Say the word “Trump” and watch out! You are likely to hear cheers and have a rally form impromptu, and witness an equal and opposing group of people show up to protest, argue or fight – depending upon the tone and tenor of the event. Yes, the new U.S. Presidency appears to have us set for a wild ride! What could this mean for the medical and dental tourism industries? Well, let’s consider this for a moment.
First of all, medical and dental tourism are global phenomena, so it is unlikely the changes in any single country or marketplace, no matter how radical, will up-end either industry. It is surely possible, but highly unlikely. After all, the U.S. health care system has little bearing on an Englishman traveling to Hungary or a Chinese woman visiting Thailand for treatment or care. Sure, supply chains are sometimes connected so costs may be affected, and other factors may have an effect on the global marketplace, but where demand exists, supply will seek to quench it. So how does Trump fit into this consideration?
When Donald Trump burst onto the political scene, he was immediately identified and labeled as a racist in many Latin countries for a variety of reasons. First of all, he is a bombastic communicator who does not have a great command of the English language; and sometimes the message he delivers is not exactly what he wants to say. Added to that, he often says things that are or can be construed as harsh, hateful, and hurtful. But does this mean he is a racist? Not necessarily. I would argue he is not. Much of his life paints a different picture including his family, friends, business associates and the close ties he maintains to certain Latin, black, Muslim, gay and other communities.
Fortunately, in today’s age in the U.S., most things are beyond racism, gender, and class, including medical and dental care. It doesn’t matter to most people what political or ideological leanings their health care providers follow. From a Hippocratic perspective, patients who need attention deserve treatment, period. Even those in the U.S. who grew up in a segregated South are accustomed to a gender-neutral professional environment, and to providing and receiving treatment by medical and dental practitioners of different socio-economic and racial backgrounds.
Unfortunately, news has a life of its own and those who write and spin it have a major bearing on how politically charged statements are received and digested. Take Trump’s outrageous statement about Mexicans towards the beginning of his candidacy. He did not say ALL Latinos are thugs, druggies, and murderers, but that is pretty much how it was portrayed by the media. Especially the Latin press. It did everyone a disservice in my opinion. What Trump said was poorly spoken, inaccurately portrayed, and damaging on a variety of levels. He is guilty of speaking like an ogre, a buffoon and in a harsh manner; and the Press was equally guilty for fanning the flames of his combustible and noxious comments.
Well, the past is past and despite Trump’s shortcomings, he is now the President of the United States. Now comes the real test; will he curb his overbearing behavior? My prediction is he will not. Trump is Trump, and he will never be a soft spokesperson or a cuddly figure. We have to live with that. And those of us on the front lines in medical and dental tourism better prepare to adjust to the policies he is advocating and will likely pursue.
Making America great again is a welcome concept to many Americans, though the statement obviously means different things to different people. Most Trump supporters understand making America great again as having a healthy economy and a presence on the world stage that keeps very bad actors from doing very bad things. Arguably, it was this lack of leadership over the past 8 years which brought about ISIS, and an emboldened Russia, Iran and China – all of which have aspirations that could bring grave consequences for the rest of the world.
Making America great again does not mean going back to the days of slavery or when women, blacks, gays and others did not have equal rights and protections under the law. Now, by nearly all measures in the U.S. they do. Anyone who even suggests this is not the case is being intellectually dishonest. Sure, racists, homophobes, and xenophobes exist and will likely always exist, but they are nowhere near the mainstream in the United States. America became great over a 200 year period, it did not become perfect. It will likely never be perfect, but many believe it can become greater, healthier, safer and more respected.
But will Trump’s decisions make U.S. citizens more or less likely to travel to a foreign country for healthcare? Unfortunately, at this time, it is impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. Why? Because there will be new policies and new mandates that come out over the next year or two, and maybe beyond. And there always remains the unknown, the unexpected, and the unknowable.
And there will always be the complexities of economics and public opinion which can muddy the waters. Added to that, there will be rewards to be earned and prices to be paid for following/bucking the new system. Is making America great again going to be at the expense of other countries? Well, in the short run and to a certain extent, absolutely. Both Mexican and Chinese leadership are already starting to face that reality. Hopefully, a rising tide can lift all seas and many others around the globe will benefit from a stronger U.S. economy.
How will it affect us here in Costa Rica? Well, it will probably have both a positive and a negative impact. Some industries may be both helped and harmed. Costa Rica’s tourism depends on a healthy U.S. economy, but it is the Free Trade Zones and Call and Processing Centers which may be most noticeably affected. There will be lots of pressure to bring offshore operations back home. Will medical/dental tourists be subjected to pressure, shaming or otherwise that prevents them from traveling for care? That remains unknown. In either case, will placing America’s interest before those of other Nations make both Trump and America “bad” in the eyes of others? That too remains to be seen.
Everything considered, while many people dislike President Trump, most believe the U.S. is a “good” country. Does that mean everything it does is good? Of course it does not. But the United States of America has helped lift more people out of poverty and helped raised the standard of living for more people around the world than any other country has done throughout history. In large part, it has done so thru hard work, innovation, technological advances and good-heartedness. Does this excuse the bad stuff in which it has engaged; torture, spying, the proliferation of wars? Of course it does not. These are all complex subjects that need to be examined in depth, and probably best left for historians to sort thru.
Where does that leave us now? Well, the medical and dental tourism industries, like all others, will slowly sort its way thru the transition. These industries will likely continue to grow regardless of policy changes in the United States. Momentum is on our side; and the high costs of healthcare in the U.S. are not going to magically come down or go away, even with good policy and competent management. Life is complex, and so is medical and dental tourism. Participants need to do their research and plan accordingly.
Patients should consider all their options, both in the U.S. and abroad. Medical and dental care providers in Costa Rica would be wise to develop a strategy to try and attract patients from North America while continuing to develop their local businesses. Both potential Medical/Dental Tourists and Costa Rican Health Care Providers are encouraged to reach out to this Author for input and guidance.
My aim remains to help Patients find solutions, and to identify and promote Costa Rican Doctors and Dentists who have the talent, time and space available to treat medical/dental tourists; both those who will be supporting Trump in his Presidency, and those who do not.
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