Medical tourism–foreigners traveling to India or Thailand for procedures that would cost an arm and a leg in their home countries–has made for great segments on 60 Minutes and even magazine features. But now the economic downturn, and health-care reform, is taking a toll on the once-booming industry. The number of Americans traveling abroad for elective medical treatment has fallen nearly 14% since 2007, according to a recent study by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
Is the medical tourism industry–which aims to provide quality care for those who can't afford or access it at home–losing its target audience?
Americans are cutting back on health care: In 2008, 22% of adults reduced visits to their doctors, and 36% admitted to putting off needed medical care. So it's not surprising that the medical tourism industry would falter. Not only are people more likely to forgo elective procedures, but they’re also not as eager to dole out cash for a flight overseas.
Even in a down economy, however, the cash you might save from traveling overseas for treatment will probably outweigh what you spend. According to the Deloitte study, the 750,000 Americans that traveled abroad for medical care in 2007 saved 30%-70% on their procedures.