BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Post-recession thrift, health care reform and the aging baby boom generation will likely lead to a surge in overseas "medical tourism." The weak economy has reigned in the number of U.S. citizens travelling abroad for everything from facelifts to heart bypasses. About 540,000 Americans sought medical care outside the U.S. in 2008, a 28% decrease from the previous year, according to a report released last month by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. That number is expected to rise 20% this year to a projected 648,000, and grow by 35% annually starting in 2010. "Outbound medical tourism could reach upwards of 1.6 million patients by 2012," says Paul Keckley, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. "Pent-up consumer demand for elective procedures, especially outpatient dental and cosmetic procedures, will help fuel increased demand for medical tourism again." The driving force behind overseas medical care is -- and has always been -- cost. According to the Medical Tourism Association, heart bypasses in the U.S. cost $144,000, on average, compared to $8,500 in India. Heart valve replacements at domestic hospitals can run upwards of $170,000, dwarfing Colombia's average bill of $10,450. A $15,000 facelift by a U.S.-based plastic surgeon more than triples the $4,000 a Singapore hospital would charge. Breast implants, a $10,000 luxury in the U.S., can be had for the bargain price of $3,000 in Jordan.
Surgery Around the World
Source: Medical Tourism Association Updated July 2009
Rising health care costs, insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will likely keep the offerings of foreign hospitals competitive for years to come. Some insurers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are subsidizing out-of-country procedures under some plans.