The Flourishing Medical Tourism Business in America

Marianne Aiello, April 16, 2014

The Jackson International program at Miami's Jackson Health System draws patients to the U.S. with concierge services. Elective international patients want extra amenities in addition to high-quality care.

For the average person on the street, "medical tourism" still conjures images of the rich and fabulous getting nipped and tucked in Mexico or southeast Asia, recovering in a cabana by the pool with bottomless pitchers of mai tais.

Yet as many hospital executives know, the United States is a leading destination for medical tourists—the third-most popular healthcare destination worldwide in 2012, with 800,000 international patients flying in to seek care, according to Patients Beyond Borders, an informational publisher for medical tourists.

And in Florida, legislators are trying to boost that number even more. Recent proposals in the state's House and Senate would pump $5 million into efforts to the local healthcare industry to draw potential patients worldwide. The measures have support from bipartisan lawmakers and several Florida health systems, which stand to benefit from a potential increase in patients coming from abroad.

One such organization is Jackson Health System, a Miami-based nonprofit academic medical system that already treats about 2,500 foreign patients a year, generating $78.3 million each year in gross charges from international payments. The six-hospital health system, which is affiliated with the University of Miami and Florida International University medical schools, has made an investment in catering to medical tourists, spending around $2.1 million a year to run the program.

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