North American Medical Tourism Achieves High Growth Rate

Published November 20, 2018

The growth in medical tourism is being fueled by several factors, including lower prices, higher-quality care, and availability of services abroad that are not available in the patient’s home country, the October report from Allied Market Research states.

The report defines medical tourism as “travel across international borders with the purpose of availing medical treatment of some form, which may or may not be available in the travelers [sic] home country.”

“Mexico is one of the major destinations for medical tourism, as it offers a wide number of high-quality treatments at considerably lower costs as compared to the U.S.,” the report states.

The United States retains some comparative advantages in health care attributable to the amount of freedom for health providers when compared with national single-payer government systems in Canada, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe.

“[The] U.S. is another key tourism destination in North America, especially for advanced specialized treatments for cancer, neurological, and cardiovascular ailments,” the report states.

Overregulation at Home

That advantage is eroding as government intervention in the U.S. health care marketplace continues forcing costs higher, driving patients to seek alternatives outside the nation’s borders, says Brittany Hunter, a writer for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

“Health care is so overly regulated in America, it no longer responds to market forces,” Hunter said. “Additionally, insurance policies have added extra layers of complication to this process by distorting the actual costs of care. This is why no one really knows how much it costs to set a broken arm or get X-rays taken; the prices vary so much from policy to policy, it’s almost impossible to know for sure.

“Medical tourism cuts out the middleman and bypasses arbitrary government regulation to focus on patient-centered care,” Hunter said.

Competition is what makes medical tourism an attractive option, Hunter says.

“Various practitioners are now competing directly for health care consumers,” Hunter said. “Doctors are incentivized to offer the highest quality of care at the lowest possible prices. Under medical tourism, health care quality actually improves while the costs go down.”

Right to Shop

Edward Hudgins, research director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says market forces apply to the health care marketplace just as in any other area of life.

“The latest report on medical tourism basically shows that free markets operate, no matter what governments want to do,” Hudgins said. “In other words, people shop. People shop for smart phones, people shop for food, people shop for furniture, and people shop for medical care. What you see here is that consumers are looking for the best bargain and they’re looking for quality.”

Flight to Freedom

Cost, quality, and freedom from government interference are making other countries increasingly attractive places to seek care, Hudgins says.

“We’ve seen recently, in China and a few other places like that, possible medical breakthroughs in treating cancer and other things, which have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” Hudgins said. “An American who wants access to those procedures may have to get on a plane and fly to China.

“If you can get a high-quality doctor and facility to do a hip replacement for a quarter of the cost of what you could get in your home country, without a waiting time, with high quality of care and including the cost of travel, well, why not?” Hudgins said. “The message, I think, is that we really have to look carefully at our system to see how Americans could get the best-quality care at better prices right here in the United States, if not for the government regulations.”