Costa Rica Draws Americans Seeking First Class Medical Care

We have just returned from a two week visit to Costa Rica, or seventh in as many years. This trip was devoted to exploring the Costa Rican medical community in San Jose, visiting facilities, interviewing physicians, patients, and ancillary health care providers. 

Travel to San Jose, Costa Rica is a short 3 hour non-stop flight from Houston, or a 2.5 hour flight from Miami.

It is one thing to read about medical tourism on the internet, or visit with a health care intermediary in the United States who specializes in setting up medical care in Costa Rica for American citizens who wish to seek care there.  However, there is no substitute to seeing the Costa Rican health care delivery system up close and first hand.

At CIMA Hospital, we found a modern facility equal to or better than any hospital in the United States. This JCI accredited hospital is located in an area of San Jose that sports one of the worlds most modern shopping malls, Office Depot, Outback Restuarant, Sams, Marriot Hotel and Holiday Inn.

The insurance office at the CIMA Hospital is staffed with english speaking clerks, who assist with filing of medical claims with insurance companies from all over the world.

The patient waiting rooms are comfortable. We were stunned at the number of foreign patients seeking care there and spoke to many of them. A couple from Alaska was down to get a complete hip replacement. A 30 year old soccer player from Chicago was down for extensive knee surgery. A couple from North Carolina with their brain damaged son was down seeking stem cell treatment which is unavailble to them in the United States. An Austrailian was seeking dental implants. Several California ladies were down for cosmetic surgery; gastric bypass and face lifts. A Minnosota couple were down with their 18 year old daughter for nose surgery before she goes off to college in August.

All of these patients had one thing in common; they could not get, or could not afford, medical care in the United States.

Every patient we talked to said they were pleased with the medical care in Costa Rica and would recommend it to others. And, of course, cost was a major factor in their decision to travel to Costa Rica. The 30 year old soccer play for example, who has no insurance, was quoted a price in Chicago of $40,000. Instead, with air travel, lodging, surgery and hospital expenses, his medical bill was $7,000.

We talked to a physician who practices at CIMI Hospital and is also on the hospital’s Board of Directors. He received his medical training in the United States, as have most of the physician practicing there. He said his patient load was over 50% foreign nationals who pay him cash up front for surgery. He receives his patients primarily through referrals in the United States.

On the other hand, we discovered some disturbing practices of certain entities whose business is to facilitate medical tourism in Costa Rica. As is the danger of a one-time customer, these business people have little to fear from repeat customers complaining to management. Special care should be given to selecting any medical tourism facilitator.

Self-funded group medical plans in the United States could benefit from the high quality of medical care and lower costs in Costa Rica. Savings of 70 to 80% or more is common.

It is our prediction that with the changes in the health care delivery system upcoming in the United States, medical tourism in Costa Rica will become a multi-billion dollar business.