Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Medical tourism and global health inequality

By many accounts, the numbers of patients from industrialized countries seeking medical treatment in countries like India, Thailand or Cuba are increasing rapidly. Last year, the New York Times issued a piece whose basic theme was that medical tourism is becoming 'normalized', i.e. it is no longer just an option for a small minority seeking cheap nosejobs or teeth-whitening. North Americans and Europeans are now looking to developing countries for highly-invasive and life-extending operations, like heart-valve and hip replacements. That medical tourism is becoming regarded as a solution to the problems of high medical costs and insurance premiums is exemplified by the fact that insurance companies in the US are starting to provide plans that encourage clients to seek some medical interventions abroad. And governments in developing countries are encouraging the trend, for the same reasons they promote more familar forms of tourism.

On the face of it, one could see this as a mutually beneficial transaction: patients from industrialized countries receive medical services at bargain prices, while medical institutions and individuals in developing countries receive much needed revenue. But, as a recent piece in Asia Times emphasizes, the picture is much more complicated. Creating pockets of 'first-world' medical care in developing countries also has a number of ethically untoward effects: internal brain drain of health care professionals from public hospitals to state-of-the-art clinics catering to foreigners, and the creation (or reinforcement) of a strongly two-tiered health care system, with a superior level of care for the rich and an inferior one for the poor. Besides being a source of injustice, medical tourism is also unrealistic as a solution to problems of health care systems in more affluent nations. Even if the numbers of medical tourism has increased, the numbers are still relatively small compared to those staying at home. But the increasing amounts of money spent abroad by medical tourists might have a positive effect, i.e. encourage what should have been a priority in the United States long ago: affordable and high-quality health care.


Blogger Dan said...

Facts that are believed to exist regarding the present U.S. Health Care System-
This may be why about 80 percent of U.S. citizens want our health care system overhauled:
The U.S. is ranked number 42 related to life expectancy and infant mortality, which is rather low.
U.S. is ranked number one in the world for spending the most for health care- as well as being number one for those with chronic diseases. About 125 million people have such diseases. This is about 70 percent of the Medicare budget that is spent treating these terrible illnesses. Health Care cost presently is over 2 trillion dollars of our gross domestic product. One third of that amount is nothing more than administrative toxic waste that does not involve the restoration of the health of others. This illustrates how absurd the U.S. Health Care System is presently. Nearly 7000 dollars is spent on every citizen for health care every year, and that, too, is more than anyone else in the world.
We have around 50 million citizens without any health insurance, which causes about 20 thousand deaths per year. This includes millions of children without health care, which is added to the planned or implemented cuts in the government SCHIP program for children that covers about 7 million kids.
Our children
Nearly half of the states in the U.S. are planning on or have made cuts to Medicaid, which covers about 60 million people, and those on Medicaid are in need of this coverage largely due to unemployment. With these Medicaid cuts, over a million people will lose their health care coverage and benefits.
About 70 percent of citizens have some form of health insurance, and the premiums for their insurance have increased nearly 90 percent in the past 8 years. About 45 percent of health care is provided by our government- which is predicted to experience a severe financial crisis in the near future with some government health care programs, it has been reported. Most doctors want a single payer health care system, which would save about 400 billion dollars a year- about 20 percent less than what we are paying now. The American College of Physicians, second in size only to the American Medical Association, supports a single payer health care system. The AMA, historically opposed to a single payer health care system, has close to half of its members in favor of this system. Less than a third of all physicians are members of the AMA.
Our health care we offer citizens is sort of a hybrid of a national and private health care system that has obviously mutated to a degree that is incapable of being fully functional due to perhaps copious amounts and levels of individual and legal entities.
Half of all patients do not receive proper treatment to restore their health, it has been stated. Medical errors desperately need to be reduced as well, it has been reported. It is estimated that we need about 60 thousand more primary care physicians to satisfy the medical needs of the public health in the United States. And we have some greedy corporations that take advantage of our health care system. Over a billion dollars was recovered for medicare and Medicaid fraud last year through settlements paid to the department of Justice because some organizations ripped off taxpayers. These are the taxpayers in the U.S. who have a fragmented health care system with substantial components and different levels of government- composed of several legal entities and individuals, which has resulted in medical anarchy.
Thanks to various corporations infecting our Health Care System in the United States, the following variables sum up the U.S. Health Care System, which is why the United States National Health Insurance Act (H.R. 676) is the best solution to meet our health care needs as citizens. We would finally have, as with most other countries, a Universal Health Care system that will allow free choice of doctors and hospitals. It should be and likely will be funded by a combination of payroll taxes and general tax revenue:
Access- citizens do not have the right or ability to make use of this system as we should.
Efficiency- this system strives on creating much waste and expense as it possibly can.
Quality- the standard of excellence we deserve as citizens with our health care is missing in action.
Sustainability- We as citizens cannot continue to keep our health care system in existence , or tolerate it as it exists today any longer,
Dan Abshear

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