Repealing Obamacare Good For Mexico?

It could mean a big increase in medical tourism

That a Donald Trump policy stands to benefit Mexico may sound like fake news but it probably isn’t.

If the United States president’s goal of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — becomes law, it is estimated that approximately 24 million Americans will be left without health care coverage by 2026.

According to some Mexican tourism organizations, many of those people will look south for medical treatment.

The Mexican Travel Agency Association (AMAV), the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association (AMHM) and the Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry (CMITM) all agree that the situation represents a significant opportunity for Mexico.

They believe that Mexico will be the first choice for those left uncovered and that a third of them will seek medical attention in this country, attracted by lower costs and geographical proximity.

Rafael García, the president of the AMHM, indicated that there is already sufficient infrastructure and the required specialists to absorb 30% of those left uninsured into the Mexican system. That translates into 7.2 million patients.

CMITM president Carlos Arceo says that the main services sought by foreigners are dental procedures, bariatric, plastic and orthopedic surgeries, IVF treatment and stem cell transplants. He claims that all can be carried out in Mexico to the same standard as the United States or Canada but at a price that is 40 to 60% cheaper.

He believes that Tijuana and Mexicali in Baja California, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua and Nogales in Sonora are well placed to attend to medical tourists from the U.S. because they already have developed medical tourism infrastructure.

However, other destinations farther from the border, including right here in Los Cabos, Cancún, and Puerto Vallarta, could also benefit.

Medical tourists spend $3,000 to $60,000 USD per trip, which means they should be considered part of the luxury market, Arceo says.

AMAV president Julio Castañeda argues that the medical tourism industry is currently underexploited, and there is a need to develop more medical tourism packages and further promote the industry in the United States in order for it to grow.

By working with hospitals, medical specialists and the Mexican Tourism Board, he thinks it is possible to exceed the expected 7.2 million patients, and suggests that one way of attracting more people is to promote visits to traditional tourist destinations for both patients and their families as an add-on.

While the medical tourism industry has been growing by approximately 20% annually in recent years, all the tourism organizations agree that it is essential for the government to develop a strategy in order for the industry to continue to grow.

With support from the federal government, they say they will be better able to take advantage of a lucrative opportunity that will benefit the Mexican economy.

The establishment or increase of direct flights to medical tourism hotspots, increased promotion of the industry abroad and the integration of medical tourism with more traditional tourism will also play an important role in growing the sector.

According to Arceo, “The positioning of Mexico and the development of medical tourism has been an initiative completely of the private [sector]… The government must develop public policies that incentivize the development and promotion of the sector so together with companies they are rowing in the same direction.”