Outsourcing Your HeartElective surgery in India?
Medical tourism is booming, and U.S. companies trying to contain health-care costs are starting to take notice.
"Whiplash was just the first agony that Kevin Miller, 45, suffered in a car accident last July. The second was sticker shock. The self-employed and uninsured chiropractor from Eunice, La., learned that it would cost $90,000 to get the herniated disk in his neck repaired. So, over the objections of his doctors, he turned to the Internet and made an appointment with Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, the marble-floored mecca of the medical trade that--with its liveried bellhops, fountains and restaurants--resembles a grand hotel more than a clinic. There a U.S.-trained surgeon fixed Miller's injured disk for less than $10,000. "I wouldn't hesitate to come back for another procedure," says Miller, who was recovering last week at the Westin Grande in Bangkok. Wayne Steinard, 59, a general contractor from Winter Haven, Fla., is one of those U.S. patients "who fall through the cracks" of the health-care system, as he says. Steinard landed in New Delhi last week with his daughter Beth Keigans to get a clogged artery cleared and a stent installed. Steinard, too rich for Medicaid and too poor for insurance, certainly didn't have the $60,000 he would have had to pay back home. So he contacted PlanetHospital, a Malibu, Calif., medical-tourism agency, and learned he could get it done for about a tenth as much at Max Healthcare's Devki Devi Heart & Vascular Institute. Things have not gone as Steinard expected. When surgeon Pradeep Chandra scanned Steinard's angiogram last week, he found the artery 90% blocked. "A stent is out of the question," he told Keigans. "Your father is going to need a double bypass, and he needs it immediately." The blood drained from Keigans' face. While she loved their plush hospital suite and the staff had been superb, this was all happening too far from home. Steinard, though, was blunt about his choices. It's either this, he said, or a fatal heart attack back home. The surgery last week was successful; the hospital's bill: $6,650.
Yet as the medical-cost crisis deepens, the corporations who pay insurers are likely to find the lure of outsourcing as irresistible in health care as it is in software."