The Outsourcing of Our Health

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A few days ago, a friend from San Diego called to invite me for a visit – a visit to her dentist. Bubbling over with enthusiasm, she told me I could get my teeth cleaned for less than $20 by going to a reputable dentist just across the border in Mexico.

That data point made the following headline in the May 28 Sacramento Bee not only unsurprising, but redundant:

“Health costs send many to Mexico, study finds”

The describes the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research finding that nearly one million Californians crossed the border for affordable medical and dental care in 2001. And that’s before the latest recession hit the state. There’s no sure way to know how many of California’s 6.6 million uninsured – not to mention bargain shoppers – have taken advantage of the low cost and the close proximity of Mexican health providers, but a spokesman for the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health said in the article, “We suspect the number has grown by leaps and bounds.”

It’s the out-sourcing of another American industry: healthcare. And it’s happening for the same reasons that we’re losing our manufacturing base – costs are too high in the U.S., and particularly so for California.

The irony is that major healthcare breakthroughs are occurring more frequently in America than in any other country. But we’re also paying for those breakthroughs at the consumer level. No other nation puts the burden of profitability on its health-care providers, nor do they ask their citizens to pick up the tab. And in no other country are health care executives (not doctors) paid so handsomely for bringing riches to their shareholders at such high costs to the consumer.

The out-sourcing of health care may not grow as rapidly as did the outsourcing of consumer electronics manufacturing or call-center staffing. But capitalism teaches us that you can stretch demand only so far as prices rise. Already, a healthy business exists for cross-border pharmaceuticals, and cuts to the state’s safety net of medical programs is likely to force more Californians to go to Mexico and beyond for medical and dental services.

Mexico and Canada are not our only choices – people are going to Asia and South America for bargain priced surgeries at hospitals that offer state-of-the-art services bundled with discount plane tickets.

So even as illegal immigrants cross into America in droves, perfectly legitimate American tourists are heading the other way, check book in hand, to lower their health care bills. The new underground railroad is carrying the sick to financial freedom rather than the enslaved to political freedom.

Of course, it is much safer to stay under the wing of our protective agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration when seeking medical help. But it’s the Securities and Exchange Administration that we have to run from, because as long as medical providers are held to the same shareholder protecting standards as, say, banks and retailers, we will continue to see health care costs rise dramatically. Our nation will either price itself out of the market, or price itself out of good health unless there is a change in our health care policies.

So if you have a trip planned to Mexico anytime soon, add to your itinerary a visit to a local doctor or dentist – because it’s not just about shopping for bargain jewelry, perfume and liquor anymore.