Insurers Look To Medical Tourism To Curb Consumer Expenses

Published Online: August 06, 2014
Cate Douglass
As health costs continue to climb, consumers are increasingly finding their care treatments abroad at nearly half the price under growing support from insurance agencies. UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, and Humana —among others— are working to implement cross-border plans as a means for members to cut expenses by seeking medical tourism procedures.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina holds contracts with hospitals in countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Ireland, Turkey, and Costa Rica. There they aim to implement medical tourism strategies through their subsidiary Companion Global Healthcare, Inc. Aetna, too, provides a benefit plan for their members that is comprised of 100% coverage for qualified preventive care, including immunizations and wellness visits, in Mexicali, Tecate, and Tijuana. MediExcel, a Mexican-based startup HMO, offers group healthcare coverage to US employees of the San-Diego area, which includes 24/7 access to routine doctor visits.
According to 1 article from the Medical Tourism Magazine, the growing medical tourism trend that insurers are embracing hadn’t quite taken hold until recently, when cost challenges started to brew with implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association, said that while the ACA provided millions of Americans with the opportunity to obtain health insurance for the first time, consumers continue to face the challenge of receiving fair-priced employee benefits.
“Even though the increased cost for insurance has been shifted on the shoulders of working Americans, U.S. employers are beginning to identify self-funding strategies – like medical tourism — that reconcile healthcare offerings with financial goals of the business – attracting and retaining healthy employees while maintaining the bottom line,” Mr Edelheit said.

Although there are care and quality concerns raised by consumers when it comes to low-cost procedures in developing or poor countries, insurers attest that they are only contracting with the best accredited international providers to increase the incentive of medical tourism.
The article also predicts that it will not take long for more Americans, especially those with low income or limited coverage, to understand the benefits of medical tourism and begin to search for low-cost overseas procedures, as it allows consumers to reduce out-of-pocket costs as well as save on insurance premiums. 

Around the Web
Medical Tourism Gains Popularity with Health Insurers [FierceHealthPayer]
Health Insurers Turn to Medical Tourism Strategies to Bypass Obamacare [Medical Tourism Magazine]