Americans May See Appeal of Medical Tourism in Cuba

Americans May See Appeal of Medical Tourism in Cuba
February 17 01:00 2015

Americans May See Appeal of Medical Tourism in Cuba

Anuja Agrawal jumped on the phone. President Obama had just announced that he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba — and Ms. Agrawal, who runs a medical tourism company in Orlando, Fla., did not want to miss her opening.

She reached a health care administrator in Cuba, agreeing to move ahead with a deal that they had been discussing for months in the hope that American patients could soon start traveling to the island for medical treatment.

“There was a lot of excitement about it,” said Ms. Agrawal, the chief executive of Health Flights Solutions, adding that if Americans start traveling to Cuba for affordable medical treatments, it could mean a big economic boost for the country’s health system. “For them, they’re looking at it literally like winning the lottery.”

As the Obama administration chips away at the economic isolation of Cuba, whittling at an embargo that is older than most people on this island, industries of many kinds are trying to figure out what the easing of tension will mean for them, and exactly how much wiggle room there will be.

Thousands of people from other countries go to Cuba each year for what is known as medical tourism: travel abroad for surgery or other medical care, often because the treatment is less expensive there or is not available where patients live.

Now, the Obama administration has relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba. Americans can come here for a range of reasons, including family visits, academic conferences, public performances, and religious and educational activities. While tourism or traveling to receive health care are still not allowed, the administration lifted a restriction requiring many Americans to travel with authorized groups or get a license in advance to visit the island.

“It’s a relaxation, a loosening of the restrictions,” Ms. Agrawal said, adding that once the door is open, “I always think it’s going to get looser and looser.”

In practice, the changes could mean that many more people will feel free to travel to Cuba, even for purposes outside the allowed categories. Thousands of Americans already travel to Cuba for tourism or other reasons that fall outside the guidelines, and even before the changes, many Cuban-Americans visiting family would take the opportunity to schedule medical treatments, many people here said.

Read full story at New York Times
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