A hernia is tissue that bulges out of the wall of the abdomen. An inguinal hernia occurs when the bowel pushes through a weak spot of the abdomen into the groin. 75% of hernias are inguinal hernias. About half of inguinal hernias are congenital. The majority of inguinal hernias occur in men, though women can certainly get them, especially pregnant women.
Inguinal hernias generally call for surgery, especially the larger and more painful they become. Avoiding surgery when it is needed, for reasons of cost or any other, is seriously risky. An inguinal hernia does not heal on its own. If not repaired surgically, it can become incarcerated or strangulated, which can be a life-threatening condition.
There are two types of surgical procedure used to repair inguinal surgeries. There is the open hernia repair, and the laparoscopic hernia repair. As far as cost, the open surgery option is the more inexpensive of the two. However, obviously there are many other important factors to take into account.
In open hernia repair, the surgeon makes an incision, finds the hernia, separates it from the surrounding tissue, removes it or pushes it back inside the abdomen, and stitches together the weakened abdominal wall, sometimes sewing a piece of mesh into place to strengthen it. Surgery takes about an hour, and is usually done on an outpatient basis.
In laparoscopic hernia repair, three or four much smaller incisions are made in the abdomen. A thin tube with a tiny camera on the end is inserted to give the surgeon a look around the area, after which the surgical instruments are inserted and the same type of repair is done on the inguinal hernia as in the open procedure.
As mentioned, the laparoscopic procedure is the more expensive of the two. It also has the disadvantage that the risk and severity of complications, such as bladder injuries, is greater. Its advantages include less pain, less scarring, and a shorter recovery time. Recovery from open hernia repair generally takes a good four weeks; patients who have the laparoscopic surgery typically feel back to normal in one to two weeks.
But even aside from the type of surgery, costs can still vary widely. In the United States, inguinal surgery repair generally costs five figures, often $20,000 or more, though certain clinics will do certain surgeries for as low as $4,000.
Then the other major cost factor is whether to have the surgery outside the U.S. Even the low end figures for the United States are high compared to what the surgery would cost in other countries. Mexico and India, for instance, advertise heavily that their rates are much cheaper, but even in places like Europe it is usually going to be less expensive than in the United States.
The key question is always why. Is this a case of “you get what you pay for” and you’re really gambling with your health if you seek cheaper surgery outside the U.S.? Or does the bloated, inefficient, for-profit health care system in the U.S. wildly inflate prices for care that is no better quality than you could obtain elsewhere?
It is beyond the scope of this article to attempt an answer to such a complex and controversial question, but suffice to say that opting for the cheaper alternative - whether within the U.S. or beyond - should never be done lightly, but only after extensive research and consultation with qualified physicians. You want to have a hundred percent confidence in whoever is going to be poking around inside you repairing a hernia.