HSA for America

Medical Tourism: Using Your HSA to Pay for International Travel

June 27, 2007
Vol. 3, Issue 5

Every year over 500,000 Americans travel outside of the U.S. for medical treatment.  Treatment from accredited hospitals with English-speaking U.S. doctors often costs 40% to 80% less than getting the procedure done here in the U.S., including the cost of travel! If you withdraw money from your HSA to cover the cost, it's tax-free.  Here I'll explain your options, and tell you about a special discount available to HSA for America members.

Go to India for a Hip Replacement?  Are You Crazy?

Medical tourism first began to get popular in the 1990's, when people began traveling in large numbers to Brazil for cosmetic surgery.  But as costs have continued to rise, thousands of Americans have been traveling overseas for real medical conditions, such as knee replacements, by-pass operations, heart valve replacements, and other serious issues.  Many countries are seeing medical tourism as a good way to bring in foreign money.

In many cases the quality of medicine available overseas is equal to the top hospitals in the U.S. Patients are showing up at places like the Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, India, part of a 36-hospital chain founded by a cardiologist from Massachusetts General.  A heart valve replacement may cost $50,000 to $100,000 in the U.S., and only $12,000 in India, including travel costs.

Escorts Heart Institute and Research Center, in Delhi, India, is another popular medical tourist destination.  It was founded by Dr. Naresh Trehan, an authority on robotic cardiac surgery formerly based at New York University.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina has just announced that they will pay for treatment at Bumrungrad International Hospital, in Bangkok, Thailand.  Over 80,000 Americans received treatment there last year.  The hospital boasts that over 200 of its doctors are board-certified in the U.S, and will perform a knee replacement operation for 20 percent of what it would cost in the United States.

Who Does This?

Dodie Gilmore is a 60 year-old rodeo barrel-racing champ from Oklahoma.  She runs a 180 acre ranch, but could no longer ride a horse because she needed a hip replacement.  Her health insurance plan had an exclusion that wouldn't cover her operation, and she really didn't feel like paying the $35,000 it would cost her.  Instead she and her partner flew to India where she had the surgery at the Max Institute of Orthopedics and Joint Replacement.

Her physician was Dr. S.K.S. Marya, who averages one American hip-replacement patient every week.  Dodie's total coast, including travel, was only $11,000.  She even managed to take in a tour of the Taj Mahal.

Forty to Sixty percent of those surveyed say they would consider surgery abroad if it could save them $5,000 or more.  Going out of the U.S. (perhaps even just to Mexico), could be a worthwhile strategy if you have an exclusionary waiver on your policy, if you'll be having elective surgery not covered by your health insurance policy, or if you have a high deductible plan.

What is the Risk?

According to the Institute of Medicine, over 100,000 accidental deaths occur in hospitals every year.  And that's here in the U.S.  Hospitals are a dangerous place to be, and you want to spend as little of your life in one as possible.  So there are risks everywhere, and probably greater risks outside the U.S.

But the magic of the free-market does give you some protection.  There is a lot of money flowing to countries and international hospitals that practice high-quality medicine.  If a hospital does not provide quality service, you can bet its customers will go elsewhere, particularly if they are choosing among anywhere in the world.

The influx of foreign patients (and money) is enticing more western-trained doctors to return home, so the choices are actually increasing, and the quality and prices continue to improve.  I believe that if you use care in choosing your provider and structuring your treatment, the risks are no greater than having surgery here in the U.S.

How To Research Your Options

Keep in mind that most health insurance plans still will not cover for treatment outside the U.S., particularly if you are traveling specifically to receive medical care.  So check with your insurer if the cost of the treatment is going to exceed your deductible.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations certifies hospitals here in the U.S., and their international division, Joint Commission International, certifies hospitals throughout the rest of the world.  Make sure the facility that you are considering has been certified by them.

Then check out your doctor.  Confirm that he or she is English speaking, and was trained in the U.S., U.K., Australia, or Germany.

Finally, consider hiring a consultant to help you choose the best hospital and surgeon for your needs.  A good service will not only set up the treatment, but can also arrange all travel plans, meet you at the airport, and act as your liaison while you are being treated.

Discounts for HSA for America Members

If you spend money from your HSA to pay for international medical care, the amount you withdraw is tax-free.  HSA regulations also allow you to cover the cost of your travel if the reason you are travelling to get medical care is not “for purely personal reasons."

When choosing how to manage your health, you should carefully consider all your options.  We believe that international travel is a great option in some cases, and we want to help our members save money whenever possible.

HSA for America has partnered with a company called PlanetHospital to help our members if they choose to get treatment outside the United States.  PlanetHospital will review your medical situation, suggest the best international options, and arrange for treatment.  They have relationships with hospitals in India, Singapore, Thailand, Belgium, Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Mexico.  There are also tremendous savings available on dental services, which when combined with a nice little vacation can cost a lot less than dental work here in the U.S.

PlanetHospital is the nation's leader in medical tourism, enabling its fast-growing customer base to travel overseas for affordable, high quality healthcare services.  They maintain a worldwide network that includes accredited hospitals and trained, experienced physicians, and they've helped thousands of Americans find affordable medical services.

HSA for America members will have their $100 consultation fee waived, and will also receive a 10% discount off of PlanetHospital's normal $395 concierge fee.  To receive your discount, you must fill out the form on our PlanetHospital page.


To your health and wealth!

Wiley Long
President - HSA for America

P.S. - Stay healthy and your HSA can grow to a large amount.  Your diet is probably the single most important factor determining your long-term health, but there's a lot of confusion about what food is "healthy," and what is not.  In the next issue of Maximize Your HSA I'll share some facts that may shock you, and cause you to reconsider how you feed yourself.




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