Why do Americans choose to leave the country for medical care?

Last week, four U.S. citizens were kidnapped, and two were killed as they reportedly visited Mexico for cosmetic procedures. So what exactly is medical tourism, and why do many Americans seek treatment outside the U.S.?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates millions of Americans travel across borders for treatment and low-cost medication each year.

“So the main one is the cost. So if the insurance company does not cover it, then you have to pay out of pocket. Cosmetic surgeries are usually not covered by standard American insurance ,” said Lydia Gan, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, who studies medical tourism.

Gan told WTOP the other two common reasons for most patients to seek medical care outside American borders are shorter waitlists and to receive treatments that aren’t currently allowed in the U.S.

“So stem cell treatment, for example, for diabetes, and some of these cancer treatments,” she said. “Some of these procedures are not approved by the FDA, but they are highly effective.”

While Mexico is a popular destination for dental care and cosmetic surgeries, Americans have traveled all over the world for care, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Costa Rica, Turkey and South Africa.

Gan told WTOP many of the doctors who advertise for medical tourism are either U.S. or U.K. board certified.

“A lot of them have affiliation with some of the big hospitals like Mayo, Cleveland and Johns Hopkins University,” she said.

But when you are traveling abroad, she said to always check accreditation and educational background of any physician you may visit because there are many less than reputable clinics that advertise.

“Make sure that you check the State Department travel advisory before you travel,” Gan said. “And travel with a companion.”

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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