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Medical tourists aren't scared of India's superbug

For under-insured Westerners looking for cheap health care abroad, the risk is simply worth it.

Stag Beetle
A Stag Beetle near Ingolstadt, southern Germany on May 21, 2007. A scary bug by another mother, the New Delhi Metallo-1, thought to have originated in Delhi and then begun to make the rounds of medical establishments in the developed world, has many frightened — though, not foreign medical tourists who seek cheaper health care abroad. Superbug or no, they are still headed to India. (Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images)

BANGALORE, India — If you haven't heard of it, you probably don't want to.

It’s the big, bad superbug resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics, and it's allegedly making the rounds of medical establishments in India, and even in the developed world, causing all sorts of problems and scaring the dickens out of everyone.

Everyone, that is, except the thousands of Westerners who are still flocking to India to get their world-class, extremely affordable medical care.

Take 55-year-old Brenda Meece, for example. She lay in her hospital bed in Mumbai last month, looking decidedly cheery for someone who just had her hip joint replaced.

“India is a great option. I spent only half of what I would have back home,” said Meece, who hails from Memphis.

Is she worried about the super bug, called New Delhi Metallo-1 because it is said to have originated in New Delhi? Not even close.

“The doctors are very good and the care levels are phenomenal here,” said Meece. “I hope the news does not make India look like a bad place.”

Dozens of Indian hospitals offer high-quality healthcare at low prices, administered by doctors who have been trained overseas. It's simply an offer that's too good to pass up for uninsured or under-insured Westerners or even companies wanting to save some bucks.

Rodney Schaubroeck, 48, a San Francisco native who is a missionary in Kenya arrived in Bangalore in the middle of August for heart surgery, just as news of the superbug began to break. Schaubroeck, fully covered by an insurance provider in Indianapolis, Ind., was offered a choice by his insurer: return home to San Francisco to get his mitral valve repaired or come to India with his wife, all expenses paid for three weeks, and take home a part of his insurer’s savings.

Schaubroeck said he felt he was in charge of his own healthcare. He checked out the hospital, the surgeons and their equipment on YouTube and through email conversations with others who had gone to India before. “I made up my mind and here I am,” he said.

His surgery was successful.

“There is no lull in international patient arrivals,” said Vishal Bali, CEO of Fortis Hospitals, India’s largest hospital chain where both Meece and Schaubroeck had their operations. “Certainly, some overseas patients who are scheduled to have surgeries with us are asking questions but nobody has pulled out.”

Bali said he expected Western patient numbers to grow between 35 and 40 percent this year, the same as last year.