Chapter 1 Page 2
Fast forward to April 2005, a year later. My phone rings in Connecticut, a little too early. “Did you see 60 Minutes last night?” the voice asks. I hadn’t, actually; instead, I had been sitting in a gymnasium in West Haven listening to my son play clarinet with his high school concert band. But I had known what 60 Minutes was doing. Weeks before, Ruben Toral, who is responsible for public relations at Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand, had told me that CBS had been filming there.
Later, I watch a tape of the show and am frankly astonished that it portrays medical care in Thailand and India as being of the highest quality, and at a fraction of the cost of the same care in the United States. The lid is off, I think. It is not a new story to me, of course; but that 60 Minutes had done it raised the credibility level. If there was something awful about medical tourism, anything especially dangerous about going overseas for health care, surely they would have found it?
Millions of people saw the show. Hundreds of thousands of people — at least the ones who have already been overseas for health care — felt vindicated, a little less crazy. The next morning, I read, on a prominent mailing list on the Internet, this comment:
“This could turn out to be one of the most important stories 60 Minutes has ever produced. First, because it addresses one of the most critical issues in America: rising health-care cost (combined with the uninsured), and second, because the show’s audience are the prime consumers of these services: the aging baby-boomers. While I can see that it might take a few years for flying to Asia for major surgery to catch on, I predict that insurance companies will eventually find a way to use these options to force U.S. health-care providers to lower their prices. (Of course, then the battles in Congress will start …)”
Whatever sense I had of being privy to a secret vanished.