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Why Rush Limbaugh would go to Costa Rica if Obama's healthcare plan passes

Rush Limbaugh said he'd go to Costa Rica for medical treatment if the healthcare reform touted by President Barack Obama is passed. If that happens, he'll join legions of American medical tourists who travel to this bastion of socialized medicine every year.

By Chrissie LongCorrespondent / March 11, 2010

Rush Limbaugh, shown here at the Miss America news conference on Jan. 27, said he would go to Costa Rica for medical treatment if Congress passes proposed healthcare reforms.

Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau/AP


San José, Costa Rica

Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said this week he’d go to Costa Rica for medical treatment if Congress passes proposed reforms to the US healthcare system.

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That might sound like an unusual choice, since this is a country with one of the longest standing socialized healthcare systems on the planet. Everyone here (including resident foreigners), are required to pay into the government-run health system, whether they use it or not.

But Limbaugh’s choice may also serve to advertise what many Americans traveling here for medical treatment already know: Costa Rica is a fabulous place for medical tourism.

Life expectancy in this little Central American country surpasses that of the United States and at one point, back in the early 2000s when the World Health Organization rated countries’ general health, Costa Rica ranked higher (No. 36) than its northern neighbor (No. 37), despite spending 87 percent less on health care per capita.

Some who’ve studied Costa Rican health care consider it better overall, and attribute that to the fact that free coverage extends to 86.8 percent of the population.

But the Cadillac-style private hospitals at Chevy Aveo prices are what really draw 25,000 Americans to Costa Rica every year.

“People travel to Costa Rica (and) receive the same quality of medical services for a fraction of the cost,” said Jorge Cortés, president of the Council for International Promotion of Costa Rica Medicine and medical director of Hospital Biblica, one of three internationally-accredited private hospitals in Costa Rica. “When people see they can get the same surgery for three or four times less, they decide to get medical care abroad.”

Lower labor costs and fewer malpractice suits keep the prices down here. In Costa Rica’s private system, a teeth-cleaning might run $40 and a general check-up costs $50.

Medical bargains

More extensive surgeries? A facelift averages $2,800 to $3,200 in Costa Rica, compared to $7,000 to $9,000 in the United States. A knee replacement may cost $11,000 in Costa Rica, but can be as much as $45,000 in the United States.

But there’s another arm of the country’s medical system – the public system – which is relied upon by a majority of the population. While celebrated by Costa Ricans for “universal access,” it’s often criticized for long wait times and delays in treatment.