Most medical tourism to Mexico is dental or cosmetic. Almost all medical tourists are from the USA as a surge in treatment costs in the USA has made Mexico an attractive medical tourist destination.
60% of Americans have dental insurance, the highest it has been in decades. But older people have been left behind. 70% of seniors have no insurance for dental cover, according to a study compiled by Oral Health America. A major reason is that dental treatment is not covered by Medicare while many employers no longer offer post-retirement health benefits. The Affordable Care Act allows enrollees to get dental cover only if they buy health insurance first, which many seniors do not need. But seniors often require the most costly dental work, including crowns, implants and false teeth.
So many are seeking cheaper care in places like Los Algodones, where Mexican dentists who speak English and sometimes accept U.S. insurance offer rock-bottom prices for everything from a cleaning to implants. Dentists in Los Algodones say many of their clients are seniors.
The cost of dental care in the USA has surged in the last two decades and continues to increase at a rate of 5% annually. Many dental plans have high deductibles and offer limited cover.
Mexico has lower costs because of cheaper labour and fewer regulatory requirements. Residents in border towns e El Paso, Texas and Nogales, Sonora, often make the short drive to the Mexican side for basic medical needs and prescription medications that are much costlier in the USA. Some businesses even offer shuttle services from the Phoenix area to Los Algodones, a 200-mile ride.
Mexico has a potential to develop into a major cosmetic surgery tourism destination attracting more foreigners for treatment. With Mexico’s proximity to the US, more Americans are looking for more affordable treatments.
Weight loss treatment is another growing area but that is more controversial.
US magazine Team 10 has been running a long investigation into a named Mexican weight loss doctor accused of injuring people and the agency that continues to send patients to him. Dozens of people from all across the USA were sold on a surgery by Weight Loss Agents, a Florida-based medical tourism agency.
When these people had serious complications, some even dying after the weight loss surgery, the patients or their family members could not get answers from Weight Loss Agents or the doctor.
Team 10 has confirmed through death certificates or their families that three people have died after having weight loss surgery done by the Mexican doctor.
In a separate incident The Ministry of Tourism confirmed that an investigation is under way into a hospital where a San Diego woman went for weight loss surgery in March and has been in a coma ever since.
There have been various incidents and reported deaths in Mexico, of medical tourists after cosmetic surgery.
Mexican government bodies often make the right noises after reported deaths of injuries, but investigations rarely lead to anything, and there is poor control over quality of treatment. In some of the border regions that have most of the medical tourism business, there are endemic problems with drug gangs, plus police and official corruption, with little chance of laws or regulations on medical tourism ever being enforced.
In coordination with other federal agencies, the Health Ministry plans to build up Mexico’s medical tourism infrastructure during the next two years.
The initiative includes training bilingual Spanish-English nurses, and a push to increase the number of private Mexican hospitals accredited by a joint US-Mexico commission
Regional initiatives to promote medical tourism are underway in the northern border states of Chihuahua, Baja California and Nuevo Leon, but greater coordination at the federal level is needed to tap a global market.
The success of the Mexican Ministry of Health’s medical tourism initiative will depend on various trends related to the socioeconomic, political and security situations at the borders of both countries. The current levels of violence in the border region will slow potential growth.
While Americans and others may benefit from much lower costs in Mexico, reported deaths and injuries of medical tourists from poor or even dangerous treatment are much higher than anywhere else. Add in the border wars, going to Mexico is still high risk as if something goes wrong there is, unlike in the USA, no medical negligence insurance and the chances of the courts awarding damages or even punishing errant providers, is negligible.