Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico - Mexico’s beaches beckon tourists seeking a vacation, but some also see the country as the next big medical tourism destination where Americans can escape soaring medical costs.
"We can provide anywhere from 25 to 45 percent savings," said Collin Childress, CEO of Global MedChoices, one of a growing number of medical tourism companies. "The main thing is to provide the equivalent or better level quality of care," he added.
His company offers orthopedic surgery in the Turks and Caicos process of trying to expand services in the Caribbean country. Now the search is on for a new beachfront location in Mexico to cater to Americans who travel abroad seeking lower cost medical care. India, Malaysia and Thailand are among the top destinations.
"The proximity of Mexico to the U.S. vs. some of these other locations on the other side of the world, it’s a just a natural," said Bruce Fry, owner of Fry Construction. His Texas-based company builds medical facilities in the U.S. and he wants to expand to Mexico.
"You’ve had a number of U.S. citizens make the trip to India. There’s no comparison if you’ve ever flown on a flight that’s that long. If there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s difficult at best," said Fry. The ultimate goal - build a state-of-the-art medical center in a Mexican resort area. But the immediate plan is to partner with existing hospitals.
"You also have a facility that meets the same standards and specs you would have, so the only real difference is that you’re having the procedure done outside U.S.," he stated.
Fry traveled outside for knee surgery earlier this year. "I put my money where my mouth is and had my own done, my own knee replaced in Turks and Caicos, and it was a great experience." A top U.S. surgeon flew in and used a custom-made replacement.
The plan in Mexico is for U.S. doctors to partner with local doctors. "Physicians in U.S. are not here to take away patients from Mexico," said Childress.
Possible locations include Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.
"It’s accessible. There’s a lot of familiarity with the border states in the U.S. Arizona, California, Texas etc. that have come here for vacation for decades and have come here for health care in many cases," said Childress.
Americans have crossed the border for generations looking for lower cost dentists, eye doctors and prescription drugs. Drug violence in recent years has scared many visitors away from the border region. But tourism to resorts remains relatively strong.
Mexico’s secretary of tourism reported the number of foreign visitors arriving on flights in Mexico grew 7.1 percent in September compared to the same month last year. The number of passengers from the U.S. grew by 3.7 percent. "There definitely is a level of security that will be provided," said Childress of the resort locations.
There are bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles, but there’s also hope as a new administration assumes power in Mexico. President Elect Enrique Pena Nieto takes office December 1.Fry sees medical tourism as a way increase the number of visitors to Mexico overall because many patients will take their families along to a beach destination. "The family on a budget is still fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and enjoying a location they’ve never seen before," said Fry.