Medical Tourism: Searching For Cheaper Health Care
More and more Americans are choosing to receive medical
treatment – even complicated surgeries – in foreign countries
to save big money. The practice is called “medical
tourism,” but do the risks to consumers outweigh the savings?
That’s an important question, says Nathan Cortez
, SMU Dedman
School of Law assistant professor, who is focusing his research
in health law on this emerging medical market.
“Patients take a calculated risk by seeking medical care overseas
in regulatory systems that may not offer the rights or protections
they expect,” Cortez says. Interviewed for National Public Radio
last November, he warned that although patients are free to travel
overseas and reap whatever savings they can find, the international
shop-around could affect how U.S. hospitals pay for care
for the uninsured.
“We see this all the time with other industries,” Cortez told NPR.
“Health care has been notoriously a local industry, and now it’s ...
succumbing to globalization like other industries have.”
Cortez has published the first comprehensive look at how domestic
policymaking can offer American medical tourists some level of consumer protection. “Patients Without Borders: The
Emerging Global Market for Patients and the Evolution of Modern
Health Care” is included in the winter 2008 issue of the Indiana
Attempts to restrict patient travel may not be effective, Cortez
warns. But he offers some practical approaches to help protect
- Regulating the activities of brokers and others who arrange for
U.S. patients to travel overseas could provide access to
information about the quality of care outside the United States.
- Lawmakers could require employers or insurers that encourage
patients to have surgery overseas to pay for pre-screening and
post-operative care in the United States.
- Lawmakers could require employers to share a minimum
portion of the cost savings with patients willing to have surgery
overseas, which would partially compensate them for any
additional risk they may bear.
Although lowering the cost of medical care is a universal concern,
Cortez says there is no evidence of American employers requiring
employees to seek cross-border treatment. But neither are
cost-conscious companies who are quietly adding foreign hospitals
to their provider networks seeking publicity for those additions.
“California is the only state where you can buy insurance plans
that require treatment outside the United States,” Cortez says.
“It’s a niche market for the immigrant population there – you
agree to go to Mexico.”
Cortez was a featured speaker at a March symposium on
cross-border health care hosted by the Wisconsin International
l, and is conducting research for that publication on
the underlying trends that encourage medical tourism. “I argue
that the practices and standards in the medical industry are becoming
more similar across borders, which makes medical
tourism possible. “
Cortez teaches courses in administrative law, health law, FDA
law and the legislative process. Before joining SMU in fall 2007,
he practiced with the Washington, D.C., firm of Arnold & Porter
representing medical technology clients, with a special emphasis
on health care fraud and abuse, FDA enforcement and health
privacy. He earned a J.D. from Stanford.
For more information: nathan.cortez.googlepages.com