Need Health Care? Go to Mexico

Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican strongman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, famously described his country’s situation by exclaiming, “¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” (Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States!)  I cannot say whether Mexico is now any closer to God, but its proximity to the United States is definitely proving to be a godsend for many Americans in need of medical and dental care.

Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry, estimated to bring in gross revenues now well in excess of $60 billion per year, and Mexico is a convenient destination for many Americans in need of pharmaceutical drugs, dental work, and surgical procedures. Prices may be as much as two-thirds below those in the United States for comparable goods and services. The Los Angeles Times reports, for example, that at Los Algodones, a Mexican town of about 10,000 population on the border with California, “dental offices outnumber restaurants 49 to nine. Add in the 26 pharmacies, 20 optical shops and 14 physicians offices, and you’ve got something of a mecca of medicine.” Similar towns may be found here and there along the entire Mexican border, especially across from Texas.

U.S. hospital firms are now investing in the construction of new care facilities in Mexico, to serve Mexicans, to be sure, but also with an eye toward the norteamericanos who are expected to seek their services.

These developments are one of the many unanticipated consequences of the jerry-rigged interventionist nightmare known as the U.S. health care system, which is geared to soak up money from people with so-called health care insurance (more accurately described as prepaid health care, because insurance principles have little to do with how the policies are formulated or implemented). If, like me, you have no insurance to cover noncatastrophic health contingencies, you quickly discover that the pricing arrangements for medical care in this country savagely discriminate against those who pay out of their own pockets. (Insurers have made arrangements for the providers to accept much less than I must pay on my own account.) So, a huge potential market exists for cross-border health care. Of course, too, Medicare does not pay for dental work, so that situation also draws many elderly customers south of the border.

If the Obama administration moves in the direction it has indicated it will seek to move, toward even greater government intervention in, or perhaps complete takeover of, the U.S. health care system, look for the growth of the Mexican health care industry to become extremely rapid. As the United States has long been to Canadians (who seek to escape from the national health care system up north), Mexico may become to Americans, who will need a similar refuge from their government’s “compassion.”

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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