Let’s be honest, we’d all love to have weight loss surgery in our home city with a surgeon we know and trust. While most insurance companies do offer some sort of bariatric coverage, every insurance policy has exclusions. And if you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re stuck paying cash for this life-saving procedure.
Every year more and more people travel to Mexico to have weight loss surgery. However, traveling to a foreign country to have major surgery with real risks, with a surgeon you don’t know, with foreign laws and regulations in a hospital you’ve never seen, is just plain scary.
But times are changing and the world is getting smaller. With online forums, email, Skype, and Facebook it’s easy to find someone who has had surgery in Mexico. It’s also relatively inexpensive to travel from most places in the US to Mexico.
How Skilled Are The Surgeons?
The biggest concern for most people considering weight loss surgery abroad is surgeon skill. Since you are not going to meet your surgeon in person before you fly to Mexico, it’s more important than ever to ‘vet’ your surgeon.
There are some very qualified and talented surgeons south of the border. And while it might be tough to meet them in person before your surgery, it’s easier than you think to connect with them.
- Dr. Guillermo Alvarez from EndoBariatric has a weekly radio show discussing weight loss surgery. I met him at ObesityWeek in Atlanta last year and he’s extremely friendly and truly dedicated to helping his patients.
Ask if you can set-up a Skype call with your surgeon before committing to anything. Be prepared with a list of questions you’d like answered.
Average Cost Of Bariatric Surgery In Mexico
Bariatric surgery is less expensive in Mexico. Healthcare, in general, is less regulated. Wages are lower and the cost of the same equipment tends to be less as well. This all leads to a lower overall cost. ‘Less regulated’ sound scary? It is. However, a good surgeon is responsible for you during and after your procedure. This article discusses how to choose a bariatric surgeon.
The average cost of bariatric surgery in Mexico by procedure is listed below.
- Lap Band – $3,000 to $6,500
- Gastric sleeve – $4,000 to $9,000
- Gastric bypass – $6,500 to $11,000
What Is Included In The Cost?
Typically, your flight is not included. However, transportation to and from the airport should be included. You’re in a foreign city and about to have surgery. The last thing you want to worry about is finding your hotel or surgeon’s office.
Most people will arrive 2 days before their scheduled surgery day. This gives you time to adjust, meet with the surgeon and staff, have blood work done and relax.
The following should be included in your fee. Ask about these when you talk to your patient liaison (these are your primary contact at the surgeon’s office).
- Two Surgeons in the operating room with you or one surgeon and a qualified First Assist
- Pre and post-op medication
- Operating room costs
- All preoperative evaluations
- Pre and post-op instructions (Diet guidelines)
- Fill adjustments (for Lap Band) and follow up care
- Stay at a local 5 star hotel – or something close to 5 star
How To Pay For It?
The first option is using cash. If you have the money saved, there is probably no better way to spend it than this. You’ll lose weight, feel healthier, and live longer.
If you don’t have $7k laying around, then consider financing. Many bariatric surgeons in Mexico offer financing options via major banks. Call a couple of different bariatric centers in Mexico and ask them who they work with for financing. The rates are typically pretty low assuming you have decent credit.
Don’t have good credit? Then start saving. Get another job. Do whatever you need to do so in 2 or 3 years, you’ll have enough saved. Saving $200 per month will get you to $7k in less than 3 years.
Update for 2017: With more competition and thousands flying to Mexico every year for surgery, package prices are as low as $4,000 that include airfare, hotel and pick-up from the airport.
What Else Do I Need To Know?
Because there is a considerable amount of trepidation when traveling to Mexico for bariatric surgery, I recommend starting by finding others who have had surgery in Mexico. Where to look? Most of the major forums have a dedicated section to weight loss surgery in Mexico. Start reading stories that others have posted about their experience. Then reach out to them and ask questions. And be honest. Questions like, ‘Were you scared to leave the country for surgery?’ and, ‘What happens if you have a complication?’ should be asked. Most people are friendly and happy to answer honestly.
Talking to others, reading their stories and initiating a discussion with a couple of different patient liaisons (these are your primary contact at the surgeon’s office) is a good way to find out if you feel comfortable with the process. A simple Google search for ‘Mexico bariatric surgery’ will provide you with a list of plenty of options. Email them or call and start asking questions. You’ll quickly find out who you’re most comfortable with.
Do not choose the cheapest price and do not jump because of a price discount. You’ll likely see a lot of special pricing offers if you ‘Act Now!’ Don’t act until you are ready.
Most weight loss procedures are in the $5k to $9k range. Again, your comfort and results are more important than saving a few hundred (or even a few thousand) extra dollars. Ultimately, you’re still saving a lot of money compared to staying in the US.
The Downside Of Weight Loss Surgery In Mexico
There are some important downsides to surgery in Mexico.
- If you’re having a Lap Band then it’s nearly impossible to get regular adjustments from your surgeon.
- I don’t recommend the band for two reasons:
- The Lap Band requires the biggest lifestyle change and without the support of a local support group and local dietitian those changes are less likely to happen – not impossible but less likely.
- You need to find and pay (typically out of pocket) for band adjustments on a regular basis. While your surgeon will include free adjustments in the price of surgery, it’s not likely that you’ll fly to Mexico to get adjusted 5 times your first year. And if you find a local surgeon, you’ll be less likely to get adjusted regularly when you have to pay $200 per appointment.
- Long term complication rates are high with the Lap Band. Will your insurance company pay for a revision 3 years after you had surgery in Mexico?
- I don’t recommend the band for two reasons:
- Support groups are an important part of staying committed and on-track after surgery. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a local surgeon that will accept someone that had surgery in Mexico.
- You won’t have a local dietitian. Changing your diet is important with every weight loss surgery and a dietitian will help you make those important changes. Who will you turn to if you fall off the wagon? And you will fall off the wagon (eat junk) at some point after surgery.
- Most life threatening complications occur within the first week of surgery. Typically these are leaks, infection, etc. You’ll be prepped with what to look out for. And complications are typically covered with your fee. But what happens when you get back home? Will your insurance foot the bill? They might. But I’d definitely call and make sure.
What Would I Do?
If Mexico was my only option to have weight loss surgery, I would do it. And I’d have gastric sleeve surgery. Why? Because it’s a technically easier procedure than gastric bypass. It has less long-term complications than the Lap Band. I can expect more weight loss than the Lap Band and I don’t need regular adjustments. I would find an online support group like the Baritastic Social group that can be found through their free app and use the tools available in the app to stay focused and on track for long-term success.