Eye doctors and dentists dominate a block in Los Algodones. Eye doctors and dentists dominate a block in Los Algodones.

It was cotton but now it’s medical tourism

Los Algodones receives over 100,000 medical tourists a year

The population of the small border town of Los Algodones, Baja California, is now seeing its annual seasonal increase, as are many Mexican destinations. The difference here is that the visitors come for medical reasons.

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Located about 50 kilometers from the state capital of Mexicali, Los Algodones was originally an agricultural town dedicated to the harvest of cotton, hence the name. But the economy started shifting after the first medical consultation office opened in 1986. Thirty years later, the medical tourism boom is far from over.

The season begins in December and stretches until March, driven by Americans and Canadians traveling south for dental and other medical services and cheaper medications.

Known also as Vicente Guerrero, the town’s economy is centered around a three or four-block stretch on five streets where visitors spend an estimated US $6 million annually. Its population numbers just 4,000 but it boasts some 350 medical clinics.

Los Algodones in particular and Mexico in general are preferred by patients from abroad for the lower costs of all medical services.

Oncologist José Luis Díaz Barbosa offered the example of a young leukemia patient he treated. “In one month her parents spent $2 million [in the United States].”

Having depleted their insurance, the child was brought to Díaz, whom they paid only $10,000. “It’s a big difference,” said the medical specialist.

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“The United States has left behind its retired people, along with those of Latin origin. They are not properly cared for, and everything is more expensive there, that’s why they come to Mexico,” Díaz said.

Francisco is a Mexican dental patient, but a resident of Santa Rosa, California.

“Dental care there [in the United States] is extremely expensive . . . without insurance, a single crown costs between $2,500 and $3,000. In Los Algodones, the price is $250 or $300.”

Another patient, Ronny, found a similarly cheaper price. “They were charging me $60,000 [in the U.S.], but I paid, more or less, some $6,000.”

American visitors usually cross the border on foot. Once on the Mexican side they are offered medical and dental services by salesmen with good English.

Los Algodones has some 400 dentists, of whom one estimates that 70% of their patients are American. “The rest are from Canada, and many stay here three to five months.”

He claims to see about 40 new patients every day.

According to one estimate, Mexicali welcomed nearly 192,000 medical tourists in 2013. The figure for Los Algodones was nearly 119,000.

Source: Milenio (sp), 20 Minutos (sp)

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  • Jumex

    The cheapest dental work by an unknown person in another country 10X cheaper then yours. ?

    No Thanks.

    • Kenneth Holmes

      You need to know what you are talking about B4 you shout off with “no thanks”. About 11 years ago in Los Algodonas I had all of my lower front replaced with permeant teeth I have never had a problem. I have since had much dental work done here in Mexico. Much, much cheaper and never a problem. Ken Holmes

    • TioDon

      I didn’t move here for the cheap dental work but wound up needing some bridge work done. My local dentist is great, modern and knowledgeable and is 1/10th cost of those theives in the US. I know that, because of all the regs in the US the dentist have to charge more but….they are not better.

      • I wouldn’t call the docs in the U.S. thieves. They have to charge a fortune just to pay their malpractice insurance due to the litigious nature of U.S. culture.

  • gypsyken

    Being in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and needing to have some likely cancerous skin growths removed (I have had many basal or squamous cell carcinomas removed over the years, so I know what they look like), I made an appointment at a “dermatology clinic.” There were many patients in the waiting room and the place seemed to me to be a “medical assembly line.” First, a technician asked me the reason for my visit and noted what I told her about growths on my nose, face, and ears. Then a young D.O., who I assumed was a dermatologist, spent all of two minutes examining the growths and marking them to be removed. Then a physician’s assistant, assisted by a technician, removed the growths. In San Antonio Tlayacapan, by contrast, I was seen and procedures were done only by a dermatologist, assisted by someone when necessary. I cannot make a procedure-by-procedure cost comparison, but I think that paying out-of-pocket the total cost of seeing a dermatologist in San Antonio Tlayacapan cost less than paying the 20% Medicare copay here, and I liked my experiences in S.A.T. much better. Moreover, I found when I got home from the clinic that one of the growths had not been removed, so I must return for that to be done.

    Many people in the Valley go to Mexico for dental work (also, of course, to buy medications, although they cost more just across the border than they do farther south), and some Mexican dentists advertise in the local free newspapers. One of the RV magazines I receive recently featured an article on having dental work done in Mexico at much less cost. My experience with a dentist in San Antonio Tlayacapan was every bit as good in every way as my experience with a dentist in Texas.

    I worked in health care in the U.S., and the fundamental problem with it is that it is provided in order to make as much as money as possible.

    • Having lived in the middle of Mexico for 17 years, I can tell you that healthcare here is just as good — if you use the private system, not the government, which also can be good but it varies — as what you’ll get in the U.S. Costs a fraction and there’s no assembly line element to it. Again, I’m talking about the higher-end private level, which is affordable out of pocket, unless there is nothing in your pocket.

      Just one of the many advantages of living in Mexico and not in Obamaland.

      • gypsyken

        Thank you. But I’d much prefer continuing to live in Obamaland than living under the coming rule of Il Duce, whose white supremacist fascism is anathema to me, and whose rule I will oppose in every way I can.

        • Oh, Ken, were I you I’d hightail it as soon as possible. Il Duce has plans to put all you people into work camps in Montana, and there will be no medical care whatsoever. Vague rumors hint at ovens.

          • gypsyken

            So you’re saying that Il Duce has property in Montana. Eliminating medical care is only what he, his appointee to head Health and Human Services, and the Speaker and other Republicans in the Congress intend to do for millions of poor Americans, and if he has financial interests in the manufacture of crematoria, their use to get rid of dissenters would not surprise me at all.

  • “The United States has left behind its retired people, along with those of Latin origin.”

    Oh, sure, there is official discrimination against old Latinos in the U.S. They just cannot get medical care. Woe is us.

  • mikegre

    The dentist quoted in the article claims he sees 40 patients a day. In an eight hour work day, that come out to 12 minutes per patient. Barely enough time for the novocaine to take affect!

    • Pogo

      Perhaps it’s a dental clinic with a team. I don’t know, but I too noticed the disparity.

    • William Marano

      What Novacaine??

  • Anthony Tellier

    In San Felipe (Baja) medical care is Inexpensive but not “cheap” … we get bi-annual dental check-ups+ X-rays + re-do on old fillings … zero qualms. Glasses’ Rx + frames, lenses … the same. Had a couple of emergency sutures required/performed … cannot tell “where” the stitches were “done”. Had a colonoscopy done in Mexicali … zero issues. Got a video of the procedure’s “internals”. Extremely tight/restrictive re: “Rx” drugs, e.g., Xanax-types. Due to continuous regulatory oversight, SF Rx-es do not carry that type, at all.

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