The frustrations of trying to get pregnant have forced more than one woman to cross the line, past their national borders and off to a little vacation of sorts – sometimes as far as 10,000 miles away
Not a typical vacation, but one that’s becoming increasingly popular among American women who are willing to travel to the ends of the earth – from South Africa to South of the border in Mexico – in search of a more affordable chance to have a baby.
As fertility costs soar in the United States and across the globe, in-vitro fertilization for women is a fraction of the price in foreign countries of that in their backyards, even after figuring in expenses for travel and accommodations.
Sightseeing and Motherhood
The internet has made connecting easier for women with fertility clinics in diverse locations, such as the Czech Republic, Israel, Canada and Thailand. Specialized medical tourism facilitators are able to help these wannabe mothers arrange travel plans, set up physician appointments and even plan sightseeing tours.
The opportunity is a great relief for many women, who, because of their age, were turned down for treatment at clinics at home. To complicate matters, many insurance packages will not cover treatment past a diagnosis of infertility, leaving many women in a new realm of financial commitment that they cannot deal with.
“We understand the frustration and doubt that comes with not being able to conceive a child — and not to mention the extreme expense many couples face when considering fertility treatment in North America,” said Dr. Pablo Chee, director of Almater Hospital, which offers IVF services for couples from the United States and Canada at affordable prices in Mexicali, Mexico. “We give our patients hope. From renowned fertility specialists to our wide range of treatment options, Almater drastically reduces a patients’ financial burden by providing access to truly affordable and outstanding fertility treatments.”
Almost three-fourths of American women, aged 25-45 polled, who said they would consider IVF treatment also stated that they would travel abroad if the cost was significantly lower and the pregnancy rate high, according to a study by the Barbados Fertility Centre and Ipsos Reid.
Almater Hospital offers a wide scope of treatments including fertility drugs, IVF, intra-uterine insemination, intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection, and frozen embryo replacement cycle.
“Patients from around the world travel to Almater Hospital for our excellent IVF program, which boasts a remarkably high success rate,” said Dr. Leonardo Garza, Fertility Services and Obstetrics/Gynecology. “The key to our success is the expertise and experience of our IVF specialists. We work directly with each of our patients to ensure that they receive the right treatment, at the right time, with the goal of bringing a new life into their family and making them parents.”
Just the stress of failed attempts at fertilization is enough to shrink the hopes of many couples of ever having a family. Many IVF providers have reported that often times traveling patients plan to stay for extended periods in country, allowing them to step away from their day to day work and activities and focus on relaxation. This stress reduction alone is reported to have a strong impact on the overall access at achieving successful fertilization and why many clinic report very high success rates for their international clientele.
President Barack Obama’s legislative attempt at overhauling the nation’s healthcare system may be beyond repair. Take it from the people who would know best.
Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks aimed at exempting lawmakers and their Capital Hill aides from the insurance exchanges that will be mandated when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented at the start of the year, according to politico.com, a Washington, D.C. nonpartisan news organization.
The talks, which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers, are extraordinarily sensitive. Both sides recognize the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the highly controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides, politico.com reports.
Sources tell politico.com discussions have stretched out for months. Yet, if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.
Democrats, in particular, would take a public hammering as the traditional boosters of Obamacare. Republicans would undoubtedly attempt to shred them over any attempt to escape coverage by it, unless Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) give Democrats cover by backing it.
“It is a crazy world when both Republicans and Democrats are thinking about retiring so that they can keep their current health benefits,” said Jonathan Edelheit, president of the Healthcare Reform Center & Policy Institute. “Congress doesn’t want to be forced into the exchanges like anyone else. Instead, they want a new ruling to rescue them. If this does not signal that the law needs more work, then what does? Congress should not get special benefits and lower costs at the expense of the typical American, who, in all likelihood, will pay more for healthcare coverage under the new legislation.”
Beyond the steps of Congress, some entrepreneurial Americans without adequate health insurance or the ability to change laws once they are passed have been giving medical tourism opportunities a second thought at increasing rates, particularly in light of the new U.S. healthcare reform provisions.
Medical Tourism Alternative
Obamacare is expected to hit employers hardest, many of whom will find themselves inadvertently miscalculating who in their workforce is eligible and who’s not. At the very least, business owners will face the added expense of actually buying insurance for employees, enriching the benefits that are already offered, or paying penalties for declining to provide coverage at all under the new law.
Some experts also predict Obamacare will bring about a doctor shortage and extend already long waits for hospital procedures in the United States. All this bodes well for medical tourism, where patients can often find inexpensive and timely care beyond the borders of their neighborhoods without having to compromise quality. If insurance companies extend coverage to include international bills, of which some leading providers have indicated they are willing to do so, medical tourism will offer a sound alternative for Americans – and, quite possibly, members of Congress who are anxious themselves about risks related to the law.
In some congressional quarters, Politico.com reports growing concern that the provision requiring lawmakers and staffers to join the exchanges, if it isn’t revised, could lead to a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill.
Affordable Care That’s Unaffordable?
The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their self-funding employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new healthcare costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a huge financial penalty.
Plus, lawmakers — especially those with long careers in public service and smaller bank accounts — are also concerned about the hit to their own wallets.
Several proposals have been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, which will administer the benefits. One proposal exempts lawmakers and aides; the other exempts aides alone.
There’s nothing like being fit for travel.
Some proactive and forward-thinking travel agents certainly are well-toned, specifically those looking to redefine their businesses into a profitable cottage industry for themselves, spas, and health and wellness providers alike. They are in better shape today to meet the challenges of niche-industry marketing and value-added product design thanks to their participation in an informative exercise on the burgeoning enterprise called medical tourism.
With expanded and promising new flight plans at their disposal, travel agents can now pattern their accommodations to fit the needs of a growing medical tourism sector. Due, in large part, to an elevated understanding of the value of medical tourism, traditional agents will be able to join forces with doctors at the hip to offer health and wellness seekers quality healthcare overseas that, in all likelihood, will be less expensive than similar services available from their neighborhood physician down the road.
For a taste of the webinar, “Wellness Tourism: Travel Agents Get On-Board for the Ride,” sponsored by the Medical Tourism Association,” check out a replay below.
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Visiting foreign travelers recovering from treatment or procedures would be hard-pressed this week to look past the tumultuous streets of Turkey, where clouds of police tear gas hovered above Gezi Park in Istanbul as protesters cleaned up debris, fortified their encampment, dressed their wounds and willed themselves to remain.
Although the Turkish government has vowed to end protests it says were co-opted by extremists, the park is home to hundreds of young people at the heart of a bid to save the site from a controversial redevelopment scheme that has led to antigovernment demonstrations nationwide.
Meanwhile, foreign tourists, about 270,000 of whom visit the sun-drenched Mediterranean shores each year for surgical procedures and treatments at local spas and health resorts, must be wondering if there was something in there destination guides that they overlooked.
Goverment in Tough Spot
Medical tourism generates $1 billion in revenues, representing a small, but growing fraction of tourism receipts for the Turkish economy. Local businesses had been hoping to capitalize on the emerging medical tourism market and allow the industry to do what traditional travelers had not done for their pockets in the past.
The government, now in an increasingly tough spot, sees medical tourism as means to boost travel revenues and narrow its account deficit by attracting foreign patients who seek a higher quality of healthcare and service without compromising on costs.
Turkish officials believe the republic stands to gain $7 billion through medical tourism initiatives that lure visitors who want to combine a procedure, from brain and cardiovascular surgeries to organ transplants and stem cell implantation, with a short vacation.
But, medical tourists who were willing to proceed with any plans for sightseeing and shopping would have to do so under an uneasy calm that reigned over the square, which was littered with burned-out vans and rubble. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted the protests would end soon.
Tear Gas, Water Cannons
“I have given the orders to the interior minister,” he said to members of a shopkeepers’ union, eager to embrace some of the 37 million tourists who visit the sixth most popular travel destination in the world. Instead, the business owners watched for riot police, who moved into Taksim earlier in the week wielding tear gas and water cannons, but did not enter the crowded park.
Taksim Solidarity, a loose coalition of groups represented in the park, said overnight tear-gassing had ended any possible dialogue with the Turkish government. Gezi is the epicenter of protests that have rocked Turkey during the past two weeks.
The unrest began over government plans to raze the park and build an Ottoman barracks cum commercial development in its place. After footage showing trees being uprooted and police violently attacking a peaceful sit-in went viral, tens of thousands of people took to the streets. The sit-in in the park grew into an occupation uniting dissidents of all stripes protesting Erdogan’s increasingly heavy-handed rule. Protests spread to other cities and met with police intervention.
As self-insured employers hop on the medical tourism bandwagon to save money, an American healthcare management company is finding a good deal of its business not in Kansas anymore.
Since launching last year, Nueterra Global Alliance has expanded by adding five providers to its existing portfolio of healthcare providers.
Nueterra Global Alliance has been referring patients to international destinations, where they find top quality healthcare for themselves and lower costs for the employers and insurance companies that finance their procedures and treatments.
By negotiating bundled payment options with a network of providers including hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and others, Nueterra Global Alliance helps keep costs down for patients willing to travel for treatment.
Up until now, travel had been primarily limited to overseas, but now, the company, based in Kansas — the Breadbasket of the United States – is seeing patients willing to journey across state lines for medical care.
“Really only in the last year has domestic medical tourism really started coming to the forefront where people are starting to do it consistently and on a larger scale,” said David Miller, president of Nueterra Global Alliance. “More than anything, I think it’s the self-insured employer groups saying, ‘How can I save money?’ And I think there will continue to be more of that.”
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, about 58 percent of workers with health coverage were in self-insured plans in 2011. That’s up from 41 percent in 1998.
A self-insured employer typically will buy catastrophic health insurance for employees and then pay out individual claims. It’s a way to realize cost-savings for employers who spend a lot of time reinforcing wellness programs or preventive health measures for employees.
Houston Hospital Joins Network
Nueterra Global Alliance recently added Houston Physicians’ Hospital to its provider network of healthcare destinations for global patients. The hospital is home to a three-airport system, which services more than 7 million international travelers. Its geographic proximity to Central and South America makes Houston an ideal destination for medical travelers from the region.
“We see ample growth opportunities to provide our specialty services to the Latin American population,” said Michele Dionne, chief executive officer of Houston Physicians’ Hospital. “As populations age, their healthcare needs tend to change, requiring specialty care. Our reputation is built on specialty surgeries in orthopedic, spine, podiatry and plastic surgeries.”
Markets for medical tourism are sizeable and continue to gain exposure. A recent study revealed that one-out-of-five patients would definitely consider traveling abroad to seek medical or dental treatment.
“Domestic facilities are analyzing their service offerings and determining what is applicable to the global community,” said Dan Tasset, chairman of Nueterra. “People are demanding access to quality healthcare. We are providing borderless healthcare solutions through Nueterra Global Alliance.”
Health officials in Dubai have launched a long-term strategy to build upon a vision for making the Arab nation a top destination for medical tourism around the world.
The vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai was briefed on the sustainable development plan that incorporates prevention and awareness; easy access to health services; quality; and investment and competitiveness through 43 initiatives backed by an enhanced control plan and key performance indicators.
Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spoke with Isa Al Maidour, director general of the Dubai Health Authority, who urged a three-phased approach beginning with solutions to customer service challenges, followed by technical affairs, and concluding with strategic issues.
900-Bed Hospital Planned
The DHA plan includes designs for proposed health projects, such as the rebuilding of Rashid Hospital at a total cost of $3 billion and with a capacity of 900 beds, expanding the current trauma centre to 160 beds, increasing out-patient clinics to 160 treatment rooms, establishing new centers for heart, cancer, kidney and cosmetic surgeries and the addition of six new specialized facilities.
Shaikh Mohammed says he also envisions two five-star hotels to serve those who accompany patients.
Other future projects include the expansion of the Care Home for the Elderly and another three hospitals anticipated to be named the Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Hospital, the Al Maktoum Hospital and the Al Khawaneej Hospital.
Wellness travel is one of the fastest growing trends in medical tourism today, and worth more than US $106 billion, according to a recent estimate by the SRI Group. The study reports there are 289 million active wellness consumers in the top 30 industrialized nations, prompting and enabling agents to pick and choose from an assortment of spa treatments and adventure activities to include for their clients in vacation packages around the world.
Who are these wellness travelers? Many are business executives, retirees, and housewives. They are largely over forty, have disposable incomes and are willing to use the services of an agent or facilitator.
Join industry expert Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of The Medical Tourism Association on June 12th for an informative and profitable Webcast as he provides an overview of the industry and the opportunities for savvy travel pros to benefit from a new niche clientele of health and wellness seekers.
The Medical Tourism Association is the first membership based nonprofit trade organization in the health and wellness travel industry. Our members are International Hospitals, Health Systems, Governments, Medical Tourism, Facilitators, and Travel and Hospitality Professionals. As part of our educational outreach we are also providing a White Paper for Travel and Hospitality Professionals.
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The Maltese government wants to form some healthy contacts with the business community to support medical tourism.
To this end, the Ministry of Health in Malta has announced the establishment of a “Business-Friendly Contact Desk” to promote relationships and develop ventures in the health sector.
Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia said the help desk will “serve as a contact point with the healthcare providers.” All private-sector health services will be able to use this new project from self-employed health operators to private clinics and hospitals, he said. The desk will advise in the development of partnerships between the public and the private health services.
Farrugia said the desk will work hand-in-hand with private health-sector stakeholders “to develop synergistic and complementary public and private health services that will lay a strong basis on which a sustainable health system will be built on a national level.”
This desk, with the collaboration of the ministries for tourism and enterprise, plans to promote medical tourism and serve as a catalyst for private healthcare providers to seek opportunities in the industry.
Cut Red Tape
The minister said that the help desk would remove some of the bureaucracy from past years by reducing administrative burdens that inhibit healthcare sustainability.
Farrugia explained how this desk is to reach out and engage with private health insurers and in partnership with the leading government institutions, unions and NGOs.
Malta has served as a popular medical tourism destination, especially for British patients because the tiny, yet densely populated archipelago offers a wide range of medical treatments, such as Ayurveda, dentistry and obesity, eye and cosmetic surgeries.
A ground-breaking surgery has allowed a Polish man to do an about face on his life.
Patients usually have to wait several years before undergoing face transplant surgery, but after a work accident left a 33-year-old, identified only as Grzegorz, mauled and at risk for life-threatening infections, doctors needed to act fast.
The Polish man received a new face three weeks after a stone-cutting machine damaged his face so severely that it couldn’t be reattached. His jaw was crushed, and his condition was deteriorating so rapidly that doctors said they had no choice other than to give him a face transplant right away.
“Usually, the recipients have to wait between one and seven years,” said Dr. Adam Maciejewski, who headed the team of surgeons at the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, the only facility in Poland licensed to perform face transplants. “For obvious reasons, we had to act much faster, as we were saving this man’s life.”
Maciejewski said Grzegorz’s surgery was the first transplant undertaken to save a patient’s life. The operation took 27 hours and also included a bone transplant. Grzegorz needed reconstruction of his face, jaws, palate and the bottom of his eye sockets.
He is still at risk for infection, but is expected to recover and live a normal life.
Although post-operation photographs show stitches from above his right eye, under his left eye and around the face to the neck, Grzegorz was able to give photographers a thumbs up six days after surgery.
Poland is becoming a medical leader in Central Europe. Medical tourists from Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Canada are among the 500,000 patients that visit each year for treatments and procedures. Cost for procedures in Poland can be 70-80 percent less than those in Great Britain, making the country a favorite for plastic surgery among Europeans.