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Medical care outsourcing soon to be prime time

The dramatic cost delta between medical treatment in the U.S. and at some of the world class overseas medical centers is compelling employers to send their employees overseas for treatment. A recent example is cited in the Los Angeles Times:

“Carl Garrett of Leicester, N.C., will fly to a state-of-the-art New Delhi hospital in September for surgeries to remove gallstones and to fix an overworn rotator cuff. His employer, Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc. of Canton, N.C., will pay for it all, including airfare for Garrett and his fiancee. The company also will give Garrett a share of the expected savings, up to $10,000, when he returns.”

Major insurers don’t yet offer plans that provide for such medical trips. But self-insured employers can implement such plans and some like Blue Ridge Paper are doing it. And the option could be open to many more soon as third party administrators of group health plans such as United Group Programs (UGP) of Boca Raton, Fla., begin offering coverage for treatment at offshore hospitals. UGP recently added Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand as a preferred provider to its customers. Employees of self-insured businesses who use the more conventional plans designed by UGP will have access to the Thai hospital. This means that UGP offers the option of partly or fully covered medical tourism to some 100,000 people.

The L.A. Time article makes at least one gaffe when it says “Despite the Third World conditions outside…” when referring to getting treatment in Thailand and India. The reporter obviously hasn’t been to Thailand, for if he had he would have noticed a wealthy, bustling capital city in Bangkok. A few blocks form Bumrungrad is one of the largest shopping centers in Asia, the Siam Paragon. And next door is Siam Discovery, and a block away is ritzy Gaysorn Plaza. Then there is Central Chitlom on the same block as Jetanin Institute, and then Emporium, and on and on, all packed with throngs of Thai people spending their not-so-hard-earned money. It’s no third world country folks. It’s just a lot cheaper to live here then in the west.
That gaffe aside, the gist of the story, that the trend toward providing for better health care at lower costs through outsourcing, is encouraging. Some creative employers and health benefits consultants are working on putting together health plans that combine domestic primary care and follow-up with offshore surgery/major procedures. If these plans can be successfully implemented than the potential for even greater cost savings exists. Even with no insurance coverage many patients find that the total cost of overseas medical treatment is less than the deductibles and copayments they would have to make for treatment at home. Innovative new insurance plans could make the out-of-pocket cost even lower.

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2 Responses to “Medical care outsourcing soon to be prime time”

  1. Healthcare costs: looming obstacle to retirement « geomark Says:

    […] Because costs are so low it makes little sense to carry insurance, just pay out of pocket. However, for those needing the perceived security blanket of insurance it is available, both locally and also from western carriers. In fact, some U.S. insurance companies have begun to add Thai hospitals to their preferred provider lists. […]

  2. » Over 40 companies sign up for healthcare outsourcing - The Medical Travel Site Says:

    […] Previously in Medical Care Outsourcing Soon to be Primetime it was mentioned that the insurer United Group Programs was beginning to offer coverage for offshore medical procedures and had even added Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok to their preferred providers list. It seems to going prime time rapidly, with over 40 companies having already signed on to UGP’s plans. The company introduced these plans only six months ago so the ramp up is rapid. Expect to see this expand rapidly as other insurers step up to this new opportunity. […]

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