Inexpensive Quality Health Care: The Next New Thing?

I hadn’t thought of it in a while, but San Jose del Cabo, Mexico is not a bad place to get your face smashed in. I had had my nose, eye socket and cheek rearranged one morning down there while surfing. My son and a buddy took me into town and delivered me to the hospital looking like the matador who got stomped on by the bull. Face wounds bleed something awful. They look a lot worse than they are. Got me a lot of sympathy with the nurses.

And not just the nurses. Rustic little facility or not, everybody in the place was super caring. The surgeon scrubbed my face for over an hour. My cheekbone  was exposed and he feared a bone infection might develop. My face took forty stiches to sew up, including the repair of a severed tear duct. I was released later that day with instructions to come back in two days for the doctor to see me. Everything was fine and later in the week I went back to have the stitches removed. The bill for the whole thing, including the doctor’s fee? $120, and I could not have gotten better care anywhere.

That was nearly thirty years ago. It would probably cost $500 today. Sheesh. But just this year a neighbor had $25,000 worth of dental work done by Harvard trained dentists in Costa Rica for $7,000, which included ten days in a hotel. Might it ever be possible in this country to get quality medical care delivered for less than a king’s ransom? Some thinkers believe it is coming.

At the end of this essay there is a link to a Bloomberg interview with John Sculley, one-time CEO of Apple. Sculley notes that, while enormous amounts of innovation has taken place in life prolonging medicine, almost none has been aimed at reducing the cost of its delivery to consumers. The opportunity is huge for innovators to create disruptive delivery strategies and change the game in the practice of medicine, the more so since 30 million more people are going to be coming into the market for health care as a result of Obamacare.

Change is already underway, of course. I’m told that fully one third of the tourist visits to Costa Rica now are for medical procedures. It’s a big number that can’t go unnoticed forever. Costa is too easy to get to.

Think of it this way: does a book read any worse if you pay seventeen bucks for it than if you pay twenty five? Of course not. Amazon has disrupted the delivery system for the publishing business and many other businesses. Who knows, Jeff Bezos may be planning first class appendectomies for forty bucks as we speak. My bet is that it’s happening, one way or another.

I raised four kids during the sixties. I’d hate to have to do it now. A regular visit to the pediatrician was $3.33. I am not making this up. I was making a lot less back then than later, but mumps and measles were not reasons to see a bankruptcy lawyer. I expect that, when my grandkids are having their families, routine medical expenses will be tolerable to the family budget once again.

Here’s the link to the Sculley interview:



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