In the past, “medical tourists” — those who travel overseas to have procedures done — typically were wealthy. But with many consumers’ budgets strapped and the rising cost of medical care, a growing number of Americans are traveling elsewhere to have operations and procedures in an attempt to save money.
An estimated 750,000 Americans traveled out of the United States for medical care in 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Deloitte Center for Health Care Solutions. The center expects that number to have spiked to 6 million people by this year.
Countries like India, Thailand, and certain countries in Europe and Central America, have become medical tourism hot spots, but before jumping on a plane to head overseas, the national Financial Planning Association urges consumers to conduct some financial due diligence.
“This is something that flies under people’s radars,” said Joseph DeDomenico, a certified financial planner and owner of DeDomenico Wealth Management in North Haven.
Before heading abroad to have medical work done, the association says, consumers should:
– Involve local doctors in the discussion. Don’t assume one’s usual doctor will stand in the way of this decision. Stateside physicians may he helpful in getting patients into the right program, especially for those having trouble affording the procedures in the United States.
– Check insurance coverage. Those considering heading abroad should ask their health insurer about their stance on overseas treatments. Even if the insurer won’t cover the procedure, ask if they recommend specific hospitals and clinics abroad that have credentials they trust.
Also, ask insurers how they deal with post-care complications, since some may not cover problems that occur domestically after the treatment.
Those with long-term care insurance ought to check to see whether getting treatment overseas could risk their coverage when they need to draw on the insurance later.
“Insurance, in general, is necessary,” DeDomenico said, adding that supplemental coverage may be needed if patients’ regular insurance policy does not cover aspects of procedures done abroad. “Fill in the gaps, because there are gaps,” he said.
– Get financial advice. If considering a non-emergency procedure that will not be covered by insurance, consumers should fully examine how the decision will affect their overall finances. The expense should be weighed against other financial needs and concerns.
– Designate a family member as a primary contact. Pick a relative, friend or health professional given the power of attorney to keep in touch with family, friends and employers and keep them informed.
The primary contact should be ready to pay bills and deal with situations in case complications or death result from the medical care.
– Make sure health care directives work where the procedure is being done. Health care directives, also called advance directives, specify people’s medical wishes in case they are incapacitated. They come in two forms, a living will and a power of attorney for health care.
Check with the hospital where treatments will take place, as well as with an attorney, to see what documentation will be effective where the work is done.
– Set up accounts properly. A person with a health care power of attorney may or may not be the person to disburse assets if the patient is incapacitated, but that person should have his or her name on a joint checking account in case bills need to be paid.
Also, establish a line of credit that a designated representative can access in case of emergency.
– Be sure to have a current will. No one expects to die in the hospital, but make certain the will is up to date so a spouse or designated representative can immediately step in to handle affairs if necessary.