When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of the United States was mentioned for the first time, analysts of the medical tourism industry wondered how “Obamacare” would impact the business of health travel. Now that enrollment in federal health insurance has been in effect for a few months, continuous growth of medical tourism in Costa Rica is expected due to three factors: Affordability, accessibility and efficiency.
At the World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress in Washington, D.C. last September, Obamacare was an item of interest among industry professionals in attendance. The consensus was “so far, so good” in the sense that Obamacare is still in its infancy stage, which means lower costs and virtually no waiting periods. This, however, is bound to change as the program matures.
The Affordability Factor
Obamacare is essentially a program for insurance reform; this means that many patients should still expect those out-of-pocket features that have always been associated with medical plans. Co-payments and deductibles are still a reality for patients in the U.S. who can only afford to pay for a bronze plan under the Affordable Care Act. These deductibles can be $10,000 per insured, and even after these deductibles are met, co-payments of up to 20 percent kick in.
When out-of-pocket medical expenses are compared to the cost of medical tourism, health travel begins to make a lot of sense. In some cases, the cost of flying to Costa Rica, staying in a hotel and paying for medical expenses is still more affordable than the combined cost of out-of-pocket expenses. Here’s an example of the affordability factor: A hip replacement surgery in the U.S. costs between $40K to $50K. In Costa Rica, that cost is $14K. When adding high deductibles and co-payments on top of a $50k surgery, it simply makes more sense to take the medical tourism route.
The Accessibility Factor
Easy access to healthcare options is another factor that will guarantee the growth of medical tourism in Costa Rica in the post-Obamacare era. Waiting periods for certain medical procedures are the bane of public healthcare systems; this is something that people in Canada and even Costa Rica are used to dealing with. In Canada, it takes an average of 18 weeks to see a specialist physician; in 1993, the median wait time was 9 weeks, and this is something that analysts in the U.S. are expecting to see in the future.
Private medical facilities that cater to medical tourists strive to not have a waiting list for surgeries, diagnostic procedures and therapies. Medical tourism is based on the premise that anyone can get treatment at anytime.
With many non-stop flights originating from major cities such as Toronto, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and others, Costa Rica has become a major hub for medical tourism. U.S. health travelers can LIR in four hours.
The Efficiency Factor
For medical tourists, being able to fly in directly and meet with facilitators who take care of everything is exactly what the doctor ordered. Since medical facilities that cater to health travelers do not have to worry about cost-cutting or bureaucratic operations, they can focus on providing quality care; this is the efficiency factor.