Health tours of Mexico City

Anna Levit, 44, of Arlington Heights, is taking part in a tour of Mexico City by Chicago health professionals and others, part of a campaign to raise that city’s profile as a center for medical tourism. The campaign is aimed at residents in Chicago and other cities with large Mexican immigrant populations who need cancer treatment, heart surgeries, dental procedures and other health care. Levit hopes to have much needed-dental work performed while in Mexico. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)

Hospital officials said the care they provide is as good as, or in some cases better, than what patients can receive in Chicago.

"If a patient were to come to Mexico City, he would receive the same quality of care and safety standards because we are Joint Commission-accredited, just like the hospitals in the U.S.," said Nancy Stich, public relations and marketing director for American British Cowdray Medical Center in Mexico City. "In some cases, it's a higher standard of care."

Health professionals taking the tour say they want to judge for themselves.

Angie Millan, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, said she and her colleagues hear about patients going to Mexico all the time.

"Here in California, our patients cross the border frequently to see a dentist and get regular medical care," said Millan, nursing director for children's medical services for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "So I'm curious to see if it is equal and the same quality and if they hold the same standards. They believe they have world-class facilities there, so I'm interested in seeing for myself."

Although Millan said Mexican health care can be an option for some patients, she finds the situation sad because many of those who cross the border are uninsured.

"I think having insurance should be a right," she said. "It shouldn't be a privilege."

Although uninsured and underinsured patients are more likely to consider traveling to Mexico City, hospital officials also are appealing to those who have private insurance with high deductibles.

Last year, Aetna's chief medical director for the Midwest visited Mexico City at the invitation of government officials who were eager to tell her about their plans for outreach to the U.S. and wanted input from American insurance companies, said Scot Roskelley, communications director for Aetna's north central region.

The company started a cross-border plan in 2008 called Vitalidad Mexico con Aetna for certain California policyholders receiving health care in the Mexican cities of Mexicali, Tecate and Tijuana.

Roskelley said employers are not clamoring for such programs, but "there is a certain segment of the population that will be interested in it."

During the Mexico City tour, potential patients and health care providers will be guided through hospitals owned by the nation's two largest private hospital networks, Hospital Angeles and Medica Sur, which have Holiday Inns adjacent to their campuses, Garcia said.

"There, they'll be able to see the hotel rooms and talk directly with doctors," Garcia said.

The tourists also will be shown some of the city's 33 public hospitals, though those are not part of the medical tourism program, Garcia said.

Anna Levit, of Arlington Heights, has scheduled a bone graft in her jaw during the trip, the first phase of extensive dental work. She has been told her care would cost about $40,000 in Chicago but closer to $13,000 in Mexico City.