Healthcare costs: looming obstacle to retirement

Posted: October 22, 2006 in Health, Retirement, Thailand

A friend recently updated me on her progress toward early retirement. She’s got just about everything in place for her and her husband to retire and move to a nice piece of land in New Mexico. One obstacle is looming – the cost of health insurance. She has a medical condition that requires expensive medications. She has investigated all the angles to reduce her out of pocket costs. She’s particularly angered at how much cheaper the medications are from Canada, yet insurance companies will cover none of it when purchased from those sources. Her present and forecasted health insurance costs are substantial. It’s the one thing holding her back from retiring now and enjoying life on her ranch.

Next to housing the cost of healthcare and insurance is probably the biggest obstacle to retiring early. As we get older we become more aware of the need for access to quality medical care and its costs. This is one of the factors that makes expat retirement particularly appealing. I retired to Thailand, one of the premier medical tourism destinations. Healthcare here is world class, a fraction of the cost in the U.S., and delivered with warmth and hospitality. It is no exaggeration to say that a trip to the hospital can almost be a pleasant experience here (almost, it is still a trip to the hospital). The fact is that the full cost of many procedures here is less than the deductible alone back in the U.S. That is why literally hundreds of thousands of foreigners per year travel here for heart surgery, cancer treatment, joint replacement, dental work, even face lifts.

This changes the formula a lot when considering retirement. The one item that is not substantially cheaper here is medicine available only from western phamaceutical companies. If a local copy of the drug is not available you pay western prices.

Because costs are so low it makes little sense to carry insurance, just pay out of pocket. However, for those needing the perceived security blanket of insurance it is available, both locally and also from western carriers. In fact, some U.S. insurance companies have begun to add Thai hospitals to their preferred provider lists.

There is a good selection of articles on specific medical centers and costs at Thailand medical centers here.

Some other expat retirement destinations also boast high quality medical facilities, although Thailand is by far the leader in the whole medical tourism business. So it is worth considering expat retirement for the healthcare advantage. You might hit your number a lot sooner.

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