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U.S. employers considering medical tourism

Marketplace Staff Jul 20, 2010
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U.S. employers considering medical tourism

Marketplace Staff Jul 20, 2010
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TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Yesterday, we told you about so-called medical tourism to uninsured Americans, the idea of going to foreign country to get medical treatment cheaper than you can get here. Now, some U.S. insurance companies are hoping to send patients overseas. And as reporter Kevin Ferguson explains, they’re appealing directly to employers.


Kevin Ferguson: Just after the health care bill became law, David Boucher’s phone really started to ring. David is CEO of a company called Companion Global Healthcare. It’s an offshoot of Blue Cross. His company works in the medical tourism industry, sending Americans with jobs and insurance to foreign hospitals. Patients get otherwise expensive procedures done in places like India and Costa Rica, usually at a fraction of the cost to their employers.

David Boucher: You know, I will tell you, we’ve had more requests for information from employers in first quarter 2010 than we had all in 2009.

Employers like Blue Lake Casino in northern California joined on in 2008. Jack Norton runs their HR department.

Jack Norton: Health reform, to me, it’s a goal of reducing medical costs. And I haven’t seen any significant strategy that has the potential to reduce costs like medical tourism.

It can pay off for the employees, too. If a patient opts to go abroad, they won’t pay a cent: No deductible, no co-pay and they even get a free trip. In fact, employees of Norton’s company will actually make money, 10 percent of whatever the company saved. So say if they head overseas for a heart bypass and save the casino $50,000…

Norton: We’re offering the patient a $5,000 savings stipend.

But getting the patient on the plane is a different story. Steven Wallace is a Health Policy professor at UCLA. He says that while bosses love the idea, employees still need a lot of convincing.

Steven Wallace: People want to be close to home when they get really sick. Being in a foreign land, even if it’s a Hilton hotel-type of setting, is really distressing when you don’t have family nearby.

Patients also worry they won’t be able to sue should something go wrong. Those concerns could be why not a single employee at Blue Lake Casino has volunteered for a procedure overseas. But that might soon change: Norton himself needs knee surgery, and he’s in talks with doctors everywhere, just not here in the U.S.

I’m Kevin Ferguson for Marketplace.

Chiotakis: To hear all of Kevin’s report, go to our website, Marketplace.org.

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