Brazil’s Bid to Be the Four Seasons of Medical Tourism

“Brazilians endlessly repeat the old saw that the world thinks of only three things when it thinks of Brazil: samba, carnivale and football. But its healthcare industry would like to add a fourth–surgery. As part of Brazil’s efforts to leverage both the tourists and the infrastructure investments expected in the wake of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the country hosted its first medical tourism conference last week in São Paulo.

One of the speakers was Ruben Toral, the former marketing director of Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital who I profiled in Fast Company two years ago. Since then, the number of medical tourists leaving the United States for heart- or hip- or brain surgery abroad has risen from 540,000 in 2008 to an estimated 878,000 this year. And that will practically double to 1.6 million in 2012, according to Deloitte’s projections. But earlier this year Congress threw a monkey wrench into Toral’s grand vision for the “Toyota-ization of healthcare,” in which U.S. hospital groups would buy foreign ones and insurers like Aetna and United Health Group would offer patients discounts in exchange for outsourcing themselves and their bad knees overseas. It hasn’t happened, thanks to health care reform. Not because 47 million uninsured or underinsured Americans are suddenly covered, but because the legislation created so much complexity the insurance giants have curled into the fetal position.

Healthcare reform “sucked all of the oxygen out the industry’s hopes that insurers would engage,” Toral said Thursday during a break in the conference. “The un- and underinsured won’t be coming anymore. Instead, you’re going to see people with money leaving,” the same kinds of people who have been fleeing the long waits in socialized medicine for decades. “You’re getting the Canadian system,” in other words. “They’re better-informed medical travelers looking to meet their needs rather than head someplace that’s cheap. They’re going to be leaving for service. The industry is in the midst of transforming itself.” – Source (more here)

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