Mt. Vernon Register-News

February 25, 2014

Can you believe?

The Register-News

---- — I would have had a lot of difficulty believing this if a “fitness mafia” buddy did not bring me a written article on the subject. Who would believe that the cost of surgery procedures had reached a level that created worldwide sourcing and even bidding for various procedures such as knee replacement, hip replacement, etc.?

We all know that health care costs have skyrocketed over the past years and we have recently been able to see the cost differences between states, regions and even cities due to the most recent published transparency, but this may top the list. In an article in the Men’s Journal by Kevin Gray, an eye-opener is reported about the people going to foreign locations for these types of surgeries due to the cost being unaffordable for the individual here. It is being reported that 1.6 million Americans went out of the country for these types of procedures because of cost in the United States. It is reported that the average cost of a hip replacement, one of the most common procedures for folks over 65, has increased from $35,000 in 2001 to about $65,000 today. The author states in the article that elsewhere you can get these surgeries with the same tools and equipment, and equally educated doctors for as little as $6500. For folks that cannot afford the cost here and the steady increase in health care in the U.S. plus the growth of overseas hospitals catering to overcharged Americans, it is becoming a much more viable option.

What is even more startling to me is now it is reported that some large insurance companies are partnering with employers to offer international coverage as a way to trim premiums and save on major claims. This is still in the experimental stage because skeptics’ still exist on legal and quality issues. The decision to go abroad really boils down to simple math; what would you pay here in the U.S. minus the price of international surgery, hospital, travel expenses and required onsite rehabilitation. The examples given range from savings of several thousand dollars to one patient who was quoted $100,000 for a procedure in California; $8,000 in India; and $21,000 in Texas who selected Texas because he did not want to travel overseas.

A big business has been created in “medical tourism” that now comes with packages, resort-like accommodations and travel agents. We have specialty companies that pair patients with overseas surgeons and hospitals. They offer trips to major health care facilities like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, which serves 1 million patients all over the world each year. The chief executive of MediBid, a service that lets patients shop on line for lower priced medical care is quoted “Hospitals in Bangkok are like five-star resorts compared with us”. Dr. Peter Cram, a physician at the University Of Iowa medical school who studies the costs of health said, “There are hospitals in Thailand and India that have performance records as good as our best hospitals. He states “these countries best surgeons are often trained at major medical schools like Harvard and UCLA, or their equals in Germany.” He also states that just like hospitals in the U.S., quality varies so check it out as you would here. Make sure the facility is accredited by the Joint Commission International, and where your surgeon went to medical school, how many procedures he has performed and reading what former patients say online. The exact same things you should do in the U.S. before surgery.

The bottom line is that the mystery of medical care cost is becoming more transparent and folks are waking up that something is seriously wrong when identical procedures without complications have such huge differences in cost. Someone needs to focus on why hip replacements average cost exceeds a reported $50,000 in the United States and knee replacements approach $60,000 when they are reported to cost thousands less in other parts of the world. We do not pay folks double what they pay in Germany, Japan etc.; in fact probably lower and yet our cost of health care greatly exceeds most of the world.

Instead of the continuous hoopla and gobbly-kook about the affordable health care act; our political leaders should focus on the huge cost differences; tackle the waste and fraud reported to be 30 percent of every health care dollar spent and represent the people who elected them instead of who contributes the most to their campaigns.