Medical tourism's dark side revealed
By the Medical Vacations in Costa Rica staff
Six arrests and a continuing investigation have illuminated a dark
side of medical tourism.
The allegation is that physicians and recruiters targeted low-income
residents of the country and caused them to sell their internal organs,
Detained June 18 was Francisco Mora Palma, chief of nephrology at the
public Hospital Calderón Guardia. He is believed to have done up
to 550 kidney transplants at private hospitals outside his government
job. He was detained at the respected Hospital Hotel La Católica
Mora provided kidney transplants as part of packages with prices
ranging up to $150,000. Some of the patients, including one
80-plus-year-old U.S. medical tourist, had been turned down for surgery
in their home countries. Others found that the procedure was must less
The judiciary here is treating those who gave up an internal organ as
Investigators detained two urologists and a vascular specialist Oct.
10. The urologists were identified by the last names of Mauro
Stamati and Fonseca Guzmán. The vascular expert was identified
with the last names of Monge Monge. Also detained was a local
businessman, Dimosthenis Katsigiannis, who was accused of being a
recruiter among would-be organ donors. When Mora was detained, a woman
who worked in the security ministry's communications center was
arrested. She has the last names of Cordero Solano and was
identified as another recruiter.
The individuals are being held under a last passed in 2012 that makes
illegal the possession, transport, sale or purchase of organs in an
illicit way. Local prosecutors acted after a Mexican newspaper
characterized Costa Rica as a center of illegal transplant activity.
At least one of Mora's operations did not turn out well. The overweight
and elderly U.S. citizen who underwent a kidney transplant last
November at his hands, died after he returned home to the United
States.. The procedure took place at La Católica. The man at the
time told friends here that he could not get a transplant in the United
States because physicians there rejected him because of his weight and
age, more than 80 years. He received the kidney of a younger friend, he
The wealthy U.S. citizen has a long association with
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
Investigators confront and
arrest Francisco Mora Palma at Hospital Hotel La Católica.
Costa Rica, but he said he found out about a package
deal offered by
the hospital via an Internet search. He said at the time he spent
upwards of $150,000.
After the surgery, the U.S. citizen returned to his home there and
immediately was put in intensive care by his own physicians, who
expressed shock that he had undergone such an operation. He died
several weeks later.
There was no secret about the transplant business. Mora even did an
interview with a local promoter on YouTube. Mora is reported to have
done nearly all his private practice transplants at La Católica.
other physicians who were detained in October have associations with
the other major private hospitals, Hospital Clinica Biblica in San
and Hospital CIMA in Escazú
When he was detained, Mora was handcuffed with his hands behind his
back and led to detention with a garment thrown over his head in much
the same way that robbers and other street crooks are treated. The same
thing happened to the other suspects later.
Investigators said they confiscated the files of the physicians. These
files would contain the names of those who obtained the various
transplant surgeries in Costa Rica, and they might end up being
implicated in future court cases. Those who donated organs are likely
to see large money judgments.
The suspects who were detained were placed in a local prison for
— Oct. 13, 2013
Expats and medical tourists should do their
Never does the phrase
"you get what you pay for" apply more strongly than in seeking medical
care in Costa Rica. A medical tourist who looks only to price is bound
to have troubles. Some of them can be very serious.
So, you are considering medical tourism as an option. Here are five
issues you should consider before booking that flight:
1. Insurance: Most U.S. health insurance companies
only cover procedures done in the patient’s home network coverage area.
They generally do not cover procedures performed in foreign countries,
which means that the trip and the procedure are out-of-pocket
expenses. The continual increase in medical tourism, however, is
forcing some insurance companies to change their stance. One U.S.
insurer is offering to waive a $3,000 deductible for very expensive hip
surgeries, if the surgery is done overseas. In fact, insurance
companies will probably jump on the medical tourism bus within the next
decade or so, if they can see a way to save their money on your care.
2. Malpractice Laws: Be advised that the main reason
medical procedures are so inexpensive overseas is partially due to the
lack of medical malpractice insurance. Doctors and hospitals pass those
savings on to you. The lack of coverage does not mean they are
necessarily doing anything wrong. Quite the contrary. It just means
that the laws governing malpractice in foreign countries are very
different than those in America. Translation: You have little recourse
3. Recovery Issues: Medical professionals in the
United States have expressed concern that patients will be rushed
through recovery and forced back onto a plane. This is unlikely, but
make sure you schedule
vacation time to be able to recovery completely. It is also important
to note that doctors always recommend
keeping scars out of direct sunlight for the first 12 months after
surgery. It helps the healing process and to minimize the
discoloration. So, do not plan on spending your recovery in a lawn
chair at the pool.
4. Traveling Home: When you are fully recovered,
arises with long, international flights and the risk of blood clots.
Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor but it is always a good
idea, post-op or otherwise, to get up and walk around every hour on
long flights to maintain proper blood flow. You could also spend some
of the money you saved on upgrading to pricey first-class seats.
Airline seats are notoriously cramped but first-class can offer
considerable more legroom.
5. Follow Up Care: Under normal circumstances, a
several check-ups with their doctor after surgery, sometimes as far out
as 12 months post-operative. This can be difficult when the surgeon is
in Pavas and you are in Punxsutawney. Be sure to ask your primary care
physician if they can perform follow-up care or inquire with your
medial travel agency on their standard protocol.
The advantages to medical tourism are very real but so are the risks.
Be sure you weigh out the pros and cons before making your decision to
go ahead with surgery. If you feel the advantages are greater than the
risks then it's time to pick your location and book your flight.