Richard’s Note: This is probably the last blog post I will write in 2013, so let me take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very Happy Holiday, and a very Happy New Year. Let’s hope that 2014 will be a year in which medical tourism takes its rightful place as an alternative to high cost, low quality health care. One more thing, 2014 will be the centennial year of the beginning of the First World War, a war in which the leading nations of the world at that time, blundered into, and which ultimately led to an even greater disaster, the Second World War. As globalization brings us closer together, let us remember that one hundred years ago, much of the world was backward and underdeveloped, and being exploited by all major powers; yes, even the ‘good ole USA’, so my hope is that one day, travelling to another country for health care will be as commonplace as going to another city here at home.
Last week, I had a meeting with the C.E.O. of Costa Rica Med Connect, Russell Cuciak. Russell connected with me on LinkedIn in response to my last blog posting. As we are both in South Florida and live in Palm Beach County, we had the chance to talk by phone on a few occasions before arranging a meeting in his office in Boca Raton.
Russell told me that he has been sending patients to Costa Rica for about two years now, and has been very active in taking a hands-on approach towards his clients’ care, which was in evidence during our meeting when he called a former potential client who had weight loss surgery in Florida, instead of in Costa Rica. The client had lost a significant amount of weight from the surgery, but since Russell followed up with him even though the client did not seek his care in Costa Rica, it proved to me that Russell stands by those who come to him for his services, whether they use them or not.
His patients are sent to the CIMA Hospital in Escazú, or its more formal name, San Miguel de Escazú, the capital city of the canton of Escazú in the province of San José in Costa Rica. It is also the name of the district that includes the city, a subnational entity with 14,815 inhabitants. Escazú is 9 kilometers from the national capital of San Jose, which is in the center of the country between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Over the past couple of decades Escazú has become an expatriate enclave: several embassies have their residences located here, including the residence of the US Ambassador and the British Ambassador. The past few years have seen a significant influx of newly arrived foreigners from North America, South America and Europe. It is home to many bars and restaurants, especially those of the more chic (and expensive) variety. Rents and prices reflect this and Escazú is the most well-known upscale location in Costa Rica. Here, one can find English movie theaters and even a luxurious country club. There are also many fine restaurants and dining areas in this part of town, with an excellent nightlife. Banks, pharmacies, shops, grocery stores and even an 18-hole championship golf course can be found here, along with one of the biggest and most modern shopping malls in Central America, Multiplaza.
For those of you who have read my blog article, No Back Alleys Here: Medical Tourism Hospitals, Clinics and Networks in Latin America and the Caribbean, you will remember that CIMA — Centro Internacional de Medicina, was one of the hospitals I listed in Mexico, particularly the one in Chihuahua.
I asked Russell to give me a ballpark figure of what the cost of knee replacement surgery would be in Costa Rica, and he quoted me a figure of $13,000, which includes everything except the airfare and hotel. He told me that several of the resorts in the area cater to specific patients having surgery at CIMA, so that there is a resort for patients recovering from plastic surgery, a resort for patients recovering from orthopedic surgeries, etc. It was explained to me that these resorts allow his patients to be around other individuals like them so that they do not feel uncomfortable. One particular hotel, the Holiday Inn, which is next to the CIMA hospital, takes all patients, and has special medical rooms for them.
The cost for a room in some of these resorts are anywhere from $25 a night to $250 a night, so with the cost of surgery for a knee replacement of $13,000, adding the airfare and accommodation would add another $2,000 or $3,000 to the total cost, which when compared to costs in the US of the same procedure, could be double or triple that, depending on the hospital’s bill, the surgeon’s bill, the anesthesiologist’s bill, etc.
Russell told me that in 2012, 40,000 Americans went to Costa Rica for medical tourism. As I said in my No Back Alleys Here piece, Costa Rica is one of the “rising stars” of medical tourism, and Russell’s company is one of at least a half a dozen that I know of, if not more, that are capitalizing on those 40,000 medical tourists.
During our conversation, I discussed what I found in my research paper about the barriers to implementing medical tourism into workers’ compensation, and with medical tourism in general, was the issue of legal liability. Russell told me that he carries $1 million in liability insurance, and I gave him some names of insurance companies that provide medical tourism insurance that I found on my smartphone while talking to him.
I told him of my difficulty in getting the workers’ compensation industry interested in my idea for medical tourism, and he asked me why I thought that the insurance companies had not jumped on this. I told him that there are many people in medical tourism who are asking the same question, and the most logical answer was that it is not on their radar.
We spent more than an hour and a half talking inside and outside his office, and we hope to be able to drum up more interest for medical tourism with individuals, employers, and insurance companies, both in health care and in workers’ compensation.
As uncertainty with the ACA continues, and as the cost of health care keeps rising, despite the drop in health care spending, traveling to a medical tourism destination such as Costa Rica, will become a viable option not only for health care patients, but for workers’ compensation as well. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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