Medical Tourism

First, let’s look at the “real costs” of international plastic surgery for Americans. Let’s say you travel to Rio, Brazil for your surgery. Here are some additional prices to add to the surgeon’s fee:



-Transportation (taxi’s, etc)



-Insurance in case of emergency

Airfare: I chose 5 starting points from the US to Rio de Janiero: Chicago, Seattle, St Louis, NY and Miami, leaving July 26th and returning two weeks later, August 9th. I booked for 2 people (I assumed most people would take someone along for moral and physical support). The average airfare for two was $2,468, tourist class. NY was lowest at $1885, Seattle highest at $2900. The average flight time was 14 hours each way.

Hotel Costs: I chose a 2.5 star hotel, though you can imagine most plastic surgery patients would want 4-star. Still, to be fair, I priced all flights with the same 2 ½ star hotel. The average was $1800 when booked with the flight through Expedia. Keep in mind that the hotel average for the big cities was lower ($1574) but the Seattle patient would have paid $2613 for the identical hotel, when booked with airfare (how does that work?). This leads me to believe that if you live outside the largest US cities, you might pay more for a hotel if you book through an online service like Expedia.

Taxi and other transportation: Taxi from the Rio airport to either Copacabana or Ipanema averages $25 USD each way based on today’s Real to dollar conversion. Pretty cheap by American standards! Figure a total of $200 while you are there, for preop, day of surgery, postop, and shopping.

A person’s gotta eat, right? Like any big city, there are expensive places to eat and cheap places to eat. Figure $100 a day per person, which is actually pretty basic. That totals $2800 for 2 for 14 days.

And don’t forget the incidentals, like bottled water, a couple sodas per day, some fresh fruit from the street market to have around the hotel room, movie rentals, tips for the bellhops and the guy who gets you a cab, perhaps a laundry bill during that 14- day stay. Let’s add $25 a day for incidentals, which adds $350 to our tally.

Now, let’s consider the issue of health insurance to cover any unforeseen emergency created by plastic surgery outside the US. What if something goes wrong on the table? What if there’s a dehiscence? Or an infection?

Will US-based health insurance cover a complication created as a result of an elective procedure performed outside US borders? According to our sources at a NY agency, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. And even if the insurance company does cover it, coverage is generally limited to “life-threatening” emergencies (ie, they won’t let you die in Rio). The patient would pay out of pocket first, then negotiate with (more likely beg with) their US-based insurance company after returning to the States.

OK, so what about Travel Health Insurance? Travel health insurance, according to my inquiries to and Eisenberg Associates, does not cover any medical emergency arising as a result of an elective procedure. Both firms offer over a dozen plans, and they told me none of them would cover an illness or trauma caused by an elective procedure. Broken leg? Sure! Food poisoning? Without a doubt. But if it’s created by an elective plastic surgery procedure, fuggeddaboutit. This means that traveling outside the US for elective plastic surgery puts the patient at a definite risk for out-of- pocket costs if a complication occurs.

The grand total for this bargain overseas procedure?
Using my estimates, it would run around $9,643 for a breast aug with lift or a facelift in Rio. Cheaper than the US? Certainly not for a breast aug with a lift. Probably yes, for a facelift. And of course, assuming you feel up to it, you get a vacation thrown in. However, doing the tourist thing is a big assumption for a postop plastic surgery patient. I had a great face lift surgeon but I sure didn’t feel like running around the first 10 days afterwards. And I’m quite certain that a 14+ hour airplane trip wouldn’t have felt like a great plan either.

And remember, these are just Rio estimates. If you want a breast aug in Phuket it’s $3000 US. And the airfare will run around $3000 for two, plus hotel and all the above items.

Most importantly, of course, none of the above addresses the quality issue. The surgeons might be fabulous, but how can the prospective US patient judge this? How can one assess the surgical facility or the anesthesiologist from 5,000 miles away? How does one obtain stats on deaths or infections for foreign plastic surgery procedures? Jeepers, how does one go back for a 6-month postop check up? I’ve read nasty reports on some of the international plastic surgery forums written by patients who got themselves involved with a plastic surgery “mill” and had horrible experiences. Conversely, some people had great experiences.Â