Sun, sand and root canal: Medical tourism booms in Costa Rica
* Some patients combine treatment with vacation
* Some U.S. insurers starting to use overseas clinics
By Isabella Cota
SAN JOSE, Nov 26 (Reuters) - When Canadian house cleaner Marlene Trithardt needed a tooth replaced, she drove past her local dentist's office in Alberta and flew to the beach paradise of Costa Rica - to save money.
Trithardt is one of a growing number of North Americans who turn south for medical care lured by lower prices, contributing close to 0.8 percent of Costa Rica's gross domestic product.
"I chose to come here because I find in Alberta the prices are about 80 percent higher than in Costa Rica," says Trithardt, 57, who makes $30,000 a year.
Her treatment will cost $4,000. But even including airfare, hotels and meals for two weeks, the total amount is lower than the $10,000 she said she was expecting to pay for the dental care alone in Canada.
In the bargain, Trithardt got to take a few days to visit Costa Rica's national parks.
Around 40,000 medical tourists visited Costa Rica last year, compared to 36,000 in 2010 and 30,000 in 2009. Most of them a re Am erican and Canadian, according to the country's tourism institute, I C T. Continued...