Weight Loss Surgery in Mexico: The Cost May be More than You Realize
A recent article and NPR story by Jason Beaubien suggests that weight loss surgery can be performed in Mexico for “a fraction” of the cost of comparable surgery in the U.S. The story quoted a patient from Wisconsin who traveled to Mexico for gastric bypass surgery and paid $12,000.
The troubling thing about the radio story and article is that it does little to explore the pros and cons of travel to Mexico for surgery.
While it is true that well-trained surgeons and “modern six-story building” hospitals and “glass lobby” entrances exist in many cities of the world, including Tijuana, the facilities have little bearing on the risks a patient faces when undergoing surgery.
There are two types of risks when traveling for surgery: medical risks and financial risks. Neither of these is discussed in the article which describes the lower prices in Tijuana.
The medical risks or surgical risks will need to be evaluated by the person seeking surgery in Mexico. This can be a challenging undertaking even in the U.S., but increasingly, many forms of data reporting and website reporting are available in the U.S. In addition, the Centers of Excellence program identifies centers that report all data and adhere to rigorous standards of care and training in the U.S.
The financial risks to traveling to Mexico to undergo weight-loss surgery can be significant. I have personally performed corrective surgery for two patients in the past two years who chose to travel to Mexico and then experienced severe complications (and I am familiar with many other similar cases). The shiny Mexico hospitals are intending to capture the lucrative cash-paying U.S. elective customers, but are not always as available to help with the complications of surgery. In these cases I performed urgent surgery to fix complications arising from the surgery done in Mexico. These complications resulted in significant cost to the patients and produced significant financial hardship.
At our center and many other U.S. centers, we have made great strides in protecting our patients from financial hardship due to complications or unexpected costs. We include in the cash-pay the price an insurance protection plan to cover the cost of complications (coverage provided by BLIS corporation). Since every kind of surgery has complications, we consider it imperative that a surgeon discuss the financial risks involved and have in place a plan to treat possible complications. Although the article does not address these important issues at all, it is very unlikely the Tijuana hospitals offer anything like this to protect the U.S. patients going there and paying cash.
In summary, traveling to Mexico for weight-loss surgery, like any major health decision, requires a careful examination of the pros and cons, the risks and benefits. The NPR story and article neglected to examine this important topic, focusing instead on the lower price. As I discuss in my book, Outpatient Weight Loss Surgery: Safe and Effective Weight Loss With Modern Bariatric Surgery, anyone considering traveling to Mexico for surgery needs to weigh the risks and benefits much more carefully than this.