Mexican health care for Americans studied

Published 23 April 10 09:55 AM

Regulatory reforms needed, experts say


Rising medical needs in the United States are creating new opportunities for Mexico’s health care industry to serve a broad range of U.S. patients, from baby boomers to Southern California’s large Latino work force.

But participants in a daylong conference Wednesday at the Institute of the Americas on the UC San Diego campus said that a range of legislative and regulatory changes are needed. The event drew health care experts, tourism officials, nonprofit groups, real estate promoters and others who see the potential for growth in cross-border care.

With health care costs in Mexico available at a fraction of U.S. prices, Mexican facilities can help fill a growing demand for services including dentistry, surgery, long-term care and assisted living, advocates said. But providers still face hurdles, and one major step would be certifying private Mexican hospitals to U.S. standards so that older Americans could use their Medicare benefits in Mexico.

“Congress is not going to approve Medicare for Mexico until they’re very comfortable that the quality of medical care is there,” said Paul Crist, president of Americans for Medicare in Mexico. As a first step, he urged Mexico’s federal government to carry through with plans to accredit the country’s private hospitals by 2011.

President Felipe Calderon is expected to urge President Barack Obama to consider the issue of Medicare reimbursement in Mexico when the two meet in Washington next month. But Jeffrey Davidow, president of the Institute of the Americas, was doubtful there will be imminent changes.

“I personally think the biggest changes are coming through the private insurance companies,” he said.

U.S. health care reform is expected to expand the pool of workers with medical insurance, with 100,000 to 300,000 additional enrollees expected in San Diego and Imperial counties by 2014, said Frank Carrillo, chief executive of SIMNSA Health Plan, which sells group insurance plans to U.S. employers whose workers receive medical care in Mexico.

“The system cannot handle it here, so they need to look at Mexico as a safety net,” Carrillo said, adding that many of the newly insured will be legal immigrants from Mexico who are comfortable with Mexican physicians.

In Baja California, the state government recently joined with the private sector to promote the state as a destination for those interested in medical procedures. Oscar Escobedo, Baja California’s tourism secretary, said 500,000 people crossed into the state for medical care last year, and the aim is to increase that number.

Escobedo said that two key medical projects are in the pipeline in Baja California, including a plan by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s Grupo Carso to build a “world-class hospital and hotel” complex in Tijuana, which would open in late 2012. Another facility is being planned next year in the Guadalupe Valley, he said, but did not provide details.

The National City-based International Community Foundation, which expects to release its study on health care for Americans in Mexico next week, has found a need for assisted living and long-term care for older Americans in Mexico.

“Mexico is a great place for active retirees, but it’s not a very good place to age in place today,” said Richard Kiy, the foundation’s president.

Mauricio Monroy, a partner in a Tijuana accounting firm who has long been active in cross-border issues, said the conference was a good first step. He said Mexico’s federal government must now play a central role, through guidelines and regulatory reform.

“That’s the starting point: How do you license a hospital, doctors, nurses, land use? How do you take care of immigration, tax issues? There’s a lot to do,” Monroy said.


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