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Medical tourism

Employers increasingly tapping medical tourism for cost savings

Monday, November 06, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: medical tourism, health insurance costs, employee health


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(NewsTarget) About 500,000 Americans traveled overseas last year to undergo surgeries that cost two to three times more in the United States, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.

Medical tourism has taken off in the last few years, with American employer-sponsored health insurance premiums skyrocketing 87 percent over the last six years. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that American family health coverage currently costs about $11,500 a year, with workers spending nearly $3,000 out of their own pockets annually.

Recently, 60-year-old Oklahoma resident Dodie Gilmore became one of the first Americans to be sent overseas for surgery by her employer. Gilmore needed hip surgery, but found that the procedure would cost up to $40,000 if performed in the United States, which her privately purchased health plan would likely not cover.

Gilmore researched overseas hospitals, and found that the Max Super Specialty Hospital in India would charge just $7,000 for the procedure. Gilmore's boss offered to foot the bill, which totaled $12,000, including hotel and airfare.

According to Arnold Milstein, chief physician at New York's Mercer Health & Benefits, medical tourism is "just one of the many ways in which our world is flattening. Many companies see it as a natural extension of the competition they've faced in other aspects of their business," he said.

Though some companies have shied away from medical tourism for employees -- such as Blue Ridge Paper Products in North Carolina, which recently abandoned plans to send workers overseas for cost-saving surgeries after United Steelworkers union objected, citing possible risks -- others are embracing the idea.

United Group Programs of Boca Raton, Fla., which sells self-insurance policies to small businesses, recently began offering a plan that sends patients to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok for expensive procedures. Blue Shield and Health Net of California also both offer low-cost policies that allow members to receive medical treatments in Mexico.

The Chicago-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which accredits American hospitals, has accredited roughly 100 foreign hospitals, including Bumrungrad in Thailand, five in India and 11 in Singapore.

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