By Simon Black
It's a weird indicator, but I sometimes measure the strength of the US economy by the weight of my carry-on bag.
You see, friends of mine who don't have medical insurance (most of them in the US) often ask if I can bring them discounted pharmaceuticals from Thailand.
The price difference is staggering, whether you're talking about common prescription medications like Lipitor, Cialis, and Hydrocodone (which can be quite pricey without insurance), or more exotic medications which treat certain types of cancer.
Depending on how many requests I get, my carry-on can get really heavy. This usually tells me that disposable income is low, and the state of the US medical care system is worsening.
If people can't afford prescription medications, it's often because they've been dumped from a job, COBRA ran out, or costs have simply run too high.
So I wasn't surprised this time around when I had to purchase an extra bag just to carry everyone's medication.
Fortunately, many physicians here are sympathetic and willing to play along. They understand how much people in 'rich' countries can get screwed on medical care, both in terms of price and quality.
People often presume that the medical care in the developed West is the best in the world.
But over the years, it's become a centralized, bureaucratic mess. In the Land of the Free, Obamacare contains enough destructive provisions to put a bullet in whatever remains of US medical care quality.
Given how royally governments screw up everything else they touch (from geopolitical stability to children's education to the purchasing power of the currency), it's insane to cede control of individuals' medical care to this same group of incompetents.
In Thailand, private medical care is excellent, efficient, and tremendously cost effective.
Many of the international hospitals are more like five-star hotels and luxury shopping malls. And there's very little waiting.
The quality of the care is also first rate. Many of the doctors were trained at western universities and fellowships.
One of the physicians I met yesterday received her MD in Singapore, plus a Masters degree and PhD in her field at a top university in California, and then another fellowship at Harvard.
Aside from her professional qualifications and perfect English, her charm was very inviting. Yet a 40-minute consultation set me back a whopping $31.
When I asked why she didn't stay to practice in the United States, she looked at me like I was crazy for even asking the question--
"I like the US just fine. But I really prefer living in Thailand, the lifestyle here is so much better. Plus, I actually get to practice medicine here. I'm not a slave to insurance companies or regulations."
"Sure, I could probably earn a higher salary in the US. But when you factor in the cost of malpractice insurance and things like that, plus the difference in the cost of living, I'm doing far better here. And I'm happier. There's no rat race."
Very wise words indeed.
As weak as the Thai baht is right now, it's a good time to consider any medical or dental procedures you may have been putting off. The cost savings will more than offset the travel expense, and many hospitals even roll this into package deals.