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Jordan's ancient stone city of Petra -- a bonus sight with heart surgery? Photo by Clark Norton

Jordan’s ancient stone city of Petra — a bonus sight with heart surgery? Photo by Clark Norton

With the U.S. health care system all too much in the news right now, it’s a good time to raise the issue of medical tourism: Americans — especially baby boomers — traveling to other countries to have surgeries and other medical procedures that cost a small fraction of what they do in the U.S.

And health permitting, many of these baby boomer medical tourists are taking the opportunity to see the sights of other countries as long as they’re traveling there anyway.

The most popular countries for medical tourism include Singapore, Thailand, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jordan, Turkey and Brazil.

That’s a pretty good bucket list of foreign destinations right there.

Need a knee transplant? See the unforgettable Taj Mahal in India and get a two-fer.

A heart bypass? You could leave your heart (troubles) in stunning Petra, Jordan’s ancient city carved from stone.

How about cosmetic surgery? You could do worse than recuperate on the golden beaches of Rio.

Perhaps dental surgery is in your future? A trip to exotic Thailand might help ease the pain, especially if the dental bill is far less painful to begin with.

The costs of many surgeries in India are about a tenth the cost of those in the United States: around $4,500 for a knee replacement, for example, compared to up to $45,000 in the U.S.

And now, with the Indian rupee falling in value against the U.S. dollar by 15 percent since early this year, there’s even more financial incentive for Americans to seek major medical care in that country.

India now has about three percent of the global medical tourism market, but is poised for more. “The outlook [for more international medical tourism] is very positive indeed,” says Rajiv Sharma, the chief executive officer of Sterling Hospitals in Mumbai.

Some Indian hospitals are hoping to lure about one-third of their patients from overseas in the next few years, compared to around 10 percent now, according to hospital officials. In the city of Ahmedabad, India, surgeons now perform 5,000 to 7,000 knee surgeries per year, many of them on baby-boomer age Americans.

With the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”)  now starting to kick in in the United States, Indian hospital administrators are expecting a further jump in business. “U.S. insurance companies plan to encourage medical tourism,” contends Artup Dhir, a senior cosmetic surgeon at Apollo Hospitals in Ghandhinagar, “and India is poised to become a major beneficiary.”

Whether or not U.S. insurance companies start to encourage medical tourism by, say, facilitating acceptance of insurance claims abroad, the fact is that as long as health care costs in the U.S. continue to be the highest in the world, more and more Americans — led by 49-to-67-year-old baby boomers — will opt for traveling abroad for their most expensive medical procedures.

And the tourism industries in those countries will benefit along with the doctors and hospitals.

American-based tour companies could benefit as well, if they recognize the trend, jump on the bandwagon — and don’t fall off.

As Mountain Times writer Scott Funk noted, “We (baby boomers) are the first generation to want to skateboard with our grandchildren.”

The problem is that, all too often, we may tumble off the skateboard and tear up our knees. And that’s when it’s time to start thinking about crossing the Taj Mahal off our bucket lists as part of an Indian medical “vacation.”

Next up on Is medical tourism abroad safe? Stay tuned for some answers and helpful hints.


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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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