San Antonio – The group of Americans kidnapped in Matamoros, a Mexican city across the border from Brownsville, were just a small part of the steady stream of U.S. travelers who cross the southern border for medical tourism every year.
The group had traveled from South Carolina because one of them wanted to get a tummy tuck procedure, a relative told the Associated Press. However, they got caught in a shootout and were abducted.
Two of them were found alive Tuesday and were brought to a U.S. hospital. The federal government is working to bring the bodies of the other two back to the United States.
READ MORE: 2 kidnapped Americans found dead in Mexico, 2 others alive
David Vequist, the director and founder of the Center for Medical Tourism Research at the University of the Incarnate Word, says millions of travelers from the U.S. side of the border visit Mexico every year in search of health care and prescription drugs.
The prices are cheaper, and he says the limited data available indicates there’s not much statistical difference in the quality of care.
“When people go into Mexico, they’re essentially saying that they believe that there’s a certain quality level at a certain price point that they believe is giving them value,” Vequist said.
READ MORE: Families shaken awaiting word on Americans taken in Mexico
In 2023 alone, he expects U.S. travelers to spend more than $264 million on health care in Mexico.
Vequist says recent CMTR research, which has not yet undergone the review process, shows tummy tucks are the most common procedure for women seeking cosmetic surgery abroad. A close second is the so-called “mommy makeover,” which is typically a combination of procedures.
However, Vequist says people traveling to Mexico for health care are most often going for dental care.
Although Vequist says there’s not enough data to say exactly where medical tourists are going in Mexico, he said people in the Rio Grande Valley tend to seek care across the border more frequently than the rest of the country.
The Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which stretches from Nuevo Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico and includes Matamoros, is considered one of the most dangerous in the country. The U.S. State Department has advised Americans against traveling there and has given it the same warning level as Ukraine, Afghanistan, and North Korea.
READ MORE: US warns against travel for much of Mexico, due to crime and kidnapping