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Traveling for Treatment
Date:4/8/2009

Americans are looking overseas for less-expensive medical care

WEDNESDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- David Boucher celebrated his 50th birthday this year by jetting to Bangkok for his first colonoscopy.

There he was seen by a California-educated physician and no shortage of nurses, who verified his identity 15 times before the procedure.

To be sure, Boucher had a secondary motive: He is founder and president of Companion Global Healthcare, a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina that includes in its network 13 hospitals around the world that have been accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI).

The JCI, which calls itself the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," has accredited more than 170 hospitals outside of the United States.

An estimated 6 million Americans are traveling each year to such countries as India, Costa Rica, Mexico and Thailand in search of less-expensive treatments for simple and complex procedures. Even France and Belgium tend to be cheaper than the United States.

"People are going abroad for necessary medical treatments such as knee and hip replacements and cardiac procedures," said Devon Herrick, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, in Dallas. "And in many countries, especially places like India, the quality is very high and the price can be up to 80 percent less expensive."

And that often includes the airline ticket.

Major U.S. health-care players are jumping on the train, including BlueShield of California. Its "Access Baja" health plan caters to Americans and Mexicans wanting to get medical care in northern Mexico. BridgeHealth International, based in Denver, also has an overseas network.

What's driving the trend?

"The cost of health care in the U.S., combined with the fact that we have a shortage in this country of physicians and, probably more acutely, nurses," responded
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