The players in the medical tourism industry are trying to show your individual clients–and the health insurers and employers groups you work with–that they can provide top-quality care at rock-bottom prices.
Making sure that overseas providers deliver on their promises and arrange for appropriate follow-up care is an important consideration, according to Brent McCallum, a Certified Public Accountant and executive in residence at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
“Clients understandably have concerns,” McCallum said recently at the World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress in San Francisco, according to a written version of his remarks.
But McCallum and others who spoke at the conference said the opportunity to take advantage of the vast difference in the price of U.S. medical care and comparable non-U.S. care is too attractive for financial professionals, their client patients, and health plans to ignore.
Until recently, the non-U.S. providers were taking the initiative to try to make U.S. prospects aware of their existence.
Today, “employers and health plans are driving awareness,” said Alison Hagan, a senior manager in the San Francisco office of Deloitte Consulting Ltd., at the world medical tourism conference.
Payers–including patients who must pay for their own care out of pocket-are learning that they can achieve up to 90% in net savings by getting care outside the United States, even after paying travel costs, and Deloitte consultants are predicting that spreading awareness will increase the number of U.S. medical tourists to about 6 million in 2010, from 750,000 in 2007, Hagan said.
Medical tourism industry participants set up the Medical Tourism Association, West Palm Beach, Fla., the organizer of the world medical tourism conference, in 2007, to promote communications between the providers, the payers and the patients.
Another organization, the International Medical Travel Association, Singapore, a group founded in 2006, also seeks to unite the parties involved in efforts to cross borders to get and provide medical care.
Medical tourism has been around since the days when ailing patients journeyed to hot springs and religious shrines in the hope of obtaining miraculous cures.
In recent decades, patients from around the world have traveled to the United States for care at legendary medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, and health plans themselves have promoted domestic medical tourism, by requiring patients needing some types of expensive, specialized care, such as transplants, to head to a handful of “centers of excellence.”
When Deloitte consultants surveyed 3,031 U.S. residents ages 18 and over, they found that 12% had traveled outside their communities for medical care, and 3% had sought care outside the United States, Hagan said.
Many health plans provide little or no coverage for medical care obtained outside the United States.
But the American Medical Association, Chicago, raised the profile of medical tourism in June, by adopting medical tourism guidelines.
The AMA has declared that seeking “medical care outside the U.S. must be voluntary” and that “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.”
When a U.S. payer covers the cost of seeking medical care outside the United States, the coverage also “must include the costs of necessary follow-up care upon return to the U.S.,” the AMA says.
The National Business Group on Health, Washington, a coalition of large employers, added to the interest in July, when it released an issue brief on programs that help patients save money by seeking medical care outside the U.S.
Employers should think about matters such as medical malpractice, patient privacy, the need to avoid discrimination against workers with disabilities, and tax implications when considering moves to support medical tourism, NBGH analysts write in the brief.