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Mexicali With Medical Tourism Helps Under-insured

Mexicali With Medical Tourism Helps Under-insured

Monday, May 21, 2012

               

 

MEXICALI, MX - On a recent Saturday morning, a group of strangers gathered in the parking lot of the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas. There they boarded a van, with Baja California, Mexico license plates, that would take them to prearranged dentist’s and doctor’s visits in the Mexican border town of Mexicali. 

 

The new monthly van service from Las Vegas is subsidized by the Mexicali tourism board. The cost for each patient is just $30 round trip.

 

The four patients on board heard about the trips through word of mouth, or were recruited by Mendoza, who promotes the trips on Spanish language radio.

“I'm one of those Americans without any healthcare, cause it’s just been too expensive for me to carry any kind of program,” said patient Walt Michaels, a self-employed 62-year old.

Michaels plans to take advantage of this van to take care of dental work he needs done over several trips, though on this visit, his eye is the priority.

“One day, I woke up and couldn’t see out of my right eye,” Michaels explained. “I'm going down here to get a diagnosis of what I need to get done with it.”

 “It seems like good medical attention, in comparison with where we live in the United States, in Las Vegas,” said Oscar Menendez, who is an unemployed welder. “If you don’t have insurance, it is really tough.”

All the passengers said they’d like Mexicali to be their new destination for medical care.

“It will be an adventure,” Isabel Menendez said, “And a vacation at the same time.”

When the group arrived in Mexicali, the city’s tourism director, Omar Dipp, met them in their hotel lobby.

 “The main objective is attracting more tourists, who will come and take care of their medical needs down here, and make their experience down here more likeable and then make you even stay a little bit longer,” Dipp said.

His office is vying for more tourists from the Southwest, such as the Coachella Valley, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

 “Vegas is a big Latin community,” said Dipp.  “And the lack of medical coverage in Nevada, that is an important factor.”

But all the marketing aside, what is really bringing the patients is the cost factor. From the crisis, the economic crisis that is going on through the U.S., we are getting a lot more patients coming over here to tend to their medical needs,” Dipp said.

It was evening when Michaels met his young, confident doctor in a sleek clinic that looked more like a trendy art gallery than a hospital.

The doctor acted a professional manner and made a thorough exam. He used a number of modern looking machines to test Michaels’ eyes, and then displayed pictures of Michaels’ retinas on a video monitor.

The doctor concluded that Michaels has cataracts. Michaels agreed to return in a few weeks to do the surgery with that same doctor. It will be a major procedure, and he’ll spend days in Mexicali to get it done.

And that is exactly why tourism director Omar Dipp is investing in the van that brought Michaels here.

“We are betting long term here,” Dipp said. “We understand that even though if these patients just came for a small consult -- eventually they will be coming back on their own.”

 

The next day, the patients pile back in the van, satisfied, with bags of medicines purchased from Mexican pharmacies at a significant discount.

When they pulled up to the border crossing, they found another incentive for the next visit:. a new lane for foreigners. The van entered the special lane, and zoomed past the traffic on the Mexican side of the crossing.

 

Patient Walt Michaels was impressed.

“Unbelievable. We have what, five cars in front of us? We just saved ourselves a lot of time” Michaels said.

Though there was still a very long day of driving ahead.


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