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In the news Home < IN THE NEWS < More Americans seeking foreign healthcare
More Americans seeking foreign healthcare
  The number of Americans traveling abroad for healthcare grows every year.

Estimates vary widely, though in 2005 the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reported that as many 500,000 people sought care overseas.

The medical tourism industry is forecast to grow to 40 million trips and $40 billion by 2010, according to Tourism Research and Marketing.

“A significant number of (Rio Grande) Valley patients can’t afford treatment,” said Mauricio Sampayo, who along with his brother helped develop the Centro Medico Internacional in Matamoros. “If they can’t pay it’s a lose-lose across the board. But, bring them here (to CMI) where it’s affordable for the patient and at least we’d be making something. It’s a win-win across the board for the hospital, doctor and patient.”

But for many Americans the option of seeking treatment in Mexico is mired in a cloud of uncertainty as the question of what happens if something goes wrong lingers. There are as many stories praising personalized attention as those of wrongful diagnosis and shoddy treatment in Mexico.

Most large insurers have shown a reluctance to extend coverage abroad, though a few, such as the Minneapolis-based United Health International, now offer overseas coverage. Centro Medico has an in network agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Mauricio said the question of legal recourse has rarely been an issue for patients at his facility.

“In the event they ask we explain that in Mexico two-thirds of medical malpractice complaints are resolved via arbitration not litigation, and 72 percent of these complaints were resolved by assuming commitment for continuing medical treatment or by broadening the stages of medical care,” he said. “This is one of the primary reasons why CMI can offer
  world class healthcare in Mexico at affordable prices.”

The chief executive officers of two of Brownsville’s larger hospitals seem to agree that a variety of healthcare options are a good thing for border residents.

“Having a choice in healthcare options is always good, and Brownsville’s proximity to the border increases these choices,” said Leslie Bingham, CEO of Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville. “Additionally, we believe the quality of healthcare in the U.S. sets the standard for other nations.”
David Handley, CEO of Valley Regional Medical Center, agreed with Bingham’s assessment.

“It boils down to patient choice,” Handley said. “Patients weigh the cost and quality and make a decision from there. I welcome the competition.”

Dangling the carrot of cost savings is common practice among Mexican medical facilities courting American business. The northeastern Mexican city of Monterrey is casting itself as a major healthcare city and the preferred medical tourism destination in Mexico.

“I think it makes a lot of sense,” said Elena Bastida, director of the Center on Aging and Health at the University of Texas-Pan American. “If it offers more or less the same product for a lot less money, I think it’s very attractive.”

As is often the case, Bastida said, the presence or absence of money plays a significant role in how medical care is perceived. According to a 2005 study on the disparities of healthcare on the U.S.- Mexico border, nearly all those without insurance who sought treatment in Mexico said care there was superior.

Conversely, 75 percent of those with insurance believed treatment in the U.S. is better, while 25 percent said healthcare was roughly the same on both side of the border. The data suggests that hospitals are not the priority.


“Don’t be fooled,” Bastida said. “Money dictates reasoning more than quality.”

Yet families with the lowest household incomes are as unlikely to seek Mexican healthcare as the wealthiest. The most frequent users of Mexican healthcare live above the poverty line, but lack insurance.

And as more patients have favorable experiences, the Sampayos are betting on word of mouth to spread the message about CMI to cities across the state. Rancho Viejo resident Liz Hainley Rusteberg is among the local residents impressed by medical care at CMI.

Hainley is awaiting surgery after she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus while skiing in Beaver Creek, Colo. She needed a MRI to determine the extent of the damage of her injury.

In Brownsville, the scan cost $1,500 and Hainley was faced with paying a $500 deductible on her insurance. At CMI, the same MRI costs $100.

“I don’t just have $500 here and $500 there to throw around,” she said.

So, she had the scan done at CMI. The doctors translated and forwarded the results to her surgeon in San Antonio.

“I can tell you I’ve have had an MRI here and there and it’s the exact same thing,” she said. “I would never get an MRI in Brownsville again.”


Border residents turn to Matamoros hospital for affordable healthcare


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