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Alison McKellar
Alison McKellar
Contributor •

Medical tourism: Maine people and companies go abroad to save on surgery

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Medical tourism, a growing travel phenomenon that combines
international travel with various medical procedures, is the newest indication
that Americans are fed up with expensive medical procedures, inefficient
hospitals, and sky-high deductibles from insurance companies. Until recently,
Americans have had little recourse and few alternatives when facing high-cost
surgeries and penny-pinching insurance companies, but a growing percentage of
people have found a new and often favorable solution. U.S. News and World
Report estimates
that anywhere from 5,000 to 500,000 Americans annually
are taking their
business elsewhere and heading abroad when they have to pay for costly medical
procedures.

Mainers and Maine companies like Hannaford Bros. are among the many patients and companies going beyond
borders in pursuit of medical procedures at a fraction of the cost.  The
AP reports that
the Scarborough-based supermarket chain now offers
employees the option of getting hip and knee replacements in Singapore, at the
National University Hospital. The same procedure that can cost $40,000 to
$60,000 in the United States ranges from $10,000 to $15,000 in Singapore.

The savings can be so great and the quality of care so high that even insurance companies have started looking into the possibility
of covering oversees medical procedures. David Boucher, an assistant vice
president of healthcare services at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has
visited many facilities abroad, and
told U.S. News and World Report that he was
, “totally amazed not just by
the quality of medical care but at the quality of service… the initial driver
may be price, but patients’ positive experiences will do a lot to advance the
movement.”

However, going outside the country for complicated medical
procedures carries with it a whole new set of safety and legal considerations
that many people may not anticipate or be prepared to deal with. What happens
if someone gets treated abroad and is harmed due to negligence or poor care?
Who is responsible? Who do you sue? Who is accountable and who will advocate
for you? Oriv Karev, CEO of
UnitedHealth Group International,
tells U.S. News and World Report that one of the biggest concerns can be
getting accurate data and information from
hospitals located abroad. It
might be extremely difficult to find reliable information on a hospital’s
mortality rate or the experience and credentials of an individual surgeon.