Health costs send many to Mexico, study finds

by Lesley Politi on May 28, 2009

The problem with going to Mexico for such services would be the need to see the doctor that is treating you right away. Of course if you live in San Diego, it wouldn’t be such an issue but what about the people from cities further? Sad that the alternative is to leave the country.
By Bobby Caina Calvan



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Published: Wednesday, May. 27, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Nearly a million Californians, perhaps hundreds of thousands more, cross the border to Mexico every year because they cannot afford the rising cost of health care in the United States, according to UCLA researchers.

The study by the school’s Center for Health Policy Research, published Tuesday in the journal Medical Care, affirms what has long been suspected – that the untamable cost of medicine is forcing many, particularly Latino immigrants, to look outside California for medical and dental care. As casualties from the recession rise and as budget-strapped government programs eliminate health services, more people are expected to head south to fill prescriptions, get teeth fixed or undergo care for chronic illnesses.

According to the study, at least 952,000 California adults – 488,000 of them described by the study as Mexican immigrants and about a quarter as non-Latino whites – head south annually for their medical, dental and prescription services.

The number seeking care in Mexico may actually be much larger, because findings are based on 2001 data from the California Health Interview Survey and do not take into account today’s higher rates of unemployment and the increasing rate of the medically uninsured.

“We suspect the number has grown by leaps and bounds,” said Gil Ojeda, executive director of the California Program on Access to Care, which is housed at UC Berkeley‘s School of Public Health.

The recession has left many people out of work and without health insurance. About 6.6 million Californians were medically uninsured in 2007, and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be without insurance, according to the California HealthCare Foundation.

What’s more, deep cuts in the state budget mean that fewer people can benefit from government health programs. This summer, the state plans to eliminate the adult Denti-Cal program.

“What’s going to happen is that a lot of people are going to cross over the border to get their dental care,” Ojeda said.


The UCLA researchers said their study is the first large-scale data analysis ever published on U.S. residents crossing the border for health services.

“Until now, no one had a really good sense of how common this was,” said Steven Wallace, the study’s lead author and associate director of the UCLA health research center.

The vast majority travel to Mexico from Southern California, although about a fourth are from Central and Northern California, according to the study.

“They’re not crossing the border because they have the flu,” Wallace said. “It’s the more significant illnesses. It’s for chronic conditions and types of medical care that require more extensive testing and consultations.”

While the study did not compare costs for services on both sides of the border, the leading motivation for crossing into Mexico was to save money, particularly among medically uninsured immigrants, Wallace said.

Non-Latino whites crossed the border to take advantage of lower pharmaceutical prices, researchers said.


I have always heard of people going to Mexico and loading up on the prescriptions because of the low cost but never heard of going for dental work and testing. 925,000 is a very large number of Southern California’s residents using these services. The number is going to only grow as Insurance rates rise and the price for basic services gets more expensive.

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