NATIONAL (NBC) - Medical tourism used to be for people who wanted plastic surgery or a sex change.
But now, more and more Americans are going overseas for routine medical treatments.
Ward Styner sells used cars in Yakima, Washington. His employer doesn't offer health insurance, so when he needed surgery to replace a worn-out hip, he knew he would have to pay for it himself.
"The alternatives in my life were either I replace my hip or I live in a pain that I can't bear and I'm done working and my family falls apart and you know I didn't have very many alternatives," Styner said.
Ward says the price tag for hip surgery at home was $65,000, a price he couldn't afford. In desperation, he turned to the internet.
"And up comes several hundred websites talking about medical tourism, which I'd never heard of," said Styner.
"There's more and more people are going across international boundaries for medical care, which is, of course, what medical tourism is and so definitely, the trend is increasing," says Dr. Ann Marie Kimball.
Kimball is a global health expert and the author of "risky trade." she says there are few studies to review on medical tourism.
"We have one group of people which is your doctor and medical association which is definitely going to say, oh, no don't do that because of self-interest as well as concerns about your welfare. And another group of people who are going to say, oh please come to Thailand to get your surgery because they want your business. So the consumer is really caught without an independent look at what the outcomes actually are from this," said Kimball.
Ward has no regrets. He used MedRetreat and traveled to Malaysia three months ago. His total bill for his new hip was $15,500, including hotel, airfare, hospital, surgery, doctor, fees and physical therapy for three weeks.
"I was treated like gold. I'm a special patient. The hospital was very modern, very clean, and very friendly," said Styner.
When traveling overseas for medical care, keep in mind the risks: for infection, from others on the airplane, hospital and surgery suites, even food and water in your destination country. For complications, if there's a problem, you have few options for a second opinion. And legal considerations, medical malpractice laws are different in every country.
Ward is back at work, pain free, and convinced he got a good deal, overseas.
Expenses for medical tourism include travel, hospital and doctor fees, transportation, hotels, and add-ons for complications.
Companies like MedRetreat give you a full rundown of all the expenses before you go, but not all companies do this, so read the fine print.
Reported by Michelle Franzen, NBC News