Citizens of the richest nation in the world are traveling to Mexico for basic medical treatment because they cannot afford health-care services in the United States.
Unlike most wealthy countries, the United States does not guarantee health care for all its people. The situation is only getting worse. Since the Trump administration came to power two years ago, the number of uninsured Americans has soared by 7 million, according to a newly released report by the Gallup polling organization.
The portion of the population lacking coverage is 13.7 percent, up from 10.9 percent in 2016 – wiping out many of the gains of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Under Trump, millions of people have lost their ACA plans due to funding cuts, rising premiums, new qualification requirements and other impediments.
Even those who have insurance face high premiums and deductibles, as well as prohibitive co-payments, which effectively block access to care in their own country. As a result, business is booming for doctor's offices, dental clinics, optometrist's offices and drug stores in Mexico.
Demand for Dental Services
Truthout reported that as many as 6,000 Americans per day pass through the port of entry in Yuma, Arizona, to obtain medical services in Algodones, Mexico. The village has the most dentists per capita on Earth. Elderly people from the United States make up a majority of the offices' clientele.
About 74 million Americans – about one-fourth of the population – do not have dental insurance, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Those lucky enough to hold a policy still cannot go to dentists in the U.S. because their plans do not cover the full cost of expensive procedures like root canals, crowns and implants. Dental policies typically pay out a maximum of $1,500 per year.
Other Health Care Needs
One in eight U.S. residents lacks any type of medical insurance. A 2015 survey by the Medical Tourism Association found that about 65 percent of those crossing the border for health care were in that perilous position.
Heart surgery, stem-cell procedures, orthopedic treatments, cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments and weight-reduction surgeries are among the most common reasons Americans go to Mexico. Pacific Standard magazine noted that some procedures cost 70 percent less south of the border than the rates U.S. doctors charge.
Authorities say the quality of care is generally comparable to that in the United States. Medical providers receive the same training and are held to similar standards. Modern facilities feature state-of-the-art equipment, according to the Medical Tourism Corporation, which helps Americans find care in Mexico.
The organization reported that Mexican doctors are more experienced than their counterparts in the United States in performing procedures that the Federal Drug Administration has not approved.
Top Mexican Locations
Tijuana and Mexicali are two of the most popular destinations due to their proximity just across the border from California. Other people get treatments in tourist resort areas such as Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Guadalajara.
American companies own a number of the facilities. The Dallas-based International Hospital Corp. operates four hospitals in Mexico; and another Texas firm, Christus Health Systems, runs seven hospitals there. Even tiny border towns offer an array of private clinics, some with U.S. doctors and dentists who have relocated in Mexico.
Between 1.4 million and 3 million Americans cross the border for health care every year, according to Patients Beyond Borders. A majority of them live in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas. Mexican medical facilities also draw people from Canada, as well as European and Asian nations, that have public health-care systems with long waiting times.
Other Countries Also Attract U.S. Patients
Mexico is not the only foreign land where Americans travel for medical care. Some countries have higher-rated health systems than the United States, according to the World Health Association. One of them is Costa Rica, where more than 700,000 Americans were getting treatments in 2016.
Colombia also boasts a quality health-care system, which has attracted an ever-growing number of patients from the United States and elsewhere. The Huffington Post reported two years ago that medical tourists were enjoying savings of 40 percent or more by traveling to Colombia.
Malaysia provides modern health care with mostly U.S.-trained doctors and dentists. During one recent year, more than 80 percent of the world's medical tourists went to one of three Asian nations – Malaysia, Thailand or Singapore – where many of the doctors and dentists received their training in the United States.
Malaysia, which has eight hospitals, is renowned for its relatively inexpensive dental, dermatological and cosmetic procedures. Thailand's health care system is on the World Health Organization's list of the 50 best anywhere. Thai doctors typically charge between 50 percent and 80 percent less than their contemporaries in the United States.
Americans will continue to seek affordable medical treatment abroad until their country joins the rest of the industrialized world in providing health care for all. The national movement for such a system is growing.