Americans could be next to take advantage of Cuba medical tourism

As the US and Cuba continue to restore diplomatic relations, industries such as medical tourism are already making plans.

Thousands of people from varying countries head to Cuba each year for medical tourism. They travel abroad to receive medical procedures or medical care because it’s less expensive or not available where they live.

As hopes of the embargo lifting continue, companies such as Health Flights Solutions out of Orlando, Florida have begun contacting health administrations in Cuba to be the first in line to extend the services to Americans.

Anuja Agrawal, who runs Health Flights Solutions, says she does not want to miss her chance. “There was a lot of excitement about it. For them, they’re looking at it literally like winning the lottery,” Explaining that if Americans start traveling to Cuba for affordable medical treatments, it could mean a big economic boost for Cuba’s health system.

The Obama administration has relaxed American travel to Cuba for a range of reasons including:

  • Family visits
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  • Journalistic activity
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Educational activities
  • Religious activities
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Support for the Cuban people
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutions
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
  • Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines

However, travel to the island for general tourism and health care purposes are still not permitted, although many Cuban-Americans who travel to Cuba for family visits schedule medical treatments.

“It’s a relaxation, a loosening of the restrictions,” Agrawal said, adding that once the door is open, “I always think it’s going to get looser and looser.”

Chief executive of the Florida-based Medical Tourism Association, Jonathan Edelheit, said there are some American hospitals expressing interest in forming partnerships with medical institutions in Cuba. In other countries, these types of partnerships are often related to medical tourism

Mr. Edelheit says, “You’re going to see a tremendous amount of movement, whether it’s travel agents or medical tourism facilitators, so once it does normalize, they can start sending patients over there”.

Forty-seven-year-old David McBain from Toronto, who fractured his spine in a car accident and says he flew to Cuba three times last year to receive extensive physical therapy through Toronto company, Global HealthQuest.

The company is run by Rosemary Toscani and Ben Soave who say they regularly send patients to Cuba for things such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, physical therapy and treatment for retinitis pigmentose, an eye disease.

McBain explains that “The physiotherapists and the doctors are extremely knowledgeable and well trained in Cuba, and you just can’t beat the price. The price is a fraction of what it would be in Canada or the U.S. for a therapist.”

McBain, who is partly paralyzed, said he was treated for several weeks at a Havana facility where he paid about $200 per day, which included comfortable room and board and six hours of physical therapy each day. He says in Canada, he would be charged about $93 per hour.

“We have people asking, ‘Where can we go to get the best care?’ ” Soave said. “They’re thinking health, not politics.”

According to a study by the Medical Tourism Association, popular destinations for Americans seeking medical tourism include the UK, Canada, Singapore, Israel and Costa Rica. The most common procedures sought are weight loss, cancer treatment, spinal and cosmetic surgery.