Health Insurance Companies Promoting Medical Tourism
In an attempt to rein in exploding medical costs, a growing number of health insurance companies are offering their customers, both individuals and employers, an opportunity to get their health care overseas. Some medical and dental procedures overseas can cost up to 80 percent less, excluding travel costs, than in the states.
Medical tourism, according to the international nonprofit organization Medical Tourism Association, is a practice whereby “people who live in one country travel to another country to receive medical, dental and surgical care,” which they do “because of affordability, better access to care or a higher level of quality of care.” One of the principles of the Association is to provide unbiased information and education for health insurance companies, patients, and employers about available hospitals and medical and dental services.
In the past, most medical tourists were wealthy or uninsured. Today, however, more and more of them have health insurance. According to a 2008 survey conducted by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, nearly 40 percent of Americans said they would travel overseas to receive medical treatment if the cost was cut in half and the quality of care was comparable.
As more and more Americans make the trip overseas - 80,000 traveled to Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital in 2006 alone, according to Managed Care magazine - health insurance providers are slowing joining in. Among them are Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, and Georgia-based BasicPlus Insurance Services, and an increasing number of others are making inquiries.
One concern about surgeries and medical procedures performed overseas is follow-up care. Patients need to know how such care will be handled, especially if complications arise. Some US insurance providers have agreements with foreign hospitals to coordinate post-procedure care.
Some services, such as hip and knee surgery, heart valve replacements, spinal fusions, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, and many dental surgeries, are good candidates for medical tourists. Others, such as bone marrow transplants, need special follow-up care and should be done at home.