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Employers Make Savings With Medical Tourism

Sep 1, 2008
Medical tourism is also known as medial travel, health tourism, or global healthcare - and this raft of names for the same phenomenon is a testament to the fact that the concept is gaining in acceptance and popularity. Health costs have long been a burden in the US and Europe, especially in countries without socialized healthcare. Now, medical tourism is starting to become institutionalized enough for employers to realized and systematize its benefits.

American employer-sponsored premiums for health insurance companies have exploded in the last six years, showing an increase in cost of up to 87%. It has been estimated that medical treatment or health insurance costs the average American family $11,500 per year, and workers spend nearly $3000 out of pocket on health expenses. This has led to the phenomenon of medical tourism.

Of all of the reasons for medical tourism, the price differential is listed as the most important one by patients. Costs can be as little as one-tenth of similar procedures in Western countries, especially for elective procedures which have complicated rules for claiming with health insurers. For example, hip replacement surgery can cost around US$40,000 in the United States. This may be needed in response to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. A hospital in India will perform the procedure for only US$7,000, and due to much lower cost of living in Asian countries, the extras of flights and accommodation go nowhere near covering that price shortfall.

Heart disease is another expensive condition in the US. Diagnostic procedures alone, like angiography, can cost up to US$17,000, even in populated states with large hospitals like California. The lowest cost for this procedure was $6,400 in Maryland, at the time of the research by Metropolitan Life. This procedure costs just US$870 at Bangkok Hospital, a Thai international hospital.

The concerns that patients may have about skill levels in foreign hospitals have been allayed in many cases by the Joint Commission in the US, which accredits American hospitals. Overseas institutions can apply to be accredited by the Joint Commission International, and the organization has around 100 foreign hospitals on its list, including Bangkok Hospital and Bumrungrad, two international Thai hospitals, as well as five Indian and 11 Singaporean hospitals. Many of these facilities have English speaking doctors, signage, information, nurses and technical staff, so Westerners can feel at home.

Several companies in the US are also institutionalizing medical tourism. United Group Programs in Florida sells self-insurance policies to small businesses; they recently initiated a plan to send patients to Bumrungrad, a center of Thailand health care, for expensive procedures. Patients also stay closer to home for medical procedures, with employers Blue Shield and Health Net, both in California, offering policies that allow members to receive treatment in Mexico.

Another, less publicized benefit of medical tourism is the standard of service found in international hospitals in Thailand, India and Singapore, as well as other medical tourism countries. Registered nurses are hard to come by in Western countries, where the profession is sometimes seen as less than desirable. They abound in Asian countries, though, meaning that when you ask a question or for help, your respondent is a qualified and trained healthcare professional, rather than an orderly.

These, as well as the many other benefits of medical tourism, (including service standards, hospital facilities, and the ability to combine health and pleasure), should see the trend towards medical tourism continue to grow.
About the Author
Bangkok Hospital - 36 years of advanced medical technology and expertise, complemented with Thai hospitality and compassionate care. Includes the world-renowned Bangkok Heart Hospital and specializing in oncology, neurology and orthopedics. Some of the worlds most advanced minimally invasive diagnostics and treatment procedures are in place.
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