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Everyone agrees that the uniquely American situation of limitless healthcare expenditures to cover limited healthcare access is a problem, but it's a problem that got so big that no one can agree on exactly how it got that way, and even less on what to do about it.

So we ignore it, or fight about it, and hope it will resolve itself.

It won't.

We hope someone will come and fix it for us.

They won't.

Why would they? It's great business!

Over several years I've become obsessed with medical travel—what most people know of as “medical tourism”. It seems to me a big problem that America has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but even though we're the only ones that have let it get so out of hand, we act like that's the only way it could ever be. For a country that prides itself in ingenuity, Americans are uncharacteristically fatalistic about our healthcare. If you get sick you may go bankrupt, that's just the way it is—at least, that's the way people seem to feel.

On a superficial level, it makes no sense that I see America's crassly commercial care industry, so I turn to medical tourism for the a solution. After all, medical tourism is the embodiment of crass commercialism in medicine. It's like patent medicine, all over again. full of exaggerated, sensationalist marketing in which (alleged) patients give exaggerated, unverifiable, testimonials about (suspiciously) miraculous cures and other (literally) incredible claims.

Past the obvious charlatans, I see web sites that only contract with reputable hospitals. Okay, that's better. But then I wonder why they charge $50 to refer you somewhere. As a longtime international traveler, expat, and digital-nomad, I know from my own experience in multiple clinics and hospitals in multiple countries over multiple years, that making the appointment is easy. All you have to do is send then an email asking for it. In fact, many hospitals and clinics have staff whose entire job is to manage international patients like you and me. The idea of paying a middleman to arrange this for me strikes me as idiotic, and it looks to me like they're taking advantage of people who haven't traveled enough to know how easy it is to do it themselves, too inexperienced to know how unnecessary the middleman is. It looks like they're exploiting people that don't know that if you want an appointment, all you have to do is ask.

Furthermore, there are no certifications or licenses required to work in the medical tourism industry. Why on earth would you pay an unlicensed, inexperienced, utterly unqualified, stranger to look at your private medical records before they send an email that you can send yourself? The whole thing stinks.

Additionally, as someone who is involved in medical travel, I also know that these medical tourism facilitators are making a commission on that email—I mean "referral"—they are charging the customer for, and not even required to disclose it. If a blogger can't link to an innocuous product on Amazon.com without disclosing that it's an affiliate link they might make a few cents (4-8% of the purchase price) off of, how do untrained, unlicensed people get away with getting paid to suggest medical care to people, without being required to tell the patient how much they're getting paid for it, and how the financial agreement they have with the hospital has an impact on their referrals?

Medical tourism in an industry that can literally be a matter of life or death, and yet it's also an industry of practically nonexistent disclosure or oversight.

Medical tourism is sick, as well. American healthcare is not alone. These financial incentives of them both are deeply misaligned.

Sometimes I look at the medical tourism industry and I think, “Why am I doing this? Why have I chosen this as what I want to do with my life?”

This why:

I think medical tourism can help cure America's crassly commercialized care industry.

If someone were to tell you that it is impossible to fly from Europe to the United States for under $2,000, you would know it's a lie. You'd know this because it takes you less than a minute to take your pick of several flight search engines, which you can use to find multiple deals at a fraction of the price. You can do this for hotel booking, for buying items online—you can do this for almost everything now.

Thanks to the pricing transperency, it's no longer possible to exploit consumer ignorance for most products and services. Except for medicine.

Right now, Americans pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for prescription medications that cost a fraction of the price everywhere else in the world. Officially, Americans nt allowed to import prescription drugs from outside the United States, even if it's made by the exact same pharmaceutical company, in the exact same laboratory, as the drugs approved by the FDA. Is it so wrong to plan a trip outside of the country, have a dream vacation, and come home with a personal 3 month supply of identical, but reasonably-priced, medicine?

Right now, Americans go into debt or even go bankrupt because when they or someone they love gets sick, their choice can be to pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, or forgo medical treatment. They do this because they don't know any alternative. There's nowhere to go to price medical treatments, and find out whether what the need has to cost that much, or if they can get the same thing from someone just as qualified, for a much better price.

Well Traveled wants to help people find the care they need for prices they can afford.

I started Well Traveled because I can envision a better way, in the not too distant future. I can envision a world in which an American is told that their prescription will cost them thousands of dollars, so they find where they can get the same thing for a lower price. I can envision a world where instead of going bankrupt, an American goes to another country for treatment, and comes back with their health and finances intact. And I can imagine a slightly more distant future, where this kind of consumer pressure forces prices in America to go down to a normal level.

I can envision a day when there is no point in being Well Traveled, because the prices of healthcare and medicine are proportionate to the rest of the local economy. This is possible, but it will take some time. Until that day, Well Traveled is here to help you find the care you need for prices you can afford.

Sincerely,
Mic Dai Zovi
Founder