HOUSTON (KTRK) — How far would you go to lose weight? What about traveling to another country for an invasive medical procedure to shed 50 pounds or more? More and more Americans are doing it every year and at the same time, saving thousands. But are there risks, and is it worth it?
Costa Rica, meaning rich coast to locals, is drawing medical tourists from around the world.
So when Dempsey White was told he desperately needed to lose weight, he flew here in May for gastric sleeve surgery.
“The procedure all done. And then they put me up in this beautiful place that we have here and at no cost because it’s cheaper down here that it is there,” White said.
You heard him right: no cost to him. A truck driver by trade, Dempsey’s insurance provider sent him there for the procedure. Had he opted to have the surgery back home, there would have been out-of-pocket expenses.
“To have it done in the States, you’d have to pay the deductible plus 20 percent,” White said.
It could have cost thousands. Because expenses are much lower in Costa Rica, Dempsey’s medical plan covered 100 percent of the bills, including travel. His wife Helen is a nurse back home in Alabama.
“I worked in intensive care for over 20 years, and I was impressed with how up to date everything is,” she said.
An estimated 50,000 Americans travel to the county each year for a wide array of medical procedures. And those contemplating the idea of making the trip want to know is it safe, and what happens if something goes wrong?
“Not only do the clinics, hospitals and doctors have to comply with national regulation but they also have to comply with international standards,” said Massimo Manzi, the executive director with ProMed, a government run council for Costa Rica medicine. “We are protecting the patients through insurance. We are requiring as mandatory to our clinics and hospitals having a general liability and malpractice liability insurance.”
And like any medical procedure performed at home, or in another country, there’s always a risk. But it was a risk worth taking, according to Dempsey. Almost 5 months after the procedure, he’s lost over 80 pounds.
Now there are some things to consider when traveling abroad for surgery. If something goes wrong, you could be limited on legal resources, based on where you had the procedure done. Also, medical follow ups: Make sure you have a doctor back home that can address post-op issues if any arise. And, it’s a good idea to look into travel insurance that could potentially cover unexpected costs for extenuating medical reasons.