Unfortunately, the public healthcare system can be substandard in Latin America, forcing citizens to either purchase an expensive private health insurance plan, suffer through the insufficient public healthcare system, or travel to the US in search of the care they need.
It’s important to note that Latin Americans don’t just travel to the US because they think the quality of treatment is better, but also due to a lack of trust in their countries’ governments. Many people in LATAM do not believe that they will be able to receive the care they need. In some cases, the type of treatment needed by Latin Americans does not even exist in their countries, leaving them no other option but to travel to receive treatment. On the other hand, many people in Latin America have trust and comfort in the US public healthcare system, and feel a sense of guarantee that they will receive the treatment they need quickly and with a high quality of care.
Healthcare designed for international patients
The US healthcare system provides a premium quality of care that people from all over the world wish to access. Many major hospitals in the US have established centres specifically for foreigners, making them readily able to accept new patients. In fact, the US healthcare system caters to international patients and the diverse revenue that they bring. Based on numbers from the US International Trade Commission, roughly 100,000 to 200,000 air travellers enter the US every year to receive medical treatment, with a large portion of these being from Latin America. Among the most common treatments for which people travel are cancer treatments, organ transplants, spinal surgeries, cardiac conditions, and in vitro fertilisation.
However, many Latin Americans travelling to the US are not just after healthcare that is known to be trustworthy, but treatment that can perhaps prolong their comfort or their life. Some Latin American healthcare systems simply do not have the money or resources to fund special treatments and can typically only offer basic treatment and services. On the other hand, the US healthcare system has funds that are specifically dedicated to research and development, meaning it can offer a vast amount of experimental and specialised treatments such as clinical trials to foreign patients. Not only does the US offer treatments that don’t even exist in Latin America, but it also provides a coordinated timeline for treatment that can get patients back to their home country in days.
Talking about Latin Americans travelling to the US for healthcare, Gitte Bach, CEO of New Frontier Group, stated: “With the guidance of Dr Ameet Deshmukh, CMO at New Frontier Group, we devote our services to creating the opportunity for our LATAM clients to get their policyholders into the US centres of excellence. The demand is high and detailed coordination is required. We truly understand our mission to create the best possible outcome for the patient.” Overall, having the ability to receive necessary medical treatment both quickly and reliably is something that is valued to a great extent by the people of Latin America.
Covid’s effect on international patient movement
While before the pandemic the routine of travelling to the US for treatment was fairly normalised and understood, now there is a whole new set of obstacles preventing Latin Americans from getting access to the US and the treatment they need.
2021 made things unexpectedly worse for those seeking healthcare from Latin America, with the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines. The problem is that due to supply shortages and most importantly lack of infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to manufacture vaccines on a large scale in Latin America. People in Latin America are not only weary of the shortages and long delays of getting the Covid-19 vaccine, but they also question the slow vaccine rollout programmes by their governments. Shortages were so bad in some countries in Latin America that when people went to go and receive their required second dose of the vaccine, it was unavailable. There were also reports of fake doses being seized by authorities, furthering the distrust between the people and governments in Latin America. In addition, many of the vaccines being administered in Latin America are not the same as those being administered in the US and in Europe, such as Pfizer and Moderna. This makes it difficult for people to travel to countries that do not accept a Latin American vaccine like CanSino, for example.
thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the US to take advantage of one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter
According to figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 212 million people had been fully vaccinated in the US in 2021. While in Latin America, some countries still had yet to reach the World Health Organization's target of 40 per cent vaccination coverage by 2021.
The pandemic has not only cost so much in terms of money, but in quality of life as well. There are thousands of Latin Americans who are waiting for their chance to get to the US not only for necessary treatments, but for the vaccine.
According to NBC News, ‘thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the US to take advantage of one of the world's most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter’. Individual patients have been suffering in Latin America where the healthcare system is poor, with their only option being to travel to get the care they need, but what happens when their ability to travel is taken away?
Unfortunately, the cost of the pandemic has been so great that even the US does not have the resources to prioritise international patients the way they used to. This gets more complicated when Latin American patients have received vaccines that are not accepted by the US or have not been able to get vaccinated at all, which leaves these patients with no access to the country or the specialised treatment they need. Many people in Latin America have been stuck in limbo for two years, waiting for a spot to open so that they can go to the US for medical care. In the meantime, many Latin Americans have unfortunately had to compromise on their treatment with what is available to them in their country, causing their conditions to worsen.
Care coordination essential to safety
While vaccination rates and Covid protocols have continued to rise and strengthen into 2022, so have the opportunities for Latin Americans to travel to the US for medical care. However, the coordination of these types of trips is extremely important, not only from a financial standpoint. What used to be quick trips for treatment have now turned into longer trips with more logistics and obstacles.
Paula Gamboa, Senior Director of Business Development LATAM at New Frontier Group, stated: “Many of our clients in Latin America have reached out to New Frontier Group and myself, requesting a way to access the US healthcare system. On a daily basis we facilitate the requests and we are happy to support the patient, the client and the healthcare facility.”
With that being said, it is not easy for an international patient to gain access to a centre of excellence in the US for specialised treatment, and many Latin Americans need a way in. Medical assistance and telehealth solutions companies can assist people through this process. It is important to use a trusted partner to ensure access to premium networks in the US, access to high-quality referrals, and to direct patients to the specialty healthcare providers. These companies can also help with funds, verify that hospital staff are available and healthy, and when applicable, coordinate telemedicine appointments with specialists that can offer guidance and a second medical opinion.
Overall, accessing the US healthcare system is necessary and invaluable for many, and the best way to ease that process is to find someone to work alongside you every step of the way.https://www.itij.com/latest/long-read/balancing-cost-and-quality-healthcare