Millions of Americans cross the U.S.-Mexico border for health care: The health care crisis many aren’t talking about

At a checkpoint in Yuma, Arizona, around 6,000 Americans cross into Los Algodones, Mexico daily for health care reasons – predominantly dental care.

Image Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

While everyone is talking about the border crossing of Latin and Central Americans coming to the United States in an attempt to seek asylum because of decades of destructive U.S. trade policy, the real story at America’s southern border is about the millions of Americans going to Mexico for affordable health care.

Some are calling it a health care crisis, which is a “result of our overpriced and inaccessible health care system,” Truthout reported. At a checkpoint in Yuma, Arizona, around 6,000 Americans cross into Los Algodones, Mexico daily for health care reasons – predominantly dental care.

Los Algodones is not only known for its affordable dental care – 350 dentists work right outside downtown, but also for its vision care and low-cost prescription drugs. So statistics show many Americans, who cannot afford dental care in the U.S. even with insurance, flee to the nation’s southern border also referred to as “dental refugees,” Truthout reported.

With 74 million Americans without dental insurance, according to statistics from the National Association of Dental Plans, almost a quarter of the U.S.’ population lacks dental coverage. And the rest of the Americans that have dental plans, their plans don’t cover most of the common procedures needed. Aside from a regular check-up, x-rays, cleanings and fillings, crowns, root canals and implants aren’t covered and can be quite costly.

The reason crowns costs an upward of $2,000 and an implant can be close to $5,000 in the U.S. is because of insurance, malpractice insurance and student debt.

Nicknames the “Molar City,” Los Algondones provides dental savings to many Americans. On average, it costs patients two-thirds less than in the U.S. and some have come to save close to 80 percent on certain procedures.

This cost savings is achievable because of the inexpensive labor and real estate in Mexico, malpractice insurance isn’t mandatory there like it is in the U.S. and there is less student debt for graduating dentists because of government subsidies.

“When we go out of school, we have to pay the government, but we do it by one year of free service, and that’s it,” Miguel Ibarreche, head of the Sani Dental Group’s diagnostic department, said.

Also appealing to Americans, many dental procedures are done very quickly. NPR reported that “there are so many dental labs in town, it only takes a day or two to make a crown, a bridge, even dentures.”

But little is said about the health care crisis playing out at the nation’s southern border and the immigration policy allows for it to continue.


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Ashley is an editor, social media content manager and writer at NationofChange. Before joining NoC, she was a features reporter at The Daily Breeze – a local newspaper in Southern California – writing a variety of stories on current topics including politics, the economy, human rights, the environment and the arts. Ashley is a transplant from the East Coast calling Los Angeles home.