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Medical Tourism: Spanning the Globe for Health Care

Medical tourism is a big business in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.

| BY Kent McDill

Americans take vacations out of the country for many reasons: scenic views, gorgeous beaches and cultural experiences. Now, include medical procedures on that list.

Europe has for years been a place Americans go for quality medical care at a fraction of the price it costs in the United States. India and Thailand are known as places to go for expensive medical procedures. Now South American countries, led by Colombia, are getting into the medical tourism market.

Kristin Eckland is a registered nurse and an author who has written three books on medical tourism. She has studied Colombia and its new medical facilities extensively, and says such places are attracting the best doctors and people who are willing to travel to access their abilities.

“Surgical tourism is not the answer for everyone but it's certainly part of the equation,’’ Eckland writes in the foreword of her book “Hidden Gem: A Guide to Surgical Tourism in Cartagena, Colombia. “For about 20% of the cost of treatment in the United States, with no waiting, patients can receive state of the art, boutique surgical care in new and modern facilities.”

For instance, there is a new, huge hospital outside downtown Medellin called San Vincente de Rionegro. It has specialists in six categories of surgery, including organ transplants and cosmetic work.

According to Dr. Sergio Franco, the head of cardiovascular surgery at San Vicente, a recent patient from Houston had heart surgery at San Vincent de Rionegro at the cost of $26,000. Having the same surgery in the United States would have cost $286,000.

While medical tourism is an idea shopped for by uninsured or underinsured Americans, there are American insurance companies who promote the idea of going overseas for treatment because it costs less, which costs the insurance company less and could lower premiums.

According to a story on, it is easy for medical facilities to get payments from American insurance companies.

“Those are the easiest,’’ said an insurance billing specialist from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “The companies are happy to pay. They never give us any problems.”

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one million Americans go overseas for medical procedures yearly.

The Medical Tourism Association is an international non-profit organization approved for 501 (c) (6) status by the Internal Revenue Service. The MTA’s stated purpose is to promote the highest level of quality of healthcare to patients in a global environment. Patients Beyond Borders is a company that connects American patients with hospitals around the world that will provide quality treatment and surgeries at a fraction of the cost of doing the work in the United States.

ABC’s Nightline program highlighted a furniture and auto parts manufacturing company in North Carolina, HSM, which regularly sends its employees to Costa Rica for medical care. In 2013, the company paid the entire cost of weight loss surgery for one employee, and a knee replacement for another at Hospital Clinica Biblica. The company paid for travel expenses (including the stay in the hospital’s luxury rooms), surgery and post-up care, and claims it and the employees saved money over having the same care done in the United States.

HSM told ABC it has saved nearly $10 million in health care costs over five years by outsourcing the treatments for 250 employees. The company even gives it employees a percentage of the money saved for agreeing to go out of the country for treatment.

Runckel and Associates, a company in Portland, Ore., operates a website about doing business in Asia, presents an informative page ( on the positives and negatives about going overseas for medical treatment. The positives include price, service, quality, availability and tourism, while the negatives include cultural and language barriers, litigation and difficulties finding the proper treatment facility.

Insurance companies such as Wellpoint, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Aetna have agreements in some state offices with international hospitals in Bangkok, India, Turkey, Ireland and Mexico to send patients for medical treatment that is equal to the treatment available in the United States at a much lower cost.

More information on medical tourism can be found at

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.