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Medical Tourism in a Nutshell

“Medical Tourism” is the act of traveling to receive medical care, and today that travel is often overseas.  Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Turkey, India, Costa Rica and others are excellent examples of today’s medical tourism hotspots.
One reason people are choosing medical tourism is cost savings – which can be as high as 90% for the uninsured/under insured. Cost savings begin from the ground up, with state of the art facilities being built for $ 100 a square foot vs. over $ 500 in the US. MRI’s and other expensive testing procedures can be significantly less expensive overseas as well, so some opt for diagnostic testing overseas even if they intend to have surgery performed in the US.
Availability of treatment is another reason. In some places the wait for surgery is too long. In the publicized case of Farrah Fawcett, local doctors were not agreeable to operating on her cancer.  Ms. Fawcett traveled to Germany for surgery instead. Further, some people merely prefer the more personalized care they can receive outside the US, where the nurse to patient ratio is often more favorable. 
Not as rare as you may think: 
500,000 US residents traveled overseas for medical care in 2007, and the trend is rising.  Wellpoint, Blue Cross of South Carolina and other major health insurers have put together plans for policyholders that provide an option for medical tourism, often passing some of the savings to the patient by waiving deductibles and co-pays.
A new profession has emerged in response to the growing trend: Medical Tourism Facilitators. Better Facilitators are well informed about the global healthcare community, which hospitals are JCI accredited, which specialize in what procedures, and assist in arranging for medical care as well as travel arrangements. A Facilitator should carry Professional Liability and have medical case managers on staff.
Because the patient doesn’t have to sacrifice quality for cost savings or availability, employers are interested in the medical tourism option. For those who self insure, the cost savings medical tourism can offer is immediately realized. In today’s economy, reducing expenses without reducing quality is on the mind of every business executive – and patient.
Important notes: 
If you have health insurance, don’t assume the policy will cover you for medical tourism. As with any surgery, always check with the health insurer in advance before making any arrangements for travel or procedures. If the policy is not currently written to include a medical tourism option, ask if the carrier is willing to endorse (make a change to) the policy.
Whether choosing medical tourism for covered surgery or off plan (uninsured) procedures such as cosmetic surgery, patients should consider travel and surgical complications coverage for at least two reasons:

–   Complications of surgery can occur here or anywhere – inexpensive coverage is available to address complications, preserving the cost savings and;
–   The patient can immediately have peace of mind and if a covered complication arises, receive corrective treatment without need to sue to collect money first – enabling them to focus on getting well
Plans vary dramatically, so compare policies carefully before accepting any coverage. If you aren’t allowed to see the coverage form before you buy – run!

Lorna Greenwood, WCS, CRM, CIC, CISR, ACSR is Program Manager at US Risk Underwriters, Inc. in Dallas, Texas with over fifteen years of experience in the insurance industry. Visit http://usrisk.com/medtour.htm and http://www.usrisk.com/uw_vocal.htm for more information on her programs.

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