Saturday, September 05, 2009
IS THIS A SHOCKING INDICTMENT OF THE AMERICAN HEALTH SYSTEM, AND PERHAPS OF AMERICAN SOCIETY AS WELL - MEDICAL HEALTH TOURISM A NEW INDUSTRY...
Is this a shocking indictment of the American health system, and perhaps of American society as well? Please read on:
A recent "20-20" television program in New Zealand exposed the problems existing in the American health system. The story starts in Idaho Falls, USA. An American woman named 'Heather' required a full hip replacement. The basic cost in America was US$60,000 exclusive of all other costs involved.
But like 45 million other families, 'Heather'and her family do not have, and cannot afford health insurance. Neither does she qualify for any form of government assistance, reserved for the very poor or those with identifiable needs. Sadly for her president Obama's proposed health scheme, if passed into law, will be too late for 'Heather'. She needs a full hip replacement now, or she will spend the rest of her life in a wheel-chair!
After some extensive online research, 'Heather' discovered she could get her hip-replacement offshore, not in Mexico for example, but in an English- speaking First World country down in the Pacific - New Zealand.
The total cost for 'Heather', inclusive of all associated medical costs, hotel bills and food for both her and a companion(her mother)would be US$23,000 all up!
'Heather' was able to find a foundation within the US who were prepared to pay half of her costs, and family and friends raised the other half.Then it was off to Auckland, New Zealand.
After flying to NZ and settling her mother into her hotel room, 'Heather' went to meet the surgeon responsible for her operation. She was interviewed and met the medical staff at the private hospital where the full hip operation was to be performed.
A new hip is guaranteed for about ten years, though some last indefinately.
She had her operation at a top private hospital in Auckland. They had the latest navigation system available to line-up her new hip.
Her operation was a complete success, and recovery took four weeks, during which time she was given an exercise regime, including walking. She was then passed fit enough to return home to the US for her rehabilition - with its market driven health system, which President Barack Obama is trying to overhaul. His opposition is coming from self-interest groups in the American health system, including the vast health insurance lobby.
So far there has really only been a trickle of clients such as 'Heather' seeking treatment outside the US. This has become known as "medical tourism".
How will this affect medical treatment for local Kiwis in the future? If this trickle becomes the flood that is anticipated it could well affect costs here in New Zealand. NZ could handle 2000-5000 clients a year, but if a tsunami of 20,000 clients hit NZ annually there could well be ramifications for the NZ health system - availabilty for operations could be compromised and costs could soar, affecting the state system as well.
There is no doubt that the estimated 15 million or so Americans will be going somewhere offshore from America in future years, and NZ will become a desirable destination and will get its share of an industry that could be equivalent to its present multimillion dollar wine industry. But what sort of "strain" could be put on the NZ health system? Could there be just a little temptation to sqeeze in some foreign clients into the NZ public health system too?