Health care too expensive? Fly to Singapore!

As I've mentioned before, I used to teach college. Although I still gripe from time to time about the downsides of teaching -- the poor pay, the administration, the poor pay, the push for political correctness, the poor pay -- I have to admit that there were a few bright aspects. I loved working with students, I enjoyed having a big office, and I really, really appreciated the health care.

Working for a state-supported university in Virginia, my health care was very cheap. In return for a premium of less than $100 a month, my wife, daughter, and I all received medical and dental benefits that, in retrospect, were pretty outstanding. To give you an idea, my daughter's birth cost my wife and I less than $300; taking into account all the prenatal visits and whatnot, I think it still came out to under $500.

Recently, I've been having some dental work done. Now that I am no longer employed by the state, I have come to realize just how great my deal was. As a further lesson, my sister has been in and out of the hospital for the past few months with a chronic liver problem that she has had since she was a baby. As an artist, she makes very little money, but, luckily, Pennsylvania's Medicaid is outstanding, as are the programs at the Geisinger Clinic, the hospital that is treating her. Otherwise, she would probably be in debt for the rest of her life.

When I first heard about "Medical Tourism," I thought that it was a cute idea. However, now that I'm seeing some of the harsh realities of the U.S. healthcare system, I'm realizing that it's a magnificent solution to one of the biggest problems currently facing America.

For a while now, many people have been traveling abroad to have elective surgery, dental work, fertility treatments, and other operations done. Given that the savings on these procedures can be 80% or more, it seems logical that uninsured individuals would choose to pursue this option.

To add to the high cost of health care, even people who are insured may find themselves being denied treatment for a variety of questionable reasons. For example, some patients have recently been denied places on the liver transplant list because they used medically-prescribed marijuana. According to the medical establishment, marijuana (unlike alcohol) has no direct effect on the liver; moreover, these patients were using marijuana under a doctor's supervision. However, in an increasingly overburdened health-care situation, many insurers, medical boards, and even hospitals are latching on to any excuse to drop patients.

Some people reject the idea of medical tourism because they worry about the quality of the hospitals or the training of the doctors in other countries. Ironically, however, very few of my sister's doctors were native-born Americans. Her primary surgeon was Indian, as was one of her endoscopic surgeons. Her interventional radiologist was from Germany, and another of her endoscopic surgeons was from England. Actually, of all her doctors, my sister's only native-born one was her gastroenterologist, and he spent his winter vacation with his wife's family in Germany! Moreover, while I can't speak to the cleanliness of India and Singapore's hospitals, many of the reviews that I've read have been complimentary. While we're on the topic, I've been to some pretty filthy hospitals in the U.S. In fact, my wife and I elected to have my daughter born at a hospital located an hour from our home because the one in my town was infested with flies.

One interesting development in the Medical Tourism front is Hannaford's recent adoption of overseas surgery. A supermarket chain, Hannaford Brothers has begun offering employees the option of having hip replacements performed at a hospital in Singapore. This particular operation runs between $40,000 and $60,000 in the U.S., but costs about 75% less in Singapore, even accounting for the cost of airfare for two, hotel charges, and room and board for a traveling companion. Looking at the savings, it's hardly surprising that 150,000 Americans elected to have medical procedures performed in other countries last year, nor is it shocking that Hannaford has started outsourcing some of its medical care. I wonder how long it will be before other companies follow suit.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's thinking about going to Indonesia to have some Komodo dragon venom injected into the wrinkles on his forehead.
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