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Need Surgery? Try the Heartland

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By Anne Kates Smith
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Sunday, January 4, 2009

You've heard of medical patients traveling abroad to save on everything from hip replacements to nose jobs. But how about heading to Wichita or Oklahoma City? More Americans are discovering medical tourism right here in the United States.

In 2007, Thomas Van Buskirk, 64, a chiropractor in Oakland, Calif., had a blocked carotid artery and no insurance. He'd have paid $70,000 to have surgery at a Bay Area hospital, and $12,000 plus travel expenses to do it in India. Then he found Oklahoma Heart Hospital, which did the surgery for just $15,000.

"The hospital was new, all-digital, with good food, and the doctor had done hundreds of these surgeries," he says.

Brokers such as Vancouver-based North American Surgery, which helped Van Buskirk, and traditional medical-tourism outfits, such as Healthbase, in Boston, are connecting patients with U.S. hospitals willing to compete on price with providers overseas and across town.

Galichia Heart Hospital, in Wichita, recently lowered its price for a coronary bypass to a flat $10,000. The hospital discounts a number of procedures for patients willing to pay cash upfront, including a hip replacement for $12,000 -- about one-third of the going U.S. rate. Discounts stem in part from a building boom that is now putting pressure on administrators to fill new facilities.

For now, many domestic medical tourists are uninsured. But Towers Perrin consultant Michael Taylor says interest has picked up among employers. And Healthplace America markets a travel-for-care benefit directly to health plans that promises discounts, including travel and lodging, on surgeries performed in 10 U.S. cities.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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