Patients without Borders: The Emerging Global Market for Patients and the Evolution of Modern Health Care

63 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2007 Last revised: 24 Jun 2009

See all articles by Nathan Cortez

Nathan Cortez

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law


This article addresses the unique legal, policy, and ethical questions that arise when patients travel to foreign jurisdictions for medical care. A growing number of patients are leaving the United States, and employers, insurers, and even government payors are beginning to explore whether they can reduce spending by utilizing hospitals and physicians in developing countries. Because this is a dramatic leap, it has generated countless media stories, and has drawn attention from the WHO, WTO, World Bank, and U.S. Senate - many of which believe so-called medical tourism may transform health care here and abroad.

Despite this attention, the market is developing independently of lawmakers and regulators. This is troubling because patients are effectively waiving their rights and benefits in the U.S. to seek medical care in countries that may not grant them remotely similar protections.

This article assesses the risk-benefit calculus for patients and payors entering the global patient market by examining how the market may affect health care costs, quality, and access - the three canonical themes of health care. Using this framework, I consider several policy responses, such as regulating patient travel, regulating referral networks, and regulating employers and insurers. Relying on previous regulatory efforts in analogous areas, I criticize some responses as either impractical or foreclosed by current constitutional doctrine governing the rights to travel and free speech. Instead, I propose that we build on existing consumer protection laws, expand licensing regimes, and recalibrate existing schemes that may unfairly allocate the risks and benefits. I also analyze the feasibility of public and quasi-public multilateral responses.

The underlying goal of this article is to examine how globalization is fundamentally changing health care. Medical tourism is both a symptom and a solution to what ails the U.S. health care system, and the issues it presents may portend future challenges.

Keywords: medical tourism, globalization, outsourcing, health, insurance, medical malpractice, travel

Suggested Citation

Cortez, Nathan, Patients without Borders: The Emerging Global Market for Patients and the Evolution of Modern Health Care. Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 83, 2008, SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 00-24, Available at SSRN:

Nathan Cortez (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States
(214) 768-1002 (Phone)

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