Paying for Your Trip as an Incidental Health Traveler
Posted on 16 December 2011 by Josef Woodman
On a recent business trip to Southeast Asia and all too aware of my impending sixtieth birthday next January, I reserved an extra day in Bangkok for some routine medical tests and procedures. The story will likely be familiar to you: my eyesight ain't what it used to be, I can barely hear my dinner companions in restaurants, and it was once again time for that dreaded colonoscopy. So I booked a vision exam, a comprehensive auditory test, and the endoscopic-style procedure.
I carry a health insurance plan with a $10,000 deductible. These high-deductible policies are often called "catastrophic," because they exclude run-of-the mill illnesses and mishaps while providing the healthcare consumer with coverage for more expensive conditions and treatments that can otherwise wreak havoc on your wallet and entire family.
I call them "common-sense" plans, particularly when coupled with creative price-shopping on medical procedures. My policy saves our family $560/month in premiums compared to a typical plan offering a $500 deductible. We then put aside the differential in a health savings account, holding it as reserve for marginal healthcare costs that may come our way.
A $560/month savings translates to $6,720/year, or nearly $70,000 over a ten-year period. Compounded annually at 4%, this becomes nearly $100,000 in savings over ten years and nearly a quarter-million over 20 years. That's practically a retirement plan for many of us!
Before heading abroad, I called for local quotes on a hearing test. Duke Medical Center in the next town wanted an astounding $1,625 for an auditory exam and specialist consultation. My lowest quote for a clinical test and consult within 50 miles was just under $1,000.
On to the colonoscopy. After much back-and-forth trying to obtain estimates in the US, I finally learned that the least-expensive procedure within 50 miles was $3,200, not counting anesthesia or costs for any additional requirements—and the finance people at the clinics wouldn't even give me a quote for additional work. Wait, finance department? Why am I talking to accountants? Why isn't this a customer service exchange? Oh, that's right, I'm in the US, where every single aspect of healthcare is upside down. But don't get me started ...
The bottom line: I opted to get checked out while abroad, I was in and out of Bangkok's five-star Bumrungrad International Hospital in just under five hours, and I saved a total of $5,400. I had dinner that night with friends and sprang for the meal with a wallet that felt a good deal fatter for my healthcare savings.
While in Southeast Asia, I could have had my pick of any of more than 40 US-accredited hospitals in Singapore, Malaysia, or Thailand. Twenty of those facilities have a full International Patient Services Department, with English spoken throughout, where a cost quote can be easily obtained for a wide array of tests and medical procedures.
Are your own travels taking you closer to home? Prices for healthcare in destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, or the Bahamas are a little higher than in Thailand, but still offer substantial savings over costs in your backyard.
Even if you don't care to go with the strategy of a high-deductible health plan, you may want to consider adding a day or two to a business or leisure trip abroad for testing and other routine medical procedures—MRIs, CT scans, light dental work, an annual physical, health screening, and a host of other choices.
Sooner or later you'll need to take time off for routine health maintenance and examination—why not pay for your trip with savings on the incidental medical visit? With more than 400 American-accredited hospitals and clinics now offering Western-style medical treatment in 47 countries around the world, it's a bit of a no-brainer to check out your medical tourism options. That's certainly a great alternative to complaining about the astronomical costs of care here in the US.
Origially posted in Josef Woodman's Huffington Post blog
Last updated on 29 February 2012
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