While five years ago most American patients who went abroad for cheaper care went to countries like India and Thailand and over the border to Mexico, many are now going to Europe, where care at top hospitals frequently costs a fraction of what is charged in the United States. There are private facilitators who help make the arrangements, pairing patients with doctors and hospitals and arranging travel plans.
In the last few years, governments and hospitals in Europe have entered the field and are now promoting their services.
At one point a number of years ago, medical services were something that the US sold to the rest of the world — especially the wealthy from abroad who could afford a trip to the Mayo Clinic, for example. Now we may be on the verge of importing medical services in the form of more American going to Europe for treatment.
The story also point out an interesting dysfunction of the U.S. health care market:
Medical tourism, it turns out, does not have to be international. (Medicare does not currently cover joint replacements outside the United States.) Some economists point out that health plans in New York City, a relatively expensive market, could save money by sending their patients to Buffalo in limousines.
What will this all mean for attempts by many localities to use health care as the driver of economic development? One answer, find ways to keep cost down and quality up and you become the destination of choice.