Medical tourism to gain or lose from U.S. health care reform?

Posted: April 18, 2010 in Health
Tags: ,

I have been watching the U.S. health care reform debate with only slight interest. That’s because I no longer live in the U.S. and don’t have any need for insurance there. We go to the world class private hospitals in Thailand for all our medical care – so fantastic compared to all my experiences with health care back in the states. I’ve had more than a passing interest in the whole medical tourism field since moving to Thailand. I didn’t realize it at first but this country is a huge medical tourist destination, something like half a million Americans per year come here for elective or uninsured medical procedures. I had no idea it was that well-known.

The thing I’m wondering about is what effect the new health bill in the U.S. will have on Americans traveling overseas to see a doctor. I haven’t paid so much attention to the details, mostly read just sound bites in news stories about it. As I understand it, Americans now are required by law to buy medical insurance. That seems just so amazing in a commie sort of way. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was living there. BTW, does this new law mean that even expats like me have to buy insurance? LOL at them if that is the case. I’m doing fine paying out-of-pocket over here.

All thumbing my nose at the U.S. government aside, if people are forced to pay for insurance then that means they are probably going to be highly motivated to use those benefits. So that kills the medical tourism option for most of them, right? Or does the new system mean that Americans will end up with wait times like the ones so famous in the UK and Canada? So much that although they are forced to pay for insurance they still will travel to get the health care they need in a timely way – is that going to happen? I suppose it will take some time for that to develop so we won’t know for a while.

Or maybe something else will evolve from this. Some insurance companies have already started to cover medical tourism by paying for patients to get things like major surgery overseas. With new restrictions on insurance companies that forbid them from canceling policies when people get sick and denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, maybe the insurance companies will accelerate the trend to cover and encourage patients to get treatment at lower cost overseas hospitals.

It seems like it could go in several directions, or maybe all directions at once. I guess I will have to keep watching the news about moves the insurance companies are making to survive and prosper in the new legislative environment.


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