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Poll: Sizeable Minority of Americans Would Consider Medical Tourism

John Commins, May 20, 2009

A new Gallup Poll finds that many Americans–particularly the uninsured–are willing to travel abroad for major medical procedures, especially if they believe the quality of care would be the same, but significantly cheaper, than care in the United States.

Health insurance is an important factor in the likelihood that Americans would consider getting health treatment abroad. For example, 37% of uninsured respondents would seek cancer care abroad as compared to 22% with health insurance.

Gallup says the survey results indicate that the increasing cost of medical care in the United States and large numbers of uninsured is making medical tourism a viable option.

"If strides in insurance reimbursements, overseas hospital quality, and affordability continue, it will be an increasingly attractive option for Americans," Gallup says. "The data suggest the estimated population of 48 million Americans without health insurance are motivated by costs and would be more likely than those with health insurance coverage to consider seeking medical care from alternative sources."

The poll showed that:

  • 29% of respondents would consider traveling outside of the US for alternative medical treatments for a major medical problem
  • 24% would seek cancer diagnosis and treatment abroad
  • 15% would receive orthopedic procedures
  • 14% would consider traveling to another country for heart treatment
  • 10% would seek plastic surgery

The mid-April poll of 5,050 adults involved a split-sample experiment. One random half-sample was asked the "direct" question on whether they would consider treatment abroad. The second half was asked whether they would consider treatment abroad assuming "the quality was the same and the costs significantly cheaper." Given that assurance, the percentage saying they would consider medical treatment outside U.S. borders increased by 12% on average. The poll has a 2% margin of error.

For example, when told that the cancer treatment they would get abroad was of equal quality and significantly cheaper than what they would get in the US, the percentage of respondents who said they’d consider traveling abroad from 24% to 37%.

Across regions, Midwesterners are the least willing to consider treatment abroad. Westerners are the most willing. Southerners are also below average in their enthusiasm for medical tourism, with the exception of hip or knee replacement.


John Commins is an editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at jcommins@healthleadersmedia.com.

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