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InsiderOnline Blog: October 2004

Surgical Adventures in India

All right, I know this guy who was on the front page of the Washington Post yesterday. He’s from my hometown. He had a heart defect, needed surgery, didn’t have health insurance, couldn’t afford the U.S. price of $200,000 for treatment, so he flew to India to have the surgery done for $10,000. The Post calls it “First World medicine at Third World prices.”

It is of course, one of those “wah, wah, our health care system is broken” stories, but to be fair the system didn’t work for Staab because he didn’t have health insurance. That would be one thing if he were destitute, but he’s not. He’s a carpenter who owns his own construction business-- not a bad line of work to be in when you operate in the fastest-growing area of North Carolina. The health care system needs fixing, but the fact that a 53-year-old business owner elected not to be insured is not what makes it broken.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about where Staab went for surgery. He went to India-- not Canada and not Britain. Why, I wonder? The Post knows:

(Indian) hospitals now are starting to attract non-Indian patients from industrialized countries, and especially from Britain and Canada, where patients are becoming fed up with long waits for elective surgery under overstretched government health plans. (emphasis mine)

If India’s health care system had taken the vaunted nationalized route the liberals love to tout, there would be nowhere for these folks to go when their systems fail. The U.S. health care system is so expensive because it subsidizes these other countries’ silly forays into socialism.

Without the 60-80 percent of the world’s research and development provided by American companies, for instance, Canada and Britain wouldn’t have half the treatments they have and India’s medical system would not be good enough to go flying across the world for.

More directly, let’s look at Staab’s surgeon:

"Our surgeons are much better (than other countries’ surgeons)," boasted Trehan, 58, a former assistant professor at New York University Medical School, who said he earned nearly $2 million a year from his Manhattan practice before returning to India to found Escorts in 1988.

Hmm, so Staab’s surgeon got at least some of his training in the U.S. and earned $2 million a year here, which he could put toward starting a clinic in India. It begins to look like the U.S. medical system didn’t fail Staab at all.

And finally, the Post reporter notes:

Although they are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, hospitals such as Escorts typically are able to charge far less than their U.S. and European counterparts because pay scales are much lower and patient volumes higher, according to Trehan and other doctors. For example, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan costs $60 at Escorts, compared with roughly $700 in New York, according to Trehan.

Well, that may be because the standard of living in America is almost 13 times higher (according to several quickly-Googled sources) than in India. New Yorkers pay $700 because they can afford $700; that’s what the market dictates. I’m sure a t-shirt or a hot dog is much more expensive in New York than it is in India, too.

And why else might American medical costs be high? Staab’s surgeon knows.

Moreover, he added, a New York heart surgeon "has to pay $100,000 a year in malpractice insurance. Here it's $4,000."

There’s so much to say about the health care problem, but Heritage scholars and contributors say it better than I do (hint: the answer is not single-party or third-party payment), so check them out.

My fear is that when folks use Staab’s story (largely a vindication of free-market health care) to justify things like nationalized health care (and they will), none of us will have any health care left to gripe about anymore.

Posted on 10/22/04 03:44 PM by Mary Katherine Ham

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