Cohen on PBS: Why patients are going abroad for medical care

Professor I. Glenn Cohen '03

Professor I. Glenn Cohen ’03

Assistant Professor I. Glenn Cohen ’03, co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, recently appeared on the PBS television show “Inside E-Street” to discuss his recent work on medical tourism. “Inside E-Street” interviewed Cohen as part of its “Priced Out of America” episode on the effects of rising health care costs, which aired the week of April 15th. Cohen discussed why Americans—both those with and without insurance—are going abroad for medical care.

Cohen’s article “Protecting Patients with Passports: Medical Tourism and the Patient Protective-Argument” (forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review) looks at what is driving residents of one nation to travel to another for health care. Some patients go in search of services or medications that are unavailable in their home country, he found. For others, the draw is the lower price of medical services. This is the case for individuals without health insurance and for others who are offered an incentive by their insurer to take advantage of cheaper health care abroad.

In his article, Cohen raises questions about the “darker side of the industry,” including how such tourism affects the ability of the poor in the destination country to access health care, and what effect the existence of cheaper treatment abroad has on the health care markets in the U.S. He also brings up concerns about the welfare of American medical tourists. The fear, he writes, is that they will sometimes receive poorer quality care than they would in the U.S. and have less access to legal recourse should medical injury result. Much of the article tackles the appropriate regulatory response to these risks. Rather than arguing for an outright ban on medical tourism, Cohen makes the case for more complex regulatory intervention.

Cohen’s primary research interests are in bioethics and health law.  He was one of the inaugural fellows at the Petrie-Flom Center, and was appointed co-director of the center in the fall of 2009.

— Greg DiBella