How Medical Tourism Saved My Life (And My Wallet, Too!)

The Enormous Upsides Of Being A Medical Tourist

Most people know it as “medical tourism.”

I think of it as being a thrifty and educated user of global medical services.

I started wearing glasses at age 5 so I could read the blackboard in first grade. When I was about 45 I graduated to bifocals. Then at the age of 55, I was told to consider trifocals. I baulked. I hadn’t gotten used to the bifocals yet.

My wife at the time was Colombian. When I spoke with her about my deteriorating eyesight, she suggested we go to Colombia to see about LASIK surgery.

In South Florida, where we were living, the cost for LASIK was US$3,000 per eye.

We traveled to Colombia where I had the procedure performed for US$300 for both eyes.

Six years later I was having trouble with hemorrhoids. I went to a doctor in Tampa, and he performed a colonoscopy. I had insurance at the time; my co-pay was US$100.

That doctor then referred me to someone else… who referred me to someone else…

In all, I saw a series of five specialists and paid out more than US$500 in co-pays.

And my problem was no better.

So I flew to Colombia to see a proctologist. He pursued a simple course of treatment that resolved the problem completely. The cost was less than US$60.

A bit later, when I was told I needed triple bypass surgery, I thought again of Colombia and did some research. I learned that the stent used often by U.S. doctors in a procedure to avoid cutting open the chest was developed in Colombia. The U.S. medical establishment kept it out of the country for 17 years before, finally, making it available. Gotta’ pay for those Benzes.

I found a doctor in Barranquilla who did the triple bypass for me for a total cost of US$9,000. That’s less than someone with full insurance would be liable for in co-pay when having this procedure performed in the United States.

Now I didn’t make the decision to have this procedure performed in Colombia lightly or quickly. This was a big deal, and I carried out considerable due diligence on the doctor and the facility where the procedure would take place.

In the United States, I was told that, after the procedure, I would have a 50/50 chance of living another five years if I changed my diet.

It’s now been 11 years and 9 months since I had the procedure, and I’m doing great.

Recently I had a scab on my face that didn’t heal for more than a year. I went to a doctor who told me it was skin cancer and sent me to a dermatologist. They charged me US$425 to ascertain that it was indeed skin cancer, then told me it would take two or three more treatments to get rid of it and that each procedure would cost US$2,000.

It wasn’t easy to get information on how the charges would break down. In the end, I had to demand the details.

Frustrated, I called my now ex-wife in Colombia. She told me that her sister-in-law had a spot of the same kind on her face treated a year ago. The cost was the equivalent of US$18. That is the price for a Colombian in the national health care system. I know that I will pay more, but I’ll be surprised if the total cost is more than US$100.

Add in the round-trip airfare of about US$500, and I’m still way ahead.

Plus I get a trip to Colombia in the bargain.

Deryl Fisher