I recently saved a ton of money by going to Mexico for surgery for my wife. I was sceptical at first, but now I am convinced it was the right thing to do. Here is the story of how much I saved, how I decided where to go, and what happened when I got there.
How we decided going to Mexico for surgery was a good idea
My wife has worked with her doctor for years trying to lose weight, and no matter how hard she tries it just didn’t seem to work out for her. Finally my wife asked her doctor about weight loss surgery and he agreed it was a good idea both for her short term and long term health. The problem was that despite the long term cost savings of being healthier most health insurance companies won’t cover it. Most employer plans I have seen specifically say they won’t cover it. The few out there that do make you fight them for it, and an individual plan that covers weight loss surgery is unheard of.
We looked into it and weight loss surgery at our local hospital was going to cost $16,000. My wife and I talked about it and decided although it was important, going into debt for an elective medical treatment wasn’t the best idea. My wife wanted the surgery so badly that she took an extra job to earn the money. She worked and worked and worked, but after a year had only managed to save a fraction of the $16,000.
I have occasionally heard Clark Howard talk about “medical tourism” on his radio show which is people travelling outside the US for medical care to save a bunch of money, but always thought it sounded kind of dangerous. Although sceptical, I wanted to get the opinion of a medical professional so we asked our family doctor.
He grimaced a little when we asked him. He explained that he had patients who had done it, and it had always worked out well for them but he just didn’t know enough about the Mexican health care system to recommend it. On the other hand, he didn’t know enough about the Mexican health care system to not recommend it, either. Honestly, that was a more positive recommendation than I had expected.
My wife is on a facebook support group of people who have had weight loss surgery or who are considering it, so she asked people on the group what they thought. As it turns out, many, many people in that group had gone to Mexico for weight loss surgery and all of them recommended it. One nice lady named Heather gave us her number so we could ask her all the questions we wanted.
So we called Heather and asked her all the questions we could think of. As it turns out Heather is a medical professional herself, and had gone to have the surgery with 4 other people so she was very knowledgeable. She had gone to the Green and Health Hospital in Tijuana. (This is the same hospital we ended up going to) She explained that it was very clean, the staff was very professional, and the care she received seemed to be on par with the care she would have gotten in America. This hospital specializes in weight loss surgery and plastic surgery, so they know what they are doing there.
An added benefit of going to Tijuana is that it was the cheapest facility in Mexico for us to get to. It was cheaper for us to fly to San Diego and have the hospital send a driver for us than to fly to any Mexican city.
Heather had convinced us that we could get great care in Mexico. Now we were seriously thinking about going.
How much we saved
Our local hospital claimed they would do the procedure for $16,000, but I am not sure if I believe them or not. My experience with American hospitals is that you get a bill from the doctor, then you get a bill from the anaesthesiologist, then you get a bill from the X-ray reading doctor, then you finally get a bill from the hospital where they charge you extra for everything they can think of. (This fellow was charged $39 to hug his baby) So is $16,000 the real cost or just the starting point? I don’t know the answer to that, but for the sake of comparison let’s pretend it is the final cost.
The Mexican hospital charged us $4,400 for the surgery and all the care my wife received for the time she was there. They also paid for the hotel we stayed at the night the night after we were discharged when our flight wasn’t until the next morning. The only other things we paid for were plane tickets (about $900), my meals and snacks at American airports (around $30), and my 11 meals I had in Mexico (around $60). So, surgery in Mexico was going to save us $11,600 and with all the expenses figured in we saved $10,590.
My wife had the money to pay to go to Mexico, but to save enough for surgery in the US was going to take her another year or two. We made up our minds. We were going to Mexico!
What happened in Mexico
We contacted the hospital and scheduled our trip. A patient coordinator contacted us to work out all the details. They needed some health information from us and had a special diet for my wife to be on for several days before the surgery. It was all simple enough.
When our plane arrived a driver was waiting for us to take us to Tijuana. As soon as we got to hospital everybody went to work preping my wife for surgery. The patient coordinator we had been speaking to helped us get checked in and made sure we had everything we needed. The surgeon came in and explained everything that was going to happen both during the surgery and after. Then they wheeled my wife away to surgery.
The surgery went off without any problems and we found the care my wife received to be excellent, just as good as she would have received in an American hospital. Various nurses or doctors checked on her frequently and with varying levels of English explained everything she needed to know. They kept my wife in the hospital for 3 nights then the night before our flight out of San Diego we were discharged and the driver took us to a nice local hotel. Before our flight the driver picked us up and took us to the airport. Everything was taken care of for us and could not have been easier.
I would have to say that the one major drawback to travelling for surgery is the flight home. Messing around with airports, security, and cramped planes is uncomfortable under the best of circumstances, and I am sure you can understand that flying home after major surgery is far from the best of circumstances. My wife hadn’t been feeling too badly after 3 days of resting following the surgery, but the trip home really took it out of her. By the end of the day she was worn out and feeling sick.
I guess that is the best reason to not go to Mexico, but for $11,000 it was worth it for my wife.
Being the patient’s assistant
I wasn’t too comfortable sending my wife off alone to Mexico to have major surgery so I accompanied her. Not that anything that happened to me is too important, but I thought I would give a few tips for anybody who is accompanying a patient like I did.
First of all, you can’t really go anywhere. Tijuana isn’t the nicest city to go walking around in and I was advised that I really shouldn’t leave the hospital. I noticed there were no Gringos walking around on the street outside, and that the hospital had a fence all the way around it with a guard manning the gate at all times. Here was the view from our window:
So your pretty much trapped in the hospital. The good news is that they let me stay in my wife’s room with her so I didn’t have to get a hotel or anything. I liked this because I could be with her pretty much all the time in case she needed any help. The other good news is that the hospital had a decent wifi signal. This meant that I could bring my work laptop and work from the hospital while I was in Mexico. I know that so many ABC readers have Republic Wireless phone plans, so free wifi means Republic Wireless customers can make all the calls and texts they want at no additional fee. Is Republic right for me? Smartphone plans starting as low as $5 per month.(affiliate link)
I found getting along in the hospital to be not to hard even though I speak almost no Spanish. All of the staff seems to speak at least a little English and many of them speak it fairly well. Communicating in the cafeteria was a little tough sometimes, but I always managed to get something to eat. Prices were never posted in the cafeteria so I wouldn’t find out how much it cost me until after I was done. The prices were always more than fair though, ranging from $2-$6 for a meal, so I didn’t complain. Download the Google translate app to your phone. It will help a lot.
The most important part of my job as the patient’s assistant was the flight home. After weight loss surgery you aren’t supposed to lift anything so I am not sure how a patient would be able to get home without somebody handling all the luggage for them.
The bottom line is that going to Mexico for surgery worked out great for us. We received great medical care and saved a ton of money. If I ever find myself in a position again where my family needs some kind expensive medical care that isn’t covered by insurance I will be returning to Mexico.
Disclosure: None of the health related links in this article are referral or affiliate links. I received no compensation from Green and Health Hospital or from ready4achange.com for anything appearing in this article. The link to Republic Wireless is an affiliate link.