AMERICANS ARE GETTING ELECTIVE SURGERY IN EXOTIC LANDS WHERE THE QUALITY OF DOCTORS IS HIGH, THE COST LOW AND THE SIGHTS INCREDIBLE -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
To Americans who can't afford health insurance, paying for an expensive elective surgery can be as far out of their reach as an exotic vacation. But today, many are getting both at a fraction of the U.S. cost in places like India and Thailand, reports Bob Simon in a story to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, April 24 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Bangkok is one example, where more than 350,000 international patients are treated in Bumrungrad Hospital per year by doctors, many of them Western trained. "Every doctor I saw there has practiced in the United States," says Byron Bonnewell, an uninsured quintuple bypass patient from Louisiana. His life-saving surgery in the U.S. would have cost him over $100,000 and he balked. "I guess I figured I would rather die with a little bit of money in my pocket than live poor."
Bonnewell had the surgery done for about $12,000 at Bumrungrad and remained in Thailand for two weeks of rest and recuperation. "I bet I had eight RNs just on my section of floor alone. First class care," he tells Simon. The high-class care at low-cut prices is made possible by low labor costs. Kim Atwater came from Oregon for a Thailand vacation and stayed to have eye-lift cosmetic surgery. The surgery was well below the cost of a similar operation in the U.S. On average, the cost of health care in Southeast Asia is one-eighth that of the U.S.
It's often even cheaper in India, where many procedures cost just 10 percent of what they cost in America and you can visit the Taj Mahal. Stephanie Sedlmayr of Florida came to the city of Chennai for hip surgery that not only saved her $25,000, but was a new technique not yet approved in the U.S. Her friends were skeptical, but Sedlmayr justifies her decision. "My doctor, actually, in Vero Beach, she's an Indian doctor, so why not go where they come from?"
The overseas hospitals offer just about any treatment -- and more, as in the case of Sedlmayr. Bumrungrad may be the world's number-one international hospital. "It's sort of ground zero," says hospital CEO Curt Schroeder. "I haven't heard anybody yet who's told us they take more than 350,000 international patients a year.
There are drawbacks. The trip takes more than 20 hours and there is malaria in some parts of India. There are also the intestinal disorders common in foreign lands. If there is malpractice, a lawsuit would have to be brought in the foreign court, not in the U.S.
On the upside, however, Sedlmayr brought her daughter along and after her successful surgery, they stayed on at an Indian beach resort that cost $140 per day for both of them. "Combining surgery and paradise" says Sedlmayr.