Mr. Erasmo García thinks that what saved him when he suffered from gallstones was that a neighbor quickly drove him to Tijuana to see a specialist urgently.
“I have health insurance here, from the United States,” explained Don Erasmo in a conversation with La Opinion, “but the options I have with insurance are not the best, at least for me.”
The alternatives given to the Los Angeles-area resident, when he began to suffer excruciating pain, were to see his doctor at an appointment almost two months later, or to be taken to a hospital emergency room, which, from the intense pain, he was about to agree.
“What stopped me was not that I was afraid of being operated on or anesthetized or those things, it was what I was going to have to pay out of pocket, even with the health insurance I am paying for,” he said.
A neighbor who found out about Don Erasmo’s condition was the one who invited him to travel two hours to Tijuana.
“Come on, he told me, let’s go so he can try it, if he sees that he doesn’t like it, we’ll go back”. She told me that “I know that she is not going to make the ugly, much less the prices”.
The result was that in a hospital in Tijuana they called a specialist doctor who took half an hour to drive to the place, they admitted him, “they say they took a stone from me, pure bile.”
When he woke up he decided to stay at a nearby hotel, not stay in the hospital, but even with that, “all I paid was a fraction of what I would have had to pay in co-payment in Los Angeles,” he calculated.
Don Erasmo is one of the more than two and a half million residents of the United States who cross the border to the state of Baja California every year in search of medical services “of high quality, without long waiting times, and for rates that are fractions of what they would have to pay locally,” said Dr. Ricardo Vega Montiel, general secretary of the Baja California Health Conglomerate.
Vega and other representatives of Medical Tourism from the neighboring state visited Los Angeles this weekend on a promotional tour of some of the main cities in the United States.
Dr. Vega Montiel told La Opinion that the reputation for high-quality medical services in Baja California “is nothing new, it has been built over 90 years, but recently it has intensified.”
He said that one of the biggest attractions of medical tourism is the remarkable price disparity.
Even when specialist doctors in Baja California accept US health insurance, “insurers have told us that they are very happy to pay south of the border only a fraction of what they would have to pay for the same services in California or other states,” Vega said.
But the other main attraction of receiving care in Baja California is, as Don Erasmo discovered, that the medical agenda or waiting time is notably faster south of the border.
“In the United States, the average waiting time to perform a more or less serious surgery is up to seven months; in Tijuana they prepare everything in about four or five weeks,” said the doctor.
“Even an appointment with a family doctor can have a wait of six weeks to two months, while making an appointment with a specialist in Baja California can take a few days,” he compared.
He adds that in the previous promotional tour of the United States, unionists from Nevada were greatly admired because their waiting time for a routine appointment with their doctor is three months or even more.
“That’s why it’s called medical tourism, because patients make a visit to Baja California that can be a vacation,” Vega said.
He said that in the same day, a family can be served according to the specialties.
“The aunt is attended by the dentist, the mother by the gynecologist, the young man by a nutritionist, the father by the urologist; they take all prescription drugs, which cost them a fraction of what they would cost in the United States, and before they return they eat in an excellent restaurant because we have one of the highest culinary standards,” said Vega.
Even to return to the United States after visits, medical tourists can use vehicular lanes at the checkpoints or ports of entry where it takes much less time to cross the border, explained Dr. Rodrigo Robledo Silva, president of the Medical Health Conglomerate .
“We have two lanes for medical passes at the San Ysidro port of entry and one at the Otay port,” they are much less crowded lanes than the usual ones and in which the border authorities check aware that travelers are returning from medical care or therapy, Robledo explained.
Although not all doctors are authorized to issue medical passes, patients can ask before making an appointment.
During the first year of the pandemic, one of the essential reasons that US residents crossed the border into Tijuana was to continue medical treatment.
Robledo also highlighted that the specialist doctors in Baja California have top-notch equipment, and a code is being prepared to deal with all complaints that arise.
Many of the disputes are handled by professional associations in Baja California or Mexico, as well as by US consular representatives.
The other reason why it is called Medical Tourism is that when visiting cities in Baja California for medical care, visitors usually take the opportunity to eat, stay, shop and even visit acquaintances.