Skip to comments.Outsourcing Blues? Have a Heart!(Uninsured American worker in India for heart surgery)
Posted on 09/30/2004 7:19:44 AM PDT by fight_truth_decay
WASHINGTON: India's great outsourcing debate with the United States may have just moved from software to 'heartware.'
Defeated by exorbitant health care costs in the United States, a North Carolina worker flew into New Delhi over the weekend for a heart surgery on the cheap.
Howard Staab was wheeled into the Operation Room at Escorts Heart Institute at 9 a.m. on Monday listening to "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou," with dhanyavaad (Thank You) written on his chest with a purple marker.
He was out in the Recovery Room by 3.30 p.m. with "every best case scenario plan implemented," according to his partner Maggi Grace. A team of doctors led by the well-known cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan fixed a broken mitral valve in his heart.
The cost of the procedure and after care in India less than $ 20,000, compared to the $ 200,000 Staab was asked to fork out in the US.
Although 'health tourism' and outsourcing of medical procedures has been on the horizon for some time, this is one of the first instances of an American worker seeking out India for high-end medical treatment.
"This is happening because of the prohibitive cost of health care in the US," Dr Vinay Malhotra, a Seattle cardiologist said in an interview while assessing the milestone event. "I don't see the medical profession here objecting to this, but if this becomes a trend, the insurance companies could well be up in arms."
Howard Staab's health woes began in July this year when doctors discovered a broken heart valve after a routine physical. A 53-year carpenter with an active lifestyle, Staab never had and could not afford --health insurance. Some 45 million Americans do not have health insurance, which can now run up to $ 500 per month per individual.
When he shopped around post-diagnosis, insurance companies quoted astronomical premiums for policies with limited benefits because it was a pre-existing condition.
"I've always thought that the insurance companies are the real terrorists of our country," Staab said in an interview to a local paper later. "They put terror in everyone's mind. You don't have insurance? You could have a catastrophic accident or illness."
But with no insurance cover, Staab and his partner Grace began exploring other avenues for affordable treatment. Around this time Grace's son Bryan Maxwell, a medical student at Stanford, had returned to the US after spending the summer in India Maxwell and his professor from Stanford, Dr. Sakti Srivastava, connected the couple to Dr Trehan, the New Delhi cardiologist who now has a fabled reputation after returning from New York a decade back to set up practice in India.
When they landed in New Delhi in the early hours of Saturday, they were received at the airport by Dr Trehan's staff who scooted them past hundreds of passengers to get them through customs.
"Everyone is so incredible. No worries. Howard is waited on like royalty," Maggi Grace recorded on the website www.howardsheart.com , which chronicles their Indian healthcare experience.
According to Dr Malhotra, India is a relative newcomer to the healthcare tourism from the U.S. Americans have been trickling into specialized hospitals in Thailand and Singapore even as healthcare costs have been rising fast enough to cause cardiac arrests among the working class and senior citizens here.
A report released by a non-profit outfit Families USA this week said insurance premiums have gone up by 36 per cent in the last four years and are rising three times faster than workers' wages.
"For a blue collar worker earning just above minimum wages, what is the option?" asks Dr Malhotra. "India will become the destination as more and more lay people know about this."
That might be one reason, but not the only reason. Thailand, as I mentioned above, has a very high quality, low cost healthcare system. But Thailand isn't socialist, it's a parliamentary monarchy. The cost of living there is much lower across-the-board than in Western countries.
The same would certainly be true in India.
I'd suspect a large part of our U.S. costs are due to litigation and "free health care" to those who shouldn't be getting it.
Last November I needed an new bridge and my local dentist
quoted $9600. I flew to Budapest, and got it done for
$2000 including airfare, lodging for 10 days, meals and
incidental expenses. Like a mini vacation.
I wrote "developed countries" like Western Europe, Canda, Japan.
Err India used to be a socialist democracy till the early 90s-it's well & truly on it's way to becoming a free market one,albeit it at it's own pace.Moreover in India ,most people in India go to private hospitals for major medical treatment,not state facilities.The institute mentioned here(Escorts) is just one of many private institutions.The cost of living & education in India is very low(the main logic behind Outsourcing) when compared to the West so any surgery in India will be far cheaper.A lot Brits,Africans,Rich Arabs & Indians living abroad are now flocking to such institutions for quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost it is overseas.Also more & more private multi-speciality hospitals are opening up (some run by Hindu,Buddhist,Christian Religious groups) ,all of which are offeriing such packages to lure foreign money,which in fact helps the Overall healtcare system in India & both Central & State Governments have steadily relaxed restrictions over the past 25 years to encourage this .
Holy mackerel - send me the details - I need a new 6 crown bridge costing over $4000 and my insurance only covers $1500 - I'm retired and $2500 doesn't come easy.
"I've always thought that theINSURANCE COMPANIES are the real terrorists of our country," Staab said in an interview to a local paper later. "They put TERROR in everyone's mind. You don't have insurance? You could have a CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENT OR ILLNESS catastrophic accident or illness."
That's WHY you get insurance,Homer.
I don't feel sorry for this guy's plight. If he worked hard as he claims, then he should have been able to buy a miminium insurance plan and not GAMBLE that some where down the line his health would fail or he, as a carpenter, would cut off a finger or two.
Bet this North Carolina whiner has two vehicles, one a big ole gas guzzling truck to pull his bass boat on his vacations. Not to mention a couple of color TVs, cable (or satellite).
He had the income. He just rather the other guy (or duh guvmint) to take care of the "boring" stuff.
Professional liability isn't the only issue here. If our cardiovascular surgeons were making $35-40K annually and registered nurses drawing $5.00/hr I'm sure our healthcare cost would drop considerably. In all probability this "carpenter" was making more per year than the surgeon that performed his surgery. Ever wonder why our healthcare system is loaded with indian healthcare professionals...MONEY, Money they can't make in their native country.
The surgeon's bill is only part of the bill--a minor part. It wouldn't matter if the surgeon worked for free. What these big bills are for is the hospital infrastructure. Our hospitals are being hit on all fronts--and the charges are passed to the patient, one way or another. Of course, the option is always there for the hospital to simply give up and close its doors.
"Professional liability isn't the only issue her"
My wife was almost killed by doctors... mistaken diagnosis. Luckily one MD caught it and said he didn't know how her problem was missed by so many before him.
Professional liability is the MAIN issue here!
"If our cardiovascular surgeons were making $35-40K annually and registered nurses drawing $5.00/hr "
I agree that doctor salaries are lower there in general. Though I doubt if you could find a cardiovascular surgeon in India who makes < 35k a year. Remember the operation cost around 10-15k in India. Many cardiac surgeons perform more than 1 operations a day. Just calculate from that what the guy makes in a year (even if the surgeon makes a 1/3rd of the 15k ). I know as a fact that several top surgeons own their pvt choppers in India.
The avg physician in India is paid a lot less compared to his american counterpart but the people who work there in the top pvt hospitals are making a fortune. Thats where most foreign medi-tourists end up anyway.
I have lived in India/US as well as Canada. Here is the comparison between what a root canal costs in 3 countries. (all figures in US$)
In the US I had to pay insurance and it still cost me $1200 (40% copay).
In Canada I had no insurance and I had to pay around $900..
In India they have no concept of medical insurance and I paid $200.
I thought the service was equivalent in all 3 countries since the proceedure is standardized and the equipment is too. Though I thought the US facility was the most "assembly-line" of all three.
I'm very concerned about our health care system. An acquaintance of ours was telling my husband about a client of his who moved for a short while to Italy. While moving into his apt, he experienced chest pains, and became convinced he needed to seek help. He was hoping to just get back on a plane to the U.S to be treated, but could not fly with his heart condition. It was too extreme. So he headed for the hospital, where he underwent a bipass operation, and stayed in the hospital for over a week. When it came time to pay the bill, he was sick about what he assumed would be an impossible debt. The total came to $2,000, which he charged to his credit card and walked away.
When I heard that true life experience, I was just sick. Our health care system is truly broken. How in the world does it get fixed?