Health Tourism: the saving grace for HCV sufferers in the U.S.

For many Hepatitis C sufferers in the U.S., getting the treatment that could cure them of the disease for good is difficult. Beyond difficult in fact, if they’re from a low-income background whose health insurance policy doesn’t cover the treatment. It’s not really surprising that so many health insurance plans don’t provide treatment for the illness however, when a course of treatment can cost up to $94,500; basically the cost of a small house or a Ferrari.

This issue has become something of a double-edged sword for sufferers of the disease in recent years; on the one hand there is now a cure for an illness that was previously incurable, on the other they may have to get into serious debt just to save their own life.

A ray of hope

Luckily for the patients who just can’t afford the hefty price tag of treatment, Gilead, the company who manufactures some of the drugs that can cure the illness, entered into an agreement with several companies in India in 2014 which gave them the right to manufacture and distribute the drugs. These companies now retail the drugs from roughly $900-$1250, a fraction of the cost you have to pay for the same treatment in the U.S.

Enter health tourism: a lot of companies who now specialise in sending patients abroad to get cheaper health treatment have also started making packages for Hep C patients. One company, Health Flights Solutions based in Florida, now runs a program that sends patients to India and other countries to avoid the hefty prices of the drug costs in the U.S., and works with companies and specialised hospitals to provide the best possible treatment. The total cost of all this, including flights and accommodation, still works out much cheaper than staying at home.

Challenging corporations

This new wave of medical tourism has become so popular that it’s starting to pose a threat to the big pharmaceutical companies; indeed why should you pay such an extortionate amount for treatment if you don’t have to? It’s not just HCV patients who are travelling overseas to get care, people suffering from cancer or in need of stem cell treatment, as well as sufferers from numerous other illnesses, often make the trip abroad to get cheaper or alternative treatment that isn’t available in the U.S. It’s estimated that 1,400,000 Americans will seek treatment overseas for their illnesses this year alone, spending on average $3,800-6,000 USD per visit.

The hypocritic oath

This all some seems slightly at odds, seeing as the U.S is one of the most developed countries in the world and pledges in its constitution to protect its citizens. Charging up to 100 times more for treatment that could save the lives of thousands of people each year seems a little hypocritical, so the fact that medical tourism could harm the pharmaceutical companies financially becomes irrelevant. Luckily many health insurance companies are starting to cover costs for treatment abroad in their packages when they are substantially cheaper, so more people will have the option to pursue this alternative if they can’t afford the severely reduced cost.

However the U.S health system still needs to step back and have a good analysis of current norms and practices that are clearly detrimental to society, in order to create a system that truly acts for the good of its patients, instead of forcing them to travel thousands of miles from home to fight for survival.   

Image: xlibber