A lack of insurance is leading more Americans to have weight loss surgery in Mexico (Vox)
They are among the estimated 1.4 million people who left the US for medical treatment last year.
By Nadra Nittle, Vox, October 8, 2018
For as long as she could remember, Tatum Hosea made the same birthday wish: “I just wanted to be skinny,” she said.
She tried a series of workout plans and diets, developing bulimia in a bid to achieve her goal. Still, the thinness Hosea desired eluded her, and her weight ultimately crept up to more than 300 pounds. She decided last year that a medical intervention would be the only way to win her lifelong weight loss battle. Friends and family members had tried bariatric surgery, and she decided to look into the procedure as well.
“I definitely needed help,” Hosea said. “I would never be satisfied after eating. I would just binge all day long.”
So the stay-at-home mom from Salt Lake City attended a seminar on weight loss surgery presented by a local doctor. When Hosea contacted her insurance company, however, she discovered that bariatric surgery wasn’t covered. Since weight loss surgery without coverage can cost more than $20,000 in the United States, Hosea decided to make other arrangements. She would have the surgery; she would simply travel to Mexico to do so.
The 28-year-old is part of a growing trend. Although the exact number of Americans who leave the US for health care is unknown, medical tourism is rising in popularity. The research paper “Medical Tourists: Incoming and Outgoing,” published in the American Journal of Medicine in July, estimated that 1.4 million Americans sought health care in foreign countries in 2017 and predicted that number will rise by 25 percent this year. Along with dentistry, cosmetic surgery, cardiac treatment, and IVF, weight loss surgery is one of the top reasons Americans partake in medical tourism. And Mexico is one of the most popular destinations for such trips.
Medical tourism is on the rise for complex reasons. It’s not a phenomenon sparked solely by the uninsured, since many insured Americans cross the border for health care too. Like Hosea, they may be underinsured, leaving them with few options for costly medical treatment other than traveling abroad. This move can shave off as much as 40 to 80 percent from the cost of care.
Many medical professionals, though, have concerns about the risks of medical tourism. Hospitals outside the US may have different standards of care, and patients who develop complications risk having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for corrective procedures upon returning to the States.
Some physicians find it objectionable that obese patients end up in this predicament at all. Insurance companies and employers, they say, should cover surgery for obese patients just as they cover cardiac surgery for patients with heart disease or lung cancer treatment for smokers. Denying overweight people a wide range of medical options blames them for their health problems, amounting to a covert form of fat shaming.