One of our relatives here in the Philippines recently developed a cataract.

Cataracts are common here, probably from exposure to UV light while working outside. So we took her to the local Ophthalmologist, a recent graduate and the daughter of a friend.

We found she could have the cataract removed and a new lens placed into her eye. If the surgery was done here in the country, it would cost about a thousand dollars. I was amazed, since my mother’s surgery cost several times that much in the US.

Since I live in the rural Philippines, we usually we get medical care nearby, because most routine medical services are available in a nearby city. But for complicated things, we go down to Manila. So, after a family discussion, it was decided that Auntie would get her surgery at the best place, so we traveled for a second opinion to Manila.

There, she could have similar surgery for a little over $1500 by a local doctor trained in the US. (actually, we pay less than that, since we have local health insurance). So we are going next week to have the surgery done.

What interested me was that the clinic had brochures for combining eye surgery with a vacation here in the Philippines.

This is called medical tourism.

But why would anyone go to the expense of a plane ticket to get surgery?

Several reasons.

One is that there is a long waiting list, such as for those who live in the UK. Recently, the waiting time to get specialty referrals is improved: Now that the government pays for the private sector to perform the surgery, the wait is only 18 weeks…but in the past, some patients had surgery done outside the UK, usually in Europe.

A second reason is to have surgery that is not reimbursed by private insurance, such as lasik for nearsighted eyes, or plastic surgery of the eyelid.

A third reason would be for patients from other Asian countries to get surgery combined with a vacation. There are many immigrants here, and many locals speak Korean, Japanese or various Chinese dialects, either because they have worked in these countries or imigrated from there, so translators aren’t a problem, and of course most educated people are fluent in English here in the Philippines.

And reason number four might be because you live in a rural area, where specialized eye surgery isn’t available, or where it might be available but local doctors have less experience in the procedures. (for example, cryosurgery for Choroidal melanoma, or laser photocoagulation for diabetic retinopathy). Since you would have to travel anyway, why not combine your surgery with a nice vacation?

As far as I know, US Medicaid won’t pay for surgery here in the Philippines; my own US private health insurance will pay, but only for doctors on their list.

But if the US starts to national health care, with waiting lists and rationing for “non essential services”, you might want to keep the Philippines in mind for your next elective surgery.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

There has been a lot written about medical tourism into Asian clinics: Often the tourism is for experimental therapy, or for plastic surgery that is not covered by insurance.

I am not discussing the shady Kidney transplant tourism scam, which I have discussed in a previous essay, but the fact that high quality medical services are available here in Manila.

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