What We Should Learn from American Dental Tourism in Mexico

American dental tourism in Mexico saves U.S. citizens thousands of dollars.

A friend of mine lived in the Seattle area in the early nineties. His experience was that people were constantly driving up to Vancouver, British Columbia, to get laser eye correction procedures. The circumstances that made this such a great deal were as follows: 1) Laser eye surgery was not covered by the Canadian “single payer” (i.e. government funded or socialist) healthcare system. 2) Laser eye surgery was covered by many insurance policies in the United States.

The first fact explained why laser vision correction was so cheap in Canada. People were offering the service in a free market context. This drove them to offer the best service at the best price possible. The second fact explained why so many found vision surgery too expensive in the United States. Insurance drove up the price so that, if you didn’t have the insurance, you found the procedure was expensive.

This is the basic difference. While the free market drives prices down and quality up, government programs do the opposite. (I will try to cover in a post some time how our own form of health insurance was driven by government mandates. A strict free market would never develop such irrationality.)

Now we find it happening with Mexico. The Associated Press reports, “Facing Rising Dental Costs, Seniors Head to Mexico.”

 Mark Bolzern traveled 3,700 miles to go to the dentist. The 56-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, native left home this spring, made a pit stop in Las Vegas to pick up a friend, and kept heading south, all the way to Los Algodones, Mexico, a small border town teeming with dental offices.

[…]

For Bolzern, seeing a dentist in Los Algodones meant a savings of up to $62,000. He was told the extensive dental work he needed – his teeth needed to be raised and he needed a crown on every molar – would cost $65,000 at a private dentist. He looked for lower rates, finding a dental school where the work was less expensive because it was performed by students. But it still cost $35,000.

He paid $3,000 in Mexico and has been back several times.

The issue is not simply that the Mexican government has left dentistry alone so that it operates in a free market. Things have changed on the American side that have driven up the price. That article acknowledges the change without making any connection:

About 60 percent of Americans have dental insurance coverage, the highest it has been in decades. But even so, the nation’s older population has been largely left behind. Nearly 70 percent of seniors are not insured, according to a study compiled by Oral Health America. A major reason is because dental care is not covered by Medicare and many employers no longer offer post-retirement health benefits. What’s more, the Affordable Care Act allows enrollees to get dental coverage only if they purchase general health coverage first, which many seniors don’t need. At the same time, seniors often require the most costly dental work, like crowns, implants and false teeth.

The result of the increase in the number of people with dental insurance is a price rise (though I’m sure there are other factors).

The cost of dental care has surged in the last two decades and continues to increase at a rate of 5 percent annually.

Once again we see a free market, where those offering a service must win the business of those who need the service, provides quality care and lower prices.

But the government does all it can to lie about the prosperity that freedom brings and promises to rescue us from the problems that it has caused in the first place.