Health Insurance Companies and Self-funded Employers will face an important decision before sending patients overseas for surgery
The battle lines have been drawn in the sand as The House of Representatives passed the “Health Care Reform Bill” over the weekend, and now it will be up to the Senate to cast the final vote before President Obama signs legislation into law.
As the national healthcare reform debate has raged on over the past 10 months, many Americans in need of medical care have taken matters into their own hands by packing their bags and traveling far and wide to undergo surgical procedures in foreign countries where medical care is a mere fraction of the cost for the same care in the U.S.
The tremendous cost savings and excellent quality of care offered by many elite foreign hospitals have not gone unnoticed by U.S. health insurance companies and employers who self-fund their healthcare benefits. Both groups are seeking to navigate the current political storms within the industry.
According to the November 7th, New York Times Article, “Looking Abroad for Health Savings,” by Katharine Q. Seelye:
“No matter what Congress does with health care legislation in the next few weeks, one thing is already clear: the result will not do much to control the climbing costs of medical care in the United States. And that is why many employers and insurance companies may seek savings by encouraging patients to travel abroad for treatment.”
As insurance companies and employers consider the real benefits of medical tourism, not only to their profit margins, but also to their membership, it’s imperative that they establish the proper infrastructure and framework that places their members’ safety and security first and foremost.
Under the existing model in the U.S., insurance companies and employers simply refer their members to established hospitals within their group network in local communities throughout the nation. This process is for the most part simple and straightforward. However, should insurance companies and self-funded employers expand their existing networks to include some of the more popular medical tourism destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand, India and Brazil, new considerations will be necessary to guarantee a safe and stress-free medical travel experience for their participating members.
It’s already stressful enough to undergo surgical procedures at one’s local hospital with the full support of family and friends. Simply informing a patient to show up for surgery at a foreign hospital on a specific date in an unfamiliar environment is a customer relationship nightmare waiting to happen.
Of course insurance companies and employers could rely on the foreign hospitals to manage all the necessary functions of a foreign surgery. But, keep in mind, the hospitals are focused on treating and healing patients and not building and connecting cross-border bridges of customer support and managing logistics.
Patrick Marsek, managing director of MedRetreat, an American medical travel facilitation company, comments; “In the coming years, as insurance companies and employers offering self-funded healthcare coverage begin adding foreign hospitals to their network, they will be wise to partner with professional medical travel facilitators to best guarantee successful outcomes. There are a host of benefits by doing so. Just take into account the amount of time a facilitator spends with each patient. On an average, we spend over 20 hours, collectively as a company on each patient, and make over 120 points of contact with them before they complete their recuperation. I don’t believe many insurance companies and employers will want to deal with all the little nuances involved with overseas surgery – it’s just not their core competency.” Mr. Marsek offers the following link for a list of benefits:
Healthcare Providers should certainly perform their due diligence when choosing a Medical Travel Facilitation Company. There are numerous agencies that come in many stripes and colors. Some agencies act only as a referral service where they have a nice website and discuss the destination options, schedule the doctors appointments, reserve the hotel accommodations and procure flight reservations. This facilitation model is not sufficient and can lead to unsatisfied patients.
It’s important to the success and longevity of a company’s medical travel efforts that they partner with a full service facilitator that provides a complete end-to-end solution for their respective clients. Facilitators, such as MedRetreat, have developed very sophisticated systems, with built-in redundancies at every step of the process, to ensure success and a high level of patient satisfaction. Marsek concludes; “A highly structured, time proven, medical travel process best guarantees a safe, stress-free and proactive experience. Happy patients are what drives this industry forward”