'Medical tourism' is a growing trend

Fed up with the high cost of health care, some companies are giving incentives to employees to travel across the country to get the surgeries they need.

Smaller companies like newspaper publisher Stephens Media and mega-employers like Kroger and Walmart are now or will soon offer airfare and a waiver of out-of-pocket expenses for their employees to travel to medical centers around America, according to The Los Angeles Times. In some cases, the employers are even putting up family members at hotels in distant cities as you go in for your surgery.

This is a reversal of the medical tourism I’ve long talked about. Traditional medical tourism has involved Americans going out of the country for cheaper health care in Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand or Hungary, among other places. Hungary and Costa Rica, in particular, are hot spots for cheap reconstructive dental procedures. The savings can be extraordinary — up to 75 percent.

The big question with medical tourism abroad has always been, “What kind of care do you get overseas?” If you are considering going overseas for a procedure, check first with the Joint Commission International to see which facilities are fully accredited.

Of course, there are also other things to consider before going overseas. Bringing malpractice litigation can be difficult; there are fewer regulations; you may face a lack of adequate follow-up care; and the culture shock and jet lag can sometimes be too much for patients.

Another big problem is isolation from your family. Try free video chat on your smartphone — just remember to buy an unlocked world phone and a SIM card for your country of destination to avoid getting hammered on the data rates.

Consumer expert Clark Howard's column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark's website.

-- Clark Howard -- Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs -- for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

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