As Americans unpacked their bags following end-of-summer trips, a retired boilermaker from Maine was more than happy to have shouldered the cost of a vacation overseas.
Jeff Wheeler is back on American soil after taking a three-week hiatus to Southeast Asia, where he traveled to Viet Nam to explore Hanoi, Da Nang and the tunnels of Chi Chi before returning to Thailand and a hospital in Bangkok to complete shoulder replacement surgery and correct an old work injury.
“Might as well have a look around while I’m there,” Wheeler told the Bangor Daily News before leaving for Bangkok in August and a preliminary CT scan. “I like to travel.”
Surgery at Fraction of Cost
Shoulder replacement overseas cost Wheeler roughly $9,000, about 80 percent less than the $130,000 a Massachusetts hospital had quoted him for repairs and more than enough in savings to cover his travel and sightseeing expenses for exotic excursions like those to the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia
“The only disappointment was not getting to Ha Long Bay,” said Wheeler. “But, that’s the nature of travel. You take the bitter with the sweet.”
Representatives from Planet Hospital, a California-based medical tourism facilitator, met with Wheeler and assigned a local woman to guide their patient through the process, Wheeler told the Bangor Daily News. He said medical tourism opportunities overseas are not what some Americans may perceive them to be, but rather procedures that involve top-notch care and facilities.
“It (medical tourism) worked for me,” said Wheeler, who also had a tooth filled by a Thai dentist during his time in Bangkok. “Everybody has to assess their own needs and what they’re capable of and what they’re comfortable with. But, I think if they get outside their comfort zone a little bit, they’ll find some benefit in it.”
Fueled by rising healthcare costs and desperate to diffuse costly out-of-pocket payments, an increasing number of Americans – even those fortunate to have insurance – are giving medical tourism opportunities a second look.
Overwhelming Response in NY Times
Consider the response generated by a New York Times feature — “In Need of a New Hip, but Priced Out of the U.S” — about an American who went to Belgium to have his hip replaced because his insurer in the United States would not cover the procedure. Hundreds of readers said they would follow “The Growing Popularity of Having Surgery Overseas,” a second article which featured comments from Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association®, expert, speaker, author and president of the Healthcare Reform Center and Policy Institute.
“The healthcare market has gone global,” said Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association®, which builds consumer awareness of international healthcare options through outreach efforts in the United States and across the globe. “Patients are coming to realize that traveling to countries all over the world for procedures that they need now does not mean they have to sacrifice quality in the very least.”
Stephano, an expert, author and speaker on medical tourism issues, said hospitals and related healthcare facilities abroad are designed to cater to American patents, are staffed by Western-trained doctors and are filled with English-speaking staff. The attraction has caught the eye of U.S. employers, especially companies which self-fund their healthcare insurance benefits and can waive co-pays for employees who opt for less expensive care abroad.
Back home, Wheeler said he is looking for a local physician to continue his aftercare while his shoulder heals. In time, he hopes the surgery will enable him to troll lobster without pain off his recreational boat near Westport Island.
Inclimate weather prevented him from a perfect vacation and a planned stop in the Gulf of Tonkin, where he had hoped to take in some 1,600 islands and islets that form a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars in Ha Long Bay. That’s for another day. Wheeler said he may return to Thailand for surgery on his other shoulder.