Leading from the Left

Sunday, November 02, 2008

For Quality Medical Care You Can Actually Afford

This year I made 3 trips to San Diego so I could get dental work done in Mexico. Yup, that's right. I went to a Tijuana dentist.

Why, you ask? Because I couldn't afford to get the dental work I needed done here in the US. And every year, millions of Americans find themselves in the same boat. And more and more of us are ditching US doctors for less expensive care in foreign countries.

Let me tell ya, under no uncertain terms, the care I received was excellent. The Tijuana dentist I chose picked me up personally at the border crossing. He spoke impeccable English, but more importantly he was clearly well trained and competent.

Perhaps the most common prejudice folks have about medical care in third world countries is that it is substandard, the equipment old and the doctor's office dirty. I found none of that to be true. In fact, the equipment in Dr. Casas' office was every bit as up-to-date as the equipment in the office of my Chapel Hill dentist.

Here's how I ended up in Mexico. Right before last Christmas two teeth broke unexpectedly. Both had old fillings which caused those teeth to crack and then sheer off. I was told I needed two crowns, at least one root canal, and perhaps gum surgery. To the tune of $5,000. Wow. Not having an extra $5,000 laying around, I explored options.

I had heard that Americans were traveling overseas for medical and dental care, but had no idea how to go about it. So, I started researching. I googled dentists in Mexico and Costa Rica, found websites on which Americans reported on their own experiences with medical care abroad, and read everything I could get my hands on before making a final decision. Once I narrowed my search down to Mexico (the cheapest and easiest country for me to get to), the next step was finding a dentist.

For me that was the hardest part of the entire venture. Let's face it, when looking for a new dentist here you can ask friends and neighbors whom they recommend. Through word of mouth, you can get a pretty good idea who would be a good match for your particular set of preferences. Obviously, that's harder when there's a language barrier and an international border in the way.

I found Dr. Casas after googling dentists in Tijuana and then checking and double checking education and other records online. I won't kid you; it was still a leap of faith. But my experience was excellent. If you have medical or dental needs you can't afford in the US, I highly recommend looking abroad. It's not for everyone, but it worked for me.

So, how much did I save? Well, dental care in Mexico generally costs 1/3 as much as care here in the US. Remember the original estimate I received of roughly $5,000? Well, including airfare and some hotel nights, I spent $2600 out of pocket. Yup, half what I would have spent here! Plus, my dental insurance company reimbursed part of the treatment. So, when all was said and done I only spent about $1800.

Many US dental insurance companies will cover your care even if you are going to a dentist in a foreign country. Check with your insurance company before going.

There was a good article in today's LA Times about medical travel abroad.