Medical Tourists

by Karen Zhang

A few years ago, an American friend told me she had her eye surgery in Thailand. I asked her why she chose Thailand. She said the medical technology was sufficient and the cost was reasonable. She spent a couple hundred US dollars on her eyesight correction. It would definitely cost more in the U.S.. Now she does not need to wear glasses.

When I was in China, I also heard news about young Chinese women traveling to Korea to undergo plastic surgery. It is such a trend that there are travel agencies that organize tour groups to Korea for the same purpose—experiencing Korea’s thriving beauty industry. Paying less than 600 U.S. dollars for a four-day tour, tourists not only sightsee some major attractions but also try the skincare treatments and even sign up for plastic surgery. Of course, a stop to shop for the cosmetic products is a must.

Back in the U.S., complaints about high medical cost have increased in recent years. As more people are unemployed, more people can’t afford medical expenses. I remember before I came to America to study, the university required every student to have medical insurance, whether or not the insurance was bundled with a family plan or was independent. I was quite unwilling to pay for that since I was an international student and my tuition was already twice that of in-state students. But all I heard was that without medical insurance, you’ll spend way more on medical care in America. So I have medical insurance. Even after my graduation, I have to continue to pay my full insurance as a self-employed resident.

If the high cost of medical care in America intimidates people to see doctors and encourages more Americans to seek cheaper treatments overseas, why can’t the government, the insurance companies and the medical providers compromise on an affordable and feasible alternative. (I know. The problem is more complicated than that.)

Before I came to America, I used to hear about all kinds of kudos from returned Chinese immigrants bragging about how good the medical care in America. After I got to this country, I guess I have heard the other side of the story—not terribly appealing.

Medical tourists should understand they are also facing another kind of risk when they receive medical treatments abroad. Take plastic surgery as an example, if a foreign patient is dissatisfied after the surgery or the surgery turns out to be a failure, disputes could happen. We all know different countries have different laws. Not to mention the language differences. Can the medical tourist get her money back without aches and pains? I doubt it.

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