As medical costs continue to rise in the United States, both those seeking treatment and the companies that insure them are feverishly looking for ways to cut costs. One of those ways is to “export” treatment — to send patients abroad to countries where treatment is cheaper. Among those destinations is Israel, with some 30,000 patients coming here annually to take advantage of treatments.
The government has been only lightly involved in efforts to promote medical tourism, although it plans to get more so. Most of Israel’s hospitals have special programs for foreigners who come here seeking treatment, and there are dozens of tourist agencies that specialize in organizing medical tours for individuals or groups. Among those companies is IsraMedica, whose CEO, Stuart Katz, told The Times of Israel that Americans are still getting used to the idea of going abroad for treatment.
“Most treatments are of course paid for by insurance companies in the US, and insurance companies are bureaucracies where decision-making is long, drawn-out process,” Katz said. “It takes time to change and get used to more ideas. But the numbers are on our side; if enough people are sent abroad and end up paying thousands of dollars less for treatment, that is eventually going to amount to a substantial savings for insurance companies. In addition, patients who go abroad often can get treatment faster than at a US hospital, so there is an incentive for them to seek treatment abroad as well.” Medical tourism to Israel makes a lot of sense, and it is growing, but that growth has been slow, he said.
Katz’s company specializes in organizing tours for American Christians who need medical treatment. “We promote the idea that Christians can come and get healed in the place where Jesus did his healing, and that idea is appealing to many American Christians,” Katz said. Dozens of countries around the world are working to attract patients, and many of them consequently get more medical tourist traffic than Israel. Jordan, for example, gets about 250,000 such tourist/patients a year, and promoting the idea of medical treatment in the Holy Land, as IsraMedica does, is one way for Israel to increase the number of medical tourists seeking treatment here.
But the trump card, both for patients and insurance companies, is always going to be price, and Israel has a great deal to offer when it comes to saving money, as well, Katz said. “Actually, the number one treatment sought by foreigners in Israel — IVF (in-vitro fertilization) treatment — isn’t even covered by insurance. People seeking IVF treatments come to Israel because the average cost for a patient’s program here is between $6,000 and $8,000, as opposed to the $25,000 it would cost in the States. And the results from treatments here are better than almost anywhere else in the world, including the US.”
Orthopedic procedures, such as hip or knee replacements, are also popular among foreign patients here, said Katz. “The average major orthopedic procedure in Israel costs about half what it does in the US. Of course, patients just can’t get back on a plane when the procedure is over; they need to take a few weeks to rest and recuperate. But even with the cost of a hotel for that period, along with the airfare, patients can still save between 25% and 35% on the cost of equivalent care in the US.”
That amounts to between $10,000 and $15,000 per patient, which amounts to real money when hundreds or thousands of patients are involved. “Those are the kinds of numbers that are starting to interest insurance companies,” Katz added, “and I believe the day will soon come when they will be as enthusiastic about medical tourism to Israel as we are.”