A few years ago, we discussed medical tourism. Every visitor who expressed an opinion would visit or have visited a foreign country or territory to take advantage of reduced costs associated with procedures. In the past several years, medical tourism has been increasing.
I mentioned my health insurance expenses are increasing 10% in 2010, and the increase will be even greater for my employer’s portion of the expense.
If I were to face an expensive or complicated medical procedure, I would seriously consider options outside the United States. Thanks to the internet, due diligence is much easier and faster, regardless of where the doctors and hospitals are located. Employers and health insurers are starting to see the benefit of medical tourism, as well.
Medical care elsewhere is as capable
If I have the opportunity to prepare for a major medical procedure, as I would as long as I’m not dealing with an emergency situation, there is enough information available for me to feel confident about choosing a location. The process calls for working with a medical tourism facilitator. The Medical Tourism Association maintains a list of organizations they have certified although their certification process is still new and in development.
Medical care elsewhere costs less
If I can receive the same or better quality of care for less by traveling overseas, even when taking travel expenses into account, then the financially responsible decision is to consider medical tourism.
Here is a comparison of costs for surgery according to the Medical Tourism Association.
Even if individuals are not yet on the medical tourism bandwagon, employers and health insurers are looking at the cost savings offered by having procedures done outside the United States according to a recent DailyFinance article.
With Americans able to save 50% to 90% by going to places like India, Thailand and Costa Rica, the uninsured aren’t the only ones considering the medical tourism option. Increasingly, U.S. employers, faced with soaring health care costs that are expected to rise another 9% in 2010, are sending their workers overseas for care…
Insurers like Blue Cross Blue Shield are getting into the act, too. For good reason: Even when employers or insurers waive co-pays and deductibles and throw in airfare and spending money for the patient and a companion — some of the typical incentives offered to employees who have medical procedures done abroad — they can still save $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 per surgery, depending on the procedure.
Medical care elsewhere increases competition
Global competition may be the market-based way to drive the domestic health care industry to lower costs throughout the entire system. Lately, the United States government has been focused on health insurance reform through new laws designed to increase care for more Americans, offer new options, and reduce costs.
I am interested to see how the industry reacts as more employers and insurance companies turn to medical tourism facilitators. I expect organizations representing medical professionals in the United States would try to limit medical tourism. The American Medical Association offers nine guidelines on medical tourism for employers and insurers, not quite discrediting the practice but helping to ensure patients remain educated.
The AMA advocates that employers, insurance companies, and other entities that facilitate or incentivize medical care outside the U.S. adhere to the following principles:
- Medical care outside of the U.S. must be voluntary.
- Financial incentives to travel outside the U.S. for medical care should not inappropriately limit the diagnostic and therapeutic alternatives that are offered to patients, or restrict treatment or referral options.
- Patients should only be referred for medical care to institutions that have been accredited by recognized international accrediting bodies (e.g., the Joint Commission International or the International Society for Quality in Health Care).
- Prior to travel, local follow-up care should be coordinated and financing should be arranged to ensure continuity of care when patients return from medical care outside the US.
- Coverage for travel outside the U.S. for medical care must include the costs of necessary follow-up care upon return to the U.S.
- Patients should be informed of their rights and legal recourse prior to agreeing to travel outside the U.S. for medical care.
- Access to physician licensing and outcome data, as well as facility accreditation and outcomes data, should be arranged for patients seeking medical care outside the U.S.
- The transfer of patient medical records to and from facilities outside the U.S. should be consistent with HIPAA guidelines.
- Patients choosing to travel outside the U.S. for medical care should be provided with information about the potential risks of combining surgical procedures with long flights and vacation activities.
Like the international outsourcing that has changed the shape of a number of industries, medical tourism lowers the costs for businesses that can then pass those savings onto the consumer. With outsourcing, whether good or bad, Americans benefit by the lower standards of living across in countries across the globe. A surgeon can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in the United States; the salary is high to offset the risk of malpractice suits. Surgeons in other countries may not have the same high risk, and with a lower standard of living, they can afford to be paid much less.
Would you consider traveling overseas for a medical procedure?
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published November 30, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.