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Part 5: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Savings: Never Mind

According to researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine who surveyed a large number of American companies that facilitate medical tourism to foreign countries, saving big bucks by traveling is harder than you may have been led to believe.

For instance, a coronary artery bypass operation performed in the United States carries a price tag of about $120,000. By traveling to Thailand, you can buy the same operation for a cost of only $28,000 (the median price at Bumrungrad International in Bangkok, the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia). That's a big difference, yes. But does it guarantee big savings?

Only for Western travelers who are uninsured and thus stuck paying the full sticker price in their home country (a true American medical disgrace, but that's another issue).

cosmetic surgery tourism

For most other Americans fortunate enough to have medical insurance, the bill spit out by the hospital computer bears little resemblance to the final expected payment.

In the case of coronary artery bypass surgery, for instance, the average Medicare payment is $21,000 on the $120,000 total bill, after which the hospital "writes off" the remainder of this imaginary bogus charge.


In the end, private-pay Bumrungrad collects more than insurance-providers Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic.

That's because one of biggest, if not the biggest, benefits of carrying medical insurance is not the amount of money the insurance company actually pays on your behalf but rather the amount of money it gets the hospital and doctors to write-off in order to secure access to their large pool of captive patients. The providers never expect to be paid in full and never are (which, while crazy, is simply the way it goes).

So how about that quick trip to Thailand to get rid of your crushing chest pain at a discount? What discount? If you're insured, you're clearly money ahead staying put, especially after you factor in the long list of added and potential costs associated with traveling away from your home, family, and the most sophisticated medical system in the world.

Okay, okay, but aren't things entirely different when it comes to cosmetic surgery? Maybe that's what you think, but stop now and ask yourself:

Why would medical providers in the United States be so willing to accept the same final payment as their cohorts get in Thailand for one type of major surgery but not for another that's so much simpler?

If you delve into this matter carefully and disregard all the marketing, you'll discover the answer: They aren't.

As we noted previously, cosmetic breast augmentation in Seoul, South Korea, can cost the same or more than in Beverly Hills, the USA high-price leader. Same for rhinoplasty in Tokyo versus downtown Manhattan.

The huge cost differential in the heart surgery example at the start all but evaporated once medical insurance was factored out of the equation.

With cosmetic surgery one is looking at "real" prices, which, it turns out, are not nearly as different in first-tier countries with modern medical facilities and technology and well-trained, credentialed surgeons.

But scanning all the online medical tourism stuff (mostly promotions and ads) comparing heart surgery prices can easily lead you astray.

It's called "global competition," and it's a very potent force. Honestly, iPhones don't cost 80% less in China unless they're…

Stop, you say, that's wrong! You learned today on Twitter about an electronics bazaar located fifty miles outside of Shanghai where you can save 90% on authentic Apple products and were just about ready to hit the "Order Now" button when you got distracted by all of this nonsense.

Is that so? Well heck, maybe we're mistaken. Never mind.

APSG's Cosmetic Medical Tourism Report
Part 1: Cosmetic Medical Tourism Numbers Misunderstood
Part 2: Main Driver of Cosmetic Medical Tourism: Quality or Cost?
Part 3: Geopolitical Threat to Asian Plastic Surgery Tourism
Part 4: China and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Tourism: Not a Player
Part 5: Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Cost Savings: Never Mind
Part 6: Singapore on Myths of Medical Tourism

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