MedRetreat – Medical Tourism

February 9, 2009

Health Insurance and Medical Tourism

Motivated by vast potential savings, the health insurance industry has been closely watching the medical tourism industry for several years. To date, most large health insurance providers cover only medical emergencies for their members when needed while traveling outside the U.S. 

However, in just the past couple of years Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina began offering their members the option of obtaining medical procedures outside the US through their medical travel affiliate in South Carolina. 

Beginning in January 2009, WellPoint began piloting an international “medical tourism” program through it’s affiliated health plan in Wisconsin, that will allow member employees at Serigraph, a specialty printing company based in the state to access health insurance benefits for common elective procedures at designated facilities in India.

Although these initial programs are very limited in scope and will most likely not facilitate any significant numbers in patient flow to foreign hospitals any time soon, it is clear evidence that there are real plans for growth for medical tourism in the future.

For now, the key impediments for insurance provider’s desire in offering international plans to their membership are the issues of liability and “continuity of care.” Since no legal framework pertaining to liability has been established in the global marketplace for medical care, the potential risks outweigh the rewards in the short-term.  

As for continuity of care, the U.S. medical community as a whole will have to develop a national network for follow-up care for all medical travelers upon their return to home.

Until these two issues are fully addressed, medical tourism will likely remain a fringe business to health insurance providers.       

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5 Comments »

  1. it good post

    Comment by kopdream — April 24, 2009 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  2. Can you elaborate a bit more on what liabilities do Insurance companies face in recognizing Medical tourism and why do health insurance companies not cover expenses on treatment obtained abroad?

    Comment by Pradeep Mathew — April 27, 2009 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  3. Pradeep:

    The liabilities insurance companies face within the medical tourism industry could include malpractice claims from dissatisfied patients. We’re not aware of any claims at this time, but, as the numbers grow, you can’t rule out the possibilities.

    And, insurance companies already cover overseas surgery for leisure travelers, business travelers and Expatriates…but not medical travelers at this time. However, we believe that preplanned medical tourism procedures are sure to come in the future. There are many insurance companies and corporations already dabbling in the industry to date.

    Comment by medretreat — April 27, 2009 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for the prompt reply.

    Can you give out the name of a few insurance companies with health insurance plans which would cover the expenses (including treatment cost, travel cost etc) incurred during a travel done with an intent of Medical treatment?

    Comment by Pradeep Mathew — April 28, 2009 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  5. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and Wellpoint have announced such a program. If you contact them, you may be able to get a more comprehensive list of other insurance companies.

    Comment by medretreat — April 28, 2009 @ 12:51 pm | Reply


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