LAKE GENEVA (WAOW) -- $60,000. That's how much Jesse Hughes estimates a dentist would charge to fix his teeth.
"My Mom always said to take care of your teeth or they're going to fall out, and she was right," said Hughes.
Hughes, 48, admits there was some neglect over the years. Like many, his employers rarely offered insurance.
"As the years progressed, medical and dental insurance became less and less available to me--whether employers didn't offer it or I just didn't have it," Hughes said.
The thought of getting snowed by dental bills to fix problems along the way didn't sit well and his teeth got worse.
"I had fillings that would fall out, and I wouldn't get them replaced because I would fear of the cost amount to get them fixed. So, my teeth became weak and started to fall out and break off. I had to have some procedures done to take those teeth out. And, it became hard for me to eat. Thus, I had to chew with the front of my teeth. I've been doing a lot of eating with my front teeth. They're wearing down dramatically. In the last year they've really warn down. They're getting pretty painful. They're getting pretty ugly, and this opportunity came by to do something about them. And, I'm taking the opportunity to do something about it."
Now, Hughes is paying the price, but not as much as you might think. He's part of a growing number of people getting medical services in foreign countries. It's called medical tourism. Hughes' procedure in Central America is all made possible by Tim and Vicki Morales. The Morales' started Costa Rican Medical Care out of Lake Geneva three years ago. In the last nine months they've set up trips to Costa Rica for patients, like Hughes, to get what they call quality medical procedures at discounted prices. In some cases patients are saving 30-70 percent.
"Of course, it all has to do with whatever the procedure is. A colonoscopy can be done for $3,000-$6,000 throughout the United States. That can be done for $600. A complete physical can be done for $1,400 with the colonoscopy included and lab and blood work. That type of thing in this country would be $5,000," said Tim Morales of Costa Rican Medical Care.
As for liability related to the procedures, there isn't medical malpractice insurance in Costa Rica. Tim Morales says you can purchase a policy to protect yourself prior to your trip. We talked with leaders at the Department of Consumer Protection and the Department of Health Services: both say they are not involved in regulating medical tourism and don't have a stance on it. We also talked with the president of a non-profit group called PROMED. PROMED represents only those clinics and hospitals meeting standards they approve for international patients.
"They obviously know that an international, let's say U.S. patient, will be more attracted if the hospital in Costa Rica is accredited to the same standard they are used to when they visit a clinic in Lake Geneva for example. So, obviously accreditations are seals of approval and an element that gives these patients security," said Massimo Manzi, executive director of PROMED.
Hughes spent his second day in Costa Rica in a dental chair. Doctors removing his teeth to make room for the temporaries they'll put in place until his new teeth are ready. The rest of the 10 day trip--a sunset vacation to recover--all of it the Morales' say is researched. They spent the first two years in business vetting the hospitals and doctors in Costa Rica.
"The hospitals we have agreements with in Costa Rica--there's three that are JCI accredited. That stands for Joint Commission International. JCI goes around the world and accredits hospitals to standards to make sure that they are up to speed on everything. The same goes with the doctors and clinics. We not only go out and work with clinics that are accredited by other organizations, but we also work to make sure they work to American standards," said Morales.
They utilize two hospitals in San Jose and now book trips for anything from breast implants and liposuction to hip replacements, heart surgeries and in Hughes case full mouth restoration.
"It really does feel good to know we're helping people get affordable, quality health care. That's what we set out to do," said Morales.
Hughes will still pay $17,500 for 6 implants and permanent dentures using the same material doctors in the States work with.
He said, "The quality of life I have right now is embarrassing. It's difficult. It's painful at times. And, when I look at my teeth it takes me back and it almost scares me."
Hughes just returned from his trip. He's doing well and will return in four months to have his permanent teeth put in. We plan to check in with him as his next procedure approaches.