Monday, December 15, 2008

The Future of American Medical Care Lies in—Asia?

I recently came across an article that discusses the outsourcing (actually off-shoring) of medical services in America by at least one insurance company ("Insurer Offers Option for Surgery in India"). That's right. Wellpoint is offering to send their clients from the U.S. to hospitals in the third world (specifically India) for treatment—airfare for the patient and a companion included. Depending on one's perspective, that's how expensive and inefficient the medical system in the U.S. has become or how cheap and hassle-free comparable care is in some other countries. In fact a study ("The Wrong Place to Be Chronically Ill") shows that patients in America fare badly comparied to their counterparts in the rest of the industrialized world. So unless President-elect Obama follows through on his stated goal of rationalizing the delivery of medical care in for all Americans, it may not be long before all insurance companies start shipping patients overseas (see "Operating Profit").

This got me to thinking about the state of health care in the Philippines—which of course is also a third world Asian country. Over the past few months I've had various health problems—more than I have had in the entire three years that I've resided here combined (and which by the way are likely age related). As a result I have had to consult with a host of specialists and undergo various medical tests, some of which were as as a hospital outpatient. And while I broached the topic of local medical care in the original post of this blog, based on my recent repeated exposure to the local health care and insurance, more than ever I believe that the Philippines has the potential to become a host country for medical tourism.

It's true that many places and facilities here are backward. Even the state of the art medical centers often have crowded clinics and long wait times to see the doctor. So what else is new? Like so many others, I also encountered those problems in the U.S. as well.

The medical expenses that I've incurred have not exactly been a walk in the park. Still they are a fraction of what I would likely have had to pay in the States for the same kind of treatment. That goes for my insurance premiums as well. As for benefits, my claims have been reviewed fairly and paid within a few weeks of submission.

As for drugs, the Cheaper Medicines Bill that I mentioned in my original post has still not taken effect. So a visit to the local pharmacy can still be an expensive proposition, although somewhat leavened with the occasional availability of generics. However, unlike in the States, here you can spread out the cost of your dosage by purchasing pills by the piece, prescription and non-prescription alike. (Obviously, however, this does not work with liquid medicines). The pharmacist just snips off the desired number of individual bubble-wrapped pills from the foil packet. Another advantage to this method is that by buying just a few pills to start with, you can determine whether or not the medication has intolerable side effects before committing yourself to the expense of the full prescription quantity.

So if you are relocating to the Philippines and are worried about the difficulties that you will encounter in resettling, with proper planning such as selecting a doctor, checking out some of the hospitals, and buying insurance shortly after your arrival (not to mention living a healthy life style), you can eliminate medical care as one of those concerns.

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