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Paying for Your Trip as an Incidental Health Traveler

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On a recent business trip to SE Asia and all too aware of my impending sixtieth birthday next January, I reserved an extra day in Bangkok for some routine medical tests and procedures. The story will likely be familiar to you: my eyesight ain't what it used to be, I can barely hear my dinner companions in restaurants, and it was once again time for that dreaded colonoscopy. So I booked a vision exam, a comprehensive auditory test, and the endoscopic-style procedure.

I carry a health insurance plan with a $10,000 deductible. These high-deductible policies are often called "catastrophic," because they exclude run-of-the mill illnesses and mishaps while providing the healthcare consumer with coverage for more expensive conditions and treatments that can otherwise wreak havoc on your wallet and entire family.

I call them "common-sense" plans, particularly when coupled with creative price-shopping on medical procedures. My policy saves our family $560/month in premiums compared to a typical plan offering a $500 deductible. We then put aside the differential in a health savings account, holding it as reserve for marginal healthcare costs that may come our way.

A $560/month savings translates to $6,720/year, or nearly $70,000 over a ten-year period. Compounded annually at 4%, this becomes nearly $100,000 in savings over ten years and nearly a quarter-million over 20 years. That's practically a retirement plan for many of us!

Before heading abroad, I called for local quotes on a hearing test. Duke Medical Center in the next town wanted an astounding $1,625 for an auditory exam and specialist consultation. My lowest quote for a clinical test and consult within 50 miles was just under $1,000.

On to the colonoscopy. After much back-and-forth trying to obtain estimates in the US, I finally learned that the least-expensive procedure within 50 miles was $3,200, not counting anesthesia or costs for any additional requirements -- and the finance people at the clinics wouldn't even give me a quote for additional work. Wait, finance department? Why am I talking to accountants? Why isn't this a customer service exchange? Oh, that's right, I'm in the US, where every single aspect of healthcare is upside down. But don't get me started...

The bottom line: I opted to get checked out while abroad, I was in and out of Bangkok's five-star Bumrungrad International Hospital in just under five hours, and I saved a total of $5,400. I had dinner that night with friends and sprang for the meal with a wallet that felt a good deal fatter for my healthcare savings.

While in SE Asia, I could have had my pick of any of more than 40 US-accredited hospitals in Singapore, Malaysia, or Thailand. Twenty of those facilities have a full International Patient Services Department, with English spoken throughout, where a cost quote can be easily obtained for a wide array of tests and medical procedures.

Are your own travels taking you closer to home? Prices for healthcare in destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, or the Bahamas are a little higher than in Thailand, but still offer substantial savings over costs in your backyard.

Even if you don't care to go with the strategy of a high-deductible health plan, you may want to consider adding a day or two to a business or leisure trip abroad for testing and other routine medical procedures -- MRIs, CT scans, light dental work, an annual physical, health screening, and a host of other choices.

Sooner or later you'll need to take time off for routine health maintenance and examination -- why not pay for your trip with savings on the incidental medical visit? With more than 400 American-accredited hospitals and clinics now offering Western-style medical treatment in 47 countries around the world, it's a bit of a no-brainer to check out your medical tourism options. That's certainly a great alternative to complaining about the astronomical costs of care here in the US.