August 24, 2009

Why do I have to go to India for my root canal?

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OK, the health insurance industry is right. The millions the industry is spending lobbying lawmakers and the public have me convinced. No health care crisis. Let’s keep everything the way it is. No need for health care reform. Right? Maybe not. Turns out the very same insurers are getting into the business of sending their patients overseas for treatment by surgeons and dentists in places like India and Costa Rica, where costs can be as much as 80 percent less than in America, reports Tom Murphy of the Associated Press.

But hey, we like our system just the way it is, right? That is, until you are forced by your insurer to travel thousands of miles to receive care in a system that may not be government run, okay, but definitely is not the your-doctor, your-choice kind of option the health care debate is focused on right now. Yeah, we’ve all read about so-called “medical tourism,” but Murphy reports that the four largest commercial U.S. health insurers, with enrollments totaling nearly 100 million people, have either launched pilot programs offering overseas travel for medical care or explored the option. Smaller insurers also have introduced travel options for care. So far these are options. But how long will this remain an option if the costs are 80 percent lower? And how long can consumers continue to believe our existing system is the best in the world if we travel to other countries where wages are lower and standards of care are different, at least less known, where medical oversight is certainly less known, to get basic care? And how would this ultimately undermine the infrastructure of care in the U.S.?

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