Medical Tourism Facts: Australia

Medical tourism is not just for Americans. Many Australian patients are choosing to receive medical care and elective procedures outside of their home country. The high cost of medical work in Australia is driving these patients to seek care elsewhere, despite the added costs of travel and accommodation.

Here are some of the most current facts about Australian medical tourism:

  • Most Australian medical tourists elect to receive their treatments and procedures in Asian countries, including Thailand, India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey.
  • The most common types of procedures that Australian medical tourists travel to receive are cosmetic surgery and dental work.
  • Often, these cosmetic procedures for Australian medical tourists include breast augmentations, facelifts, and tummy-tucks.
  • Non-cosmetic procedures are on the rise for Australian medical tourists. These include surgeries for spine, neck, and shoulder as well as knee and hip replacements and fertility treatments.
  • In many countries abroad, the standard of care is much higher than patients’ home countries.
  • Patients can also enjoy rest and recovery in resort-style care facilities.
  • Roughly 15,000 Australian patients travel abroad for medical tourism each year.
  • Australians who travel for cosmetic procedures spend roughly $300 million per year on treatments, and this is still while saving up to 80% on the cost of treatments.
  • Australian Medicare is unlikely to cover any overseas medical treatment that is not deemed an emergency.
  • Engaging in medical tourism does carry risks that patients need to be aware of.
  • Standard travel insurance will, in most cases, not provide any coverage for costs related to medical complications.
  • Medical tourism insurance is the only coverage that is guaranteed to provide assistance with the cost of complications.

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Who Would Benefit From Medical Tourism?

Medical tourists are people who travel to a foreign country to receive medical procedures – usually for a far lesser cost than they would incur back home. There is a number of reasons why someone would travel all the way to another country to receive medical care. But what kind of patients most often benefit from medical tourism?

The Uninsured or Underinsured

Almost 1 in 5 Americans is uninsured. Many more are underinsured. These individuals will be expected to pay out of pocket for any medical care, and with the high cost of medical care and procedures in their home countries, uninsured or underinsured individuals may find themselves facing a tough choice: receive the care they need and incur great out of pocket costs or risk continuing as is but avoid falling into medical debt. By traveling to another country with a favorable exchange rate, even after travel costs, medical tourists can receive the surgeries and treatments they need at drastically reduced out of pocket costs.

Patients Looking for Elective Procedures

Elective procedures are simply ones that do not involve a medical emergency. Some of these procedures, such as a hip replacement, will likely be covered by health insurance if they are deemed medically necessary. Other types of elective procedures, such as cosmetic treatments, are generally not considered medically necessary and therefore most likely not covered under health insurance. Many people engage in medical tourism to undergo cosmetic procedures like plastic surgery or cosmetic dental work at reduced costs. In fact, 33% of medical tourists choose to travel for cosmetic work.

Retirees Looking to Improve Their Health and Enjoy a Vacation

In some cases, government healthcare programs may not cover expensive or experimental procedures. Retirees who find themselves in need of surgeries or treatment for health conditions would do well to consider medical tourism. In addition to receiving care at a more manageable cost, retired people can enjoy an exciting vacation. Many medical tourism destinations are also popular as traditional vacation sites. In addition, hospitals that cater to medical tourists often provide a top-notch luxury experience.

Patients Seeking Procedures Not Approved in Their Home Country

There are a number of treatments and procedures that have been shown to be safe and have excellent health benefits, yet they are not approved in a patient’s home country. However, these operations and treatments are quite common in some other countries. If a patient is interested in the benefits of alternate or experimental treatments, medical tourism is a great option. The quality of the treatments is fully matched by the quality of care, and patients can rest easy knowing they are in good hands with experienced doctors, even if they are thousands of miles away.

Although a patient can plan out their medical tourism trip down to the last detail, complications may arise and unforeseen costs may be charged. Medical tourism insurance is designed to protect patients undergoing a medical journey from the burden of these potential costs.

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Medical Tourism in Thailand

Thailand tops the list of medical tourism destinations.

In 2017, an estimated 2.4 million international patients visited Thai hospitals for medical care. BBC Travel reported that the Thai medical tourism industry is growing at a rate of 16% each year. The Asian country has dominated the market due to three key factors: low cost of medical treatments, high quality of treatments, and high level of hospitality.

The most obvious reason many international patients choose Thailand as their medical tourism destination is because they are able to save on average 50% to 70% on the cost of treatments. For example, a knee replacement that would cost $30,000 in the U.S. will cost around $11,500 in Thailand. An MRI scan that would be $2,611 in the U.S. costs roughly $190 if performed in Thailand.

Most international patients travel to Thailand seeking elective treatments such as cosmetic surgery or dental work, which are the top two markets. Other specialties in Thailand include orthopedics, cardiology, IVF/reproductive medicine, and spine surgery. International patients are also attracted to medical care in Thailand because of the relatively short wait lists for procedures, something that can be difficult to find in countries like the U.S. or the U.K.

The second reason that patients traveling to receive medical care choose Thailand is the country’s strong healthcare system, with a strong presence of private hospitals. These private hospitals know that Thailand is a popular medical tourism destination, and they do all that they can to cater to international visitors. The hospitals’ physicians are highly trained, and over 500 Thai doctors are American Board Certified. There are 64 facilities that have received a JCI accreditation. The JCI, or Joint Commission International, is an organization that encourages medical excellence in countries outside the U.S.

Finally, Thailand is an attractive medical tourism destination because it is also an attractive tourism destination. The country is known for its hospitality, and its medical centers are no exception. Patients will receive excellent bedside service in Thailand, and it is a beautiful place in which to rest and recover from operations. The most popular cities for medical tourism that have the best medical facilities are Bangkok and Phuket.

If a patient does experience unforeseen complications while recovering from a medical procedure in Thailand or any foreign country – or even after returning home – international travel medical insurance and complications coverage can assist in providing relief from additional expenses that were not planned for.

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Medical Tourism in Latin America

Medical tourism is the practice of visiting a foreign country to receive healthcare, medical treatments, or surgery with the benefit of lower costs than can be found in the U.S. It is estimated that as many as 23 million Americans are expected to engage in medical tourism in the near future, and half of these people are likely to visit countries in Central and South America for their treatments.

Why Latin America?

The benefits of visiting Latin America for medical treatments are nearly unbelievable. The most obvious benefit is the low cost for services, but this is matched by the high quality of medical facilities, practitioners, and treatments. Many Latin American countries are ideal for American medical tourism because of their close proximity to the U.S. Because it is such a popular destination for medical tourism, Latin America’s medical facilities have to use cutting edge equipment and technology in order to meet the high standards of foreign medical tourists and keep their spot as a leading location for medical tourism.

Market Data Forecast reported in 2016 that the Latin American medical tourism market was worth USD 4.33 billion, and this is expected to grow at 18.9% CAGR to reach USD 10.30 billion by 2021.

Top services performed for medical tourists in Latin America include cancer treatments, chronic disease care, dental treatments, heart and bariatric surgeries, orthopedic treatments, cosmetic and plastic surgeries, rehabilitation programs, and eye care. These treatments and surgeries can see a 30% to 70% cut in medical expenses when compared to those in North America.

Some of the top countries for medical tourism in Latin America are Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil.

Mexico

It is estimated that medical tourists visiting Mexico can save 40% to 60% on their medical bills. Many doctors and dentists in Mexico received training in the U.S. and are bilingual, making communication with English speaking patients easy and stress-free. In addition, several private American hospital chains own and run hospitals in Mexico, and there are two facilities in the country that are gold members of the Medical Tourism Association. The rate of savings combined with Mexico’s very close proximity to the neighboring U.S. make it an excellent option for medical tourism.

Costa Rica

Over 50,000 foreign patients travel to Costa Rica each year for healthcare, and a majority of that number are Americans. These medical tourists save between 45% and 65% on their procedures. Costa Rica’s healthcare system was actually ranked slightly above that of the U.S. by the World Health Organization. Due to the high quality of services, around 15% of all international tourists to Costa Rica come specially to receive medical care.

Brazil

Brazil’s advanced healthcare system makes it a popular destination for medical tourism. With over 6,500 hospitals, Brazil has one of the largest healthcare systems in the world. It currently has over 60 facilities and programs accredited by the JCI (Joint Commission International), an organization that supports medical excellence in countries outside the U.S. Medical tourists can expect to save 30% to 70% on services performed at Brazilian institutions and will receive top quality care.

For someone visiting a foreign country specifically to benefit from less expensive medical treatment, it would be a disaster to be hit with unexpected charges related to the trip or procedure. Our medical tourism insurance provides coverage against any unforeseen circumstances that a patient traveling abroad may experience.

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Do I need special medical tourism insurance?

Medical Tourism Insurance

We are often asked if special medical tourism insurance is needed for travel. In short, yes. But, be careful to review the varying options in the specialized products available and don’t confuse this with leisure and business travel insurance.

Travel agents, insurance brokers, travel websites and other travel organizations offer travel insurance with many reputable travel insurance companies. We too have travel insurance options for standard leisure and business travel. The standard travel policies all have a set of exclusions and the main exclusion that makes the standard policy inadequate for a medical tourist is the exclusion “when travelling for the purpose of receiving medical (to include dental) care”. Business and leisure travel policies don’t anticipate the increased exposures in their rating or coverage forms associated with receiving elective medical care out of your home country.

Further, some of the available specialized medical tourism travel insurance programs include coverage for a complication arising from an elective procedure but the coverage can be limited geographically to the country where treatment is received. In our 10+ years of covering medical and dental travelers and studying claim activity, we have determined that a large portion of the complications are occurring when the traveler returns to their home country.  It is important to know that even with Universal Healthcare being available in many home countries, there is growing push back from these national or provincial health systems to treat non-emergency medical complications free of charge or in a timely manner.  Furthermore, if the treatment or procedure obtained in the host country was of a highly specialized nature, proper treatment of a complication at home may not be readily available, thus requiring the need to travel back to the original provider.

Look for a benefit package that includes complication coverage as a result of the procedure for a longer period of time after the procedure. A typical complication, such as a post-surgical site infection, can occur when the medical tourist returns home. Your benefits should allow for the expenses resulting from the out of country procedure no matter where the expenses are incurred. Further, the benefits should expand to include additional costs of travel, meals and accommodations, should your prefer to return to your original treating physician and are physically fit to travel back. Robust policies include additional benefits such as residence modification, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, dependent care/family coordination and some even include benefits for unsuccessful or unfavorable outcomes that are a result of a covered medical complication.