Is medical tourism right for you? Could save you big bucks, but there are risks

Posted at 3:57 PM, Jan 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-15 15:57:20-05

There’s a spotlight on medical tourism after it was revealed Sen. Rand Paul would travel to Canada for surgery.

Traveling to another country for medical care is something Americans are already doing.

Melissa Conord-Morrow is packing her bags for Costa Rica. However, she isn’t going on vacation; she’s going for a dental appointment.

As a small business owner in Florida, Morrow could not afford the $20,000 surgery to have four of her teeth removed.

“We're self-employed, don't have insurance, can't afford the insurance,” she says. “We can't.”

So, in order to save money, she took a risk and went overseas.

The procedure cost half as much, including the trip.

“There was nothing I found that led me to believe I would be not well cared for,” Morrow says. “If anything, better cared for, and that ended up being the case.”

Traveling abroad can save patients up to 90 percent, depending on the country and procedure, according to Patients Beyond Borders, which tracks medical tourism.

“Americans that are one condition away from financial disaster, more and more are seeking options for care abroad,” says Josef Woodman with Patients Beyond Borders.

The group estimates nearly 2 million Americans will travel outside the U.S. for medical care this year.

“Medical travel or medical tourism is as safe as getting care in your own country, provided you do your own homework and that's the holy grail,” Woodman says.

Finding accredited hospitals and board-certified doctors can reduce your risks, because there are dangers.

The CDC just issued a warning after 12 Americans went to Mexico for cheaper surgeries and came back with drug resistant infections.

If something goes wrong, in some cases, your hometown doctor or dentist might be reluctant to help.

“He’s not going to touch it, because then he becomes liable for anything that continues to go wrong,” explains Dr. Jay Wolfson, a USF health policy expert.

Meanwhile, Morrow is headed back to Costa Rica for a follow-up visit.

“It was the best dental experience of my life,” Morrow says.