In the summer of 2010 I herniated a disc in my back, and after 4 painful months of denial & fear, I finally went to see a local doctor. It wasn’t that I don’t like doctors, or that I thought that it would just heal naturally, but rather the worry of how to pay for it kept me away. You see, I had a crappy high deductible ($5,000) health insurance policy, and I knew that an MRI would likely run between $3,000-$5,000 thus would have to be paid out of pocket. Our business had experienced a huge drop off after the 2008 economic crisis & that was a lot of money in the moment. (Still is!) Here’s how I saved a bundle & a list of expenses.
The pain had become nearly unbearable, so I went to see someone on our network physician list. Luckily, when I mentioned to our doctor that we were considering Peru for the MRI, she thought it was a good idea & cautioned that surgery is almost never really needed. This was in October, and we were fortunate to find some inexpensive tickets going to Lima in November for three weeks.
We arrived in Lima, and the very next day made an urgent appointment with a doctor. Right away, I noticed the big difference between a doctor visit in the States & in Peru. We actually spoke with the doctor for nearly half an hour(!) The initial consult fee was just S/. 80 ($24) Imagine spending an entire half hour with a doctor…and for less than the cost of a good dinner. This cost also included an injection to see if the pain was muscular or nerve related. (Luckily, it was muscular, and physical therapy was indicated.)
Our doctor recommended that we hold off on an MRI until we saw how I responded to physical therapy. I did however get an x-ray ($17,) and I went ahead with several acupuncture treatments in another facility ($17 each.) Physical therapy sessions ran about an hour and a half & cost about $11 each.
The x-ray revealed a slight misalignment in one of the vertebrae, perhaps due to a childhood injury. The doctor recommended an MRI for further information. I found a good, modern facility and made an appointment. Open air MRI, nice facility just US $238!
I continued with therapy and returned to the States in three weeks. I followed up with stretching exercises & within a few weeks the pain subsided completely, and I have been virtually without pain now for four years. (There have been a couple of short term flareups, but nothing nearly as bad as the original incident.)
Plane fare $600 (more like $800-$1,000 today) $ 600
Accommodations (3 weeks – nice hotel) * 1,200
Consult fee 24
Acupuncture (3 x $17) 51
Therapy sessions (10 x $11) 110
Taxis, transport etc 125
Meals (21 x $30) 630
Total Cost ** $ 3,295
* (Estimated) We stayed with my wife’s family, and this could be reduced by staying at a lower cost hostel etc.
** Your costs may vary. These are modest (but nice) accommodations, using taxicabs for travel, better meals etc. If you want 5 Star everything for the luxury traveler, it will be more!
This was about the cost of my MRI in the US, so it was an easy decision. It turned out that the much touted health care in the US pales in comparison to what I received in Peru. In total over the three weeks, I spent 2 1/2 hours with the doctor (no additional charge,) hours and hours of therapy, and all for a fraction of the cost.
Now you, the extremely frugal reader, may be saying that you don’t have that kind of money just lying around. For you, I recommend searching out the best airfares, staying in modestly priced hostels, “eating like a Peruvian,”* and using public transport. By using the National hospitals, clinics etc you can receive excellent care although there may be some waiting (not excessive,) and facilities may be smaller. You could easily save a third or more off of these already low (by US standards) costs.
* Lunch menus (the big meal of the day) can be as inexpensive as S/. 8-10 (US $2.80-3.50) and are large including soup, meat, rice, and salad (or beans.) Also included is the beverage! Eat a light breakfast in your room with some juice, and save yourself for a big lunch. At night, a light meal of bread or a sandwich shouldn’t be more than a few dollars.
As the cost of health insurance continues to rise (along with deductibles) Peru offers high quality care for incredibly lower cost. For many routine surgeries & procedures, it can be less than the cost of your deductible. The added advantage is that you can piggyback an amazing vacation adventure on top of your savings!
©2014 Ben Gangloff
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