That still cost about $150-$200. (I don't remember the exact price, but I remember thinking that it was not cheap.)

But in general, her fly-away-to-Europe health plan works for her.

Gastro-Surgery in the Caribbean.

My other friend, however, nearly died after weight-loss bypass surgery in the Caribbean. After a lot of research, she went to a state-of-the-art facility and selected a doctor who had a sterling reputation in the field.

But during the bypass surgery, her pancreas was punctured. Given the risks associated with that procedure, the accident could have happened anywhere. But the medical facility in the Caribbean was not equipped to handle her medical emergency.

Bottom line: Her family had to pay to have her air-lifted by an ambulance plane from the Caribbean to Miami. The episode was near-fatal and she spent a month recovering in a South Florida hospital.

She initially saved a huge sum of money by electing to have the surgery done outside of the U.S., but the procedure ultimately cost more in the long run. What's more, she had trouble getting justice and answers from the foreign doctor, who was beyond the reach of the U.S. legal system.

Another friend who travels in and out of Argentina has had much better luck, with awesome savings as a medical tourist. She's been impressed with the high level of care and the low price of medical treatments in Argentina. I wrote about her story in this post.



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