News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Flying to Asia for surgery exposes a flaw in U.S. care

Not unlike people who buy Canadian drugs because American drugs cost too much, a few Americans and Europeans have discovered that they can save money by flying to Asia for surgery.

India, Thailand and Singapore offer top-class orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, infertility treatment and cardiology at much lower prices than Western nations, The Associated Press reports.

Often the Asian doctors went to school in the United States or Britain, then came home to practice. Presumably they can make a good living while undercutting Western prices for medical care.

Bradley Thayer, 60, a retired apple farmer from the state of Washington, was looking at a six-month wait for surgery costing $35,000 in the United States to repair his injuries from a fall. He took his problem to Bombay, where he saved about two-thirds.

"Flying halfway around the world is cheaper," he said.

So why don't we all do that?

Well, for one thing it's a big risk to leave your familiar doctor and the health-care network he's connected with, and trust your body to a stranger in a foreign land where standards of care and sanitation may not be as reliable as in the United States.

But there's also the question of affordability.

Poor people lack the money to go abroad — or to pay for many U.S. medical procedures unless they have health insurance. And insurance itself is too expensive for many Americans unless their employers subsidize it.

Our hospitals and doctors provide emergency and critical care to people whether they can pay or not, but many Americans don't get preventive and maintenance care that would keep them healthy and lengthen their lives.

It's often said that the United States provides some of the best health care in the world, but that can't be true until we meet the challenge of making care available to everybody who needs it at an affordable price.

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