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Medical tourism in Mexico attracts up to 1M U.S. travelers yearly

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Medical tourism is bringing hundreds of thousands of patients to Mexico each year, says an organization that advocates for trips like these.

U.S. and Canadian travelers are seeking affordable medical services, dental care and cosmetic surgery, said Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders. Anywhere from 800,000 to a million U.S. citizens go each year, the organization estimates.

That number, Woodman told Newsweek, is a “conservative estimate” and excludes thousands of non-citizens and undocumented immigrants.

Woodman himself recently traveled to Cancun to get dental care that he had “long since neglected.” He paid $4,010 for a procedure that would have cost $15,900 in the U.S., he said.

“So, I saved about $10,000,” he said. “And that is not unusual. You can save save a lot of money.”

According to Patients Without Borders, the savings can be as high as 40 to 70 percent. The latter range is more typical, Woodman said.

In Yucatan, Faro del Mayab, a specialized private hospital due to open in September, will build on Merida’s medical tourism infrastructure.

Faro del Mayab will be Merida’s seventh private hospital, and its patients are expected to travel far and wide to be there. It is promising a level of luxury, but for U.S. patients, it also promises to deliver value for money.

“That’s why so many Americans go down there, even after the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare,” he said. “Insurance companies have just figured out all these workarounds where, yes you’re insured, but you’re actually under-insured and you don’t realize it until something bad happens.”

Roughly 60 percent of Mexico’s “medical tourists” receive dental care, while another 15 percent travel for cosmetic surgery. 

The remainder, he says, mainly travel for orthopedics, bariatrics (weight loss procedures), optometry, IVF and other services. 

While there are potential risks when receiving treatment outside of the U.S., Mexico is increasingly gaining international recognition for improving its medical facilities, many of which are “world class,” he said.

Mexico went from having no Joint Commission International-accredited facilities in 2006 to eight in 2018, his organization states.

Still, Woodman said it is important for Americans traveling for treatment to “do their homework” before receiving any kind of care outside of the U.S. 

Medical experts have also warned about the potential risks of receiving care outside the U.S., with the World Medical Association asserting in a statement on medical tourism that a “medical tourist is in a more fragile and vulnerable situation than that of a patient in his or her home country.”

The WMA also said that patients should be aware of any “potential risks of combining surgical procedures with long flights and vacation activities” before receiving treatment abroad.

According to the Medical Tourism Corporation in Dallas, private hospitals and clinics in Mexico have been growing by double-digits in part due to a “big increase in demand from medical tourists who travel south for affordable treatment.”

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