Reporting from: Bangkok, Thailand
I’ll never forget standing in Lisbon, Portugal at nine years old as my parents I were on a day tour of Portugal’s capital. When our guide learned we were from the United States, he replied that one of Portugal’s top officials had just gone to there for medical care.
He wasn’t a fan of Portugal’s health system, largely run by the government’s National Health Service. Quality of care had suffered as the government got more and more involved. Despite Hillarycare being under review in Congress at that time, this Portuguese guide had full confidence in the US health care system.
Like so many other freedoms once enjoyed by Americans, health care freedom is waning. It didn’t take a bunch of geniuses to figure out that Obamacare, the new health care standard in the US, would cause fewer people to be interested in becoming physicians, more physicians to move to annual fee-based models, and cost of care to increase under bureaucratic pressure.
Instinctively, anyone who understands the laws of economics understands these issues. It’s what I talk about on this site all the time: capital – and in this case, talent – goes where it’s treated best. Doctors fed up with waiting around a year to get paid for looking down someone’s throat will find a better business model.
In this case, it’s created a burgeoning industry of doctors who charge annual fees for private care. For a couple grand, you can be part of an elite club with your doctor, all while getting more prompt concierge care. It’s those that can’t afford that fee that will suffer and be stuck with the government healthcare scraps Obamacare will leave them.
It’s for this reason that I fully believe Obamacare will drive a new wave of medical tourism in the years to come. Medical tourism is nothing new; it’s merely the direction that will be changing as more Americans head overseas for cheaper, higher quality care.
This is just one of a million reasons why I encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses overseas. If you’re in the medical industry, you can stay and pay gazillions of dollars of taxes all while bowing at the alter of Obamacare… or, you could start a business servicing the medical community in Dubai, or the Philippines, or wherever, and just wait for the people to flood in.
I had to see a doctor myself here in Bangkok today. I’ve been losing a good amount of weight, and considering I was never overweight to begin with, it began to concern me. I’ve never felt sick traveling through Asia, but I wondered if I could have picked up a parasite or something else along my travels.
Getting medical care in Thailand isn’t just cheap, it’s easy. There are several international hospitals here in Bangkok with good translators to help English-speaking patients. Not that they’re usually needed; doctors tend to speak pretty good English themselves. Many of them were trained overseas in Singapore, Canada, or even The Land of the Free.
To book an appointment, you simply go online to the hospitals’ website, tell them what type of specialist you need, and click “Submit”. A real person emails you back in about an hour in most cases to confirm your appointment and send you the new patient forms, which can all be submitted online in about five minutes.
If you’ve ever booked a doctor’s appointment in The Land of the Free, you know how long it can often take just to get in. I’ve called doctors where I used to live telling them I had some pretty bad symptoms, only to be asked if I could come in three weeks later. What’s the point of a doctor if you’ll be dead by the time they can see you?
(Don’t worry; I’m sure forcing every man, woman, and child at gunpoint to pay for health insurance will make it easier to see a doctor.)
Here in Thailand, I was struck by questions on new patient forms like “Marital Status” – options: single, married, or priest – and other get-to-the-point questioning.
But I was more struck by the value. My appointment with an internal medicine specialist cost me all of about 1,200 Thai baht – around US$37. No insurance forms, no co-pays, no deductibles, nothing. More importantly, I got great quality of care in a very clean environment, with no big insurance company prying on my private conversation with the doctor.
I can’t say I got to hang out in that little room forever, but I didn’t feel rushed like I often did in the US.
While you wouldn’t get on a plane headed for Bangkok just to get a physical, you might do it for plastic surgery. Or a heart condition. Or another larger health issue that made medical tourism a great value proposition.
An expat friend of mine in Bangkok told me the story of “how expensive” it was to get a few x-rays and some stitches after banging his head on something in his Bangkok apartment. In the west, just seeing an X-ray technician for two minutes could run a grand.
But imagine my shock when this “expensive” treatment he received ran him all of $340. From start to finish. “I paid three times as much to spend half an hour in the ER when I got a contact lens stuck in my eye at 3am”, I told him. (Yeah, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac).
Thailand – and many other medical tourism destinations – don’t get bogged down with the endless health care regulations that the US and Europe suffer from. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that they don’t offer good care.
Thailand is widely known as providing some of the best health care in Asia. People come from all over the region to be treated in Bangkok hospitals for conditions large and small. Yet on average, large health care procedures can cost as much as eighty percent less for medical tourism in Thailand and other places.
It goes to show that when you take the government and their grubby-fingered bureaucrats out of the equation, you get a REAL “affordable care” plan.