Medical Tourism In Mexico Growing

Good, cheap deals on that next open heart surgery
BY: JEFFERY McDONALD

Mexico is the second most popular country in the world for medical tourism. More than a million visitors from the U.S. alone, and a great many more from around the world, visit Mexico each year just to get patched up on the cheap.  This total is only about 100,000 visitors less than Thailand, the number one most popular country in world for medical tourism.

The proximity to treatment is the second biggest factor in the tourist’s mind, (other than the cost of the treatment itself), when deciding where to go. It can take a minimum of 22 hours to travel to Thailand, but getting to Mexico is easy peasy.

Depending on the procedure, savings in Mexico range from about 35% to as much as 90% over the same treatment in the United States. The passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has not reduced the number of medical tourists to Mexico because, even though the number of uninsured in the U.S. is down to 9%, most of the treatment done in Mexico is elective, and not covered by U.S. insurance.  Also the cost of the entire treatment here is often less than the deductible or co-pay in the U.S. if it is covered at all in the States.  The most common medical services are elective and cosmetic surgeries, specialist consultations, dental care, cancer or oncology treatment, weight loss,,and fertility treatments, in that order.

According to ProMexico, an economic development agency, medical tourism will generate more than $3.4 billion dollars for Mexican medical providers this year, most of it at facilities snug up to the U.S. border. That rate is growing 7% per year and these numbers do not include the huge flow of tourist dollars to restaurants, hotels, and retail stores serving those medical tourists while they are here. The stay in a hotel is usually between two and five nights, but this does not take into account the stay in treatment centers which can be anywhere from a week to several months.

Most expats here do not realize the importance of this economic sector for Mexico, but the Mexican government is fully aware of it.  The government is putting more resources every year into promotion of its domestic medical providers, creating what are called medical clusters in 12 Mexican states. The clusters attempt to improve the quality of treatments, promote services through websites, medical publications, and directories and all written in English. The directory in Baja California charges no fee for doctors to be listed.

There is a growing, important factor affecting world wide medical tourism called JCI accreditation.  JCI stands for “Joint Commission International” which evaluates the quality of treatment offered by institutions which it visits.  Mexico had no JCI facilities accredited in 2006, but as of 2015 it has nine. That’s pitiful. We just told you Mexico rakes in nearly $4 billion a year in medical tourism and only nine clinics have been accredited? Pitiful! People! Be careful! Further, the Mexican Department of Health has accredited only about 100 hospitals from all over the country, but even that is not impressive because that agency is pretty loosey goosey. And only 100 for the entire country?? And none of those are here in our state. Obviously, the American medical tourist doesn’t care if a hospital is accredited or not or more would apply for this designation.

Americans also come to Mexico for cheaper prescription drugs.  People are required to declare these purchases, such as Xanax or Tramadol which are two of the most popular, upon their return to the States only if they are bringing back more than a 90 day supply. Today the border facilities have extremely sophisticated technologies under the street leading to the port of entry for detecting drugs and controlled substances of all kinds. But relax, Max, the sniffer dogs and the sensors probably can’t smell your Viagra.

Recently the Government of Baja California invested $625,000 in promotion and funding of its medical tourism industry. They also provided $1,200,000 in Mexicali to create a medical district, which includes the creation of a Health Tourism Advisory Board and a Health Tourism Department to carry out public policy and encourage medical tourism in northern Baja. Southern Baja, no. The board consists of representatives from hospitals, medical professionals, family clinics, and laboratories.

Although much needs to be done in the areas of promotion and providing high quality services, Mexico is on a path to being the biggest player in the world for medical tourism field, if only because of its proximity to the United States market.