Mexico: A million medical tourists each year?


Astonishing new figures from researchers suggest that every year over a million Mexican and non-Mexican US residents travel from the US to Mexico for medical, dental, cosmetic and other treatment.

Even on 2001 data, well before the establishment of a US/Mexico medical treatment industry with new clinics and hospitals, and before even more Mexicans settled in the US, it is reported that just under a million crossed the borders for healthcare. So..... if the research is accurate, it is reasonable to assume that 2008 figures are going to be over a million. It is believed that half of these medical tourists are Mexicans who are US residents and are coming home for treatment; this suggests that swine flu will have less effect on numbers than pessimists expect. 

According to a new paper “ Heading South: Why Mexican Immigrants in California Seek Health Services in Mexico." published in the journal Medical Care, by researchers at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research:

  • Nearly one million Californians cross the border each year to seek medical care in Mexico.

  • The figures do not include anybody travelling from other states such as Texas, Arizona or New Mexico.

  • Cost was the primary factor in seeking health services.

  • Lack of health insurance, cultural and linguistic barriers and immigration factors were also important motivators.

  • Most come to Mexico for prescription drugs and dental care, and a smaller number go for surgery- but the latter may have risen since 2001.

The researchers estimate that in 2001, 952,000 California adults sought medical, dental or prescription services in Mexico, and of these, 488,000 were legal Mexican immigrants. 13 percent of Mexican immigrants travel to Mexico for care, with the largest number visiting dentists.

The paper is the first large-scale population-based research ever published on US residents who travel to Mexico for health services. It is based on an analysis of 2001 data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation's largest state health survey.
Lead author Steven P. Wallace comments, “ What the research shows is that many Californians, especially Mexican immigrants, go to Mexico for health services."

Long-stay immigrants used Mexican health services the most, with 15 percent reporting crossing the border during a year's time for health services. Half of these long-stay immigrants lived more than 120 miles from the border. Living within 15 miles of the border greatly increases the likelihood of someone obtaining health services in Mexico. Four percent of adult Californians travel to Mexico for some type of medical care. Immigrants who travel to Mexico for health services are not necessarily the poorest. One explanation: The cost of travel may offset any financial savings, creating a disincentive for the very poor to travel.

The data that the researchers used is no longer collected, so updating the figures is going to be difficult. Assuming the figures are accurate, if you add those going to new Mexican hospitals and traffic from other states, a million medical tourists a year may be a reality. This has other implications, that people travel as much based on location and race, as on cost.

If true, this makes Mexico the second largest medical tourism destination in the world, and perhaps even number one.



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