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USA: Obama wants to curb medical tourism to Mexico and India

In response to a question about why US health insurance won't cover medical expenses incurred abroad, US president Barack Obama answered that his aim is to change the US healthcare system to discourage Americans from seeking medical treatment in India and Mexico. ”My preference would be that you do not have to travel to Mexico or India for cheap healthcare. I would like you to be able to get high quality treatment right here in the United States of America. Before we go down the path of you can go somewhere else to get your healthcare, let us work to see if we can reduce the costs of healthcare here in the United States of America. That is going to make a big difference. Prices of prescription drugs must be brought down so that you don't feel like you are getting cheated because you are paying 30% more or 20% more than prescription drugs in Canada or Mexico."

The Indian press in particular has picked up on the comments. Watch the YouTube video - Obama targets India again.

While previously having stayed neutral on medical tourism, in the run up to the elections last November, Obama repeatedly brought up off-shoring to India and indicated how he intended to change rules to keep US jobs from going to India to save money. There has been a strong suggestion that Obama wants to reduce the US spending on overseas goods and services, partly to protect US jobs and partly to help solve economic problems; but the speech at a community college in Virginia is the first time that he has openly attacked medical tourism.

Although almost always promoting medical tourism to Americans as offering vastly cheaper treatment in India than in the USA, Indian politicians and doctors have taken offense at Obama suggesting that Indian healthcare is cheap. Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says, "Affordable healthcare does not mean our medicine is inferior to any superpower." Dr Naresh Trehan of Global Health adds, “People from advanced countries like the US come to India because the quality of medical treatment here is at par, at times even superior, and more affordable.” Dr H. Sudarshan Ballal of Manipal Health Enterprises, agrees, "Cheap means sub-standard. It is definitely not the truth about healthcare in India. The medical care here is on par with, if not better than, in the US." Dr Vinay Agarwal of the Indian Medical Association is unconcerned; " It only tells us that the US feels threatened by India as we are competing with them in providing quality healthcare at a cheaper cost. People in the US are conscious about quality but are still choosing India because all health technologies are available here while the cost is 10 to 15 times less."

In the college speech Obama said his plan is to ask the wealthy to pay more, which would save Medicare and Medicaid by making them more efficient, and would increase spending on education, energy research and roads. He described Medicare as one of the most important pillars of US social safety net. Medicare is a government run social insurance programme providing health insurance coverage to people aged 65 and over and Medicaid is a health programme for people with low incomes and resources. A Republican budget plan passed by the House of Representatives would gut Medicare and Medicaid to finance more tax cuts for the wealthy, Obama said.

Obama’s comments have to be taken in the context that he faces stiff opposition from Republicans on health reform and decreasing the budget deficit –while attempting a tight rope act of reducing government spending at the same time as increasing government spending on healthcare.

Source IMTJ