Medical Tourism in India

Medical Tourism in India

While we worry about increasing healthcare and medical insurance costs in India, there is the growing trend of tourists coming from USA, Europe, and even middel east who visit India to get themselves treated for medical ailments.. This is primarily because healthcare expenses in India still are significantly lower than in the West, and the quality of healthcare at Indian private hospitals is comparable to the best in the world. A heart valve replacement which costs $ 7000 in India could set the medical insurance company back by as much as $ 140,000 in the United States. An approximate estimate is that most surgeries in India typically cost 1/10th of what it would in the US. Another problem that many of these visitors face is that many of the procedures they would like done are not eligible in their local healthcare system, and thus they would not be able to avail of them under their health insurance policy in their countries. Even though aftercare can become an issue, the benefits far outweigh the negatives as far as these medical tourists are concerned.

Hospital chains such as Max, Apollo, Fortis etc have aggressive sales arms focusing purely on medical tourism. Cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, knee replacement, and cosmetic surgeries are the most in demand as the cost differencel is especially marked across these areas. Many of these hospitals have started entering into agreements with the international health insurance companies to reimburse the cost of healthcare of these visitors. In 2007, according to a recent study by Deloitte, India received almost half a million medical tourists. The annual growth rate for medical tourism is estimated at 30%. McKinsey estimates that this will be a $ 3 Bn market in 2016. The global medical tourism market is worth USD 60 bn, and thus there is a big scope for India to get a larger share of this pie. The Indian government has been keen to tap this market, and has introduced one year special medical visas for visitors.

One ill-desired offshoot of growing medical tourism is that the healthcare costs charged by these private hospitals might end going up even for domestic patients. The hospitals, which run as for profit corporate entities, do not need much time to get used to the concept of higher revenues, and will assume it as their natural right. We have seen that in the IT BPO Industry- as outsourcing through India took off, IT costs that the key companies such as Wipro, Infosys, TCS charged to their Indian clients went up. At the end of the day, this is a labour arbitrage game, and with time, the differential will reduce. But that still seems quite some time away. There is something inherently seductive in getting your knee replaced, tummy tucked, and touring acorss India at the same time.

Another issue that some activists have is that most of these corporate hospitals have been set up using huge subsidies in the form of cheaper land, lower financing costs and tax breaks. Thus, in a sense, the subsidies are being transferred from the Indian tax payer to the affluent, medical tourist. Though there are regulations regarding the free healthcare quota that these private hospitals are subjected to, they find their way around it. Thus, Medical Tourism in India is a booming industry.


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