Mexican authorities found the four American tourists who went missing last Friday after a kidnapping caused by what officials believe to be a case of mistaken identity. Two of the tourists were found dead while the two were alive. One of the survivors, however, is currently in critical condition.

Americans travel to Mexico as medical tourists

The tourists were driving a white minivan in the city of Matamoros, sporting North Carolina license plates. The gunmen who kidnapped them most likely mistook them for Haitian drug smugglers. However, the group was in Matamoros for a medical procedure using a common practice known as “medical tourism.”

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Led by Latavia “Tay” Washington McGee, who traveled to Mexico for a tummy tuck, a group of four people went to Mexico for an otherwise routine procedure. Accompanied by her friends Zindell Brown, Shaeed Woodard, and Eric Williams, McGee was only going to be in Mexico for a short while before going back across the border.

In addition to the tragic deaths of two of the four tourists traveling to Mexico, many are focusing on the group’s decision to partake in medical tourism, a surprisingly common practice amongst Americans. As the cost of domestic healthcare continues to rise, US citizens are deciding to seek out the same procedures for a fraction of the cost.

Medical tourism from America is very common in Mexico

In Mexico alone, more than 1 million Americans cross the border for some kind of medical procedure. Common destinations also include Canada and certain parts of South America. On average, Americans can expect to pay 40-90% less money on common medical procedures in Mexico.

Medical tourism is not only legal, it’s an industry on the rise. It generates millions of dollars annually, with significant growth each year. According to the president of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies’ Tourism Commission, Luis Alegre Salazar, “Medical tourism generated $3,270,000 in 2015, and $23 million in 2018.”

It’s no secret why. Medical procedures in Mexico are significantly cheaper while offering medical infrastructure that is, in many cases, comparable to the United States. According to another medical tourism company, the cost breakdown of each procedure shows the stark difference in pricing.

Health Tourism’s website offers an easy-to-read guide on how much you’d be saving by going with a Mexican healthcare provider.

Many are willing to take safety risks for access to affordable healthcare

Despite organizations like the CDC warning against medical tourism, for many Americans, it’s a matter of life and death. Major surgeries that would cost six figures in the US cost less than half of that in Mexico. And with an influx of companies dedicated to medical tourism, there are better and safer options popping up every year.

Cliches would have one believe people are traveling for risky procedures in second- or third-rate medical facilities. But this is often not the case at all. According to a report from the Legatum Institute, the US ranks 68th in global health care. Mexico ranks 79th.

This means that there are hospitals and facilities that are comparable to those in the United States. Especially when it comes to hotspots for medical tourism, like Mexico City. And at a fraction of the cost, the minor discrepancies in quality seem like a fair price to pay.