Should you travel abroad for medical treatment? Author:    Posted under: Health InsuranceHealth Insurance questions answeredHealth Insurance Types


Traveling abroad for medical care (also known as medical tourism) is the term used to describe the act of traveling to another country in order to obtain medical, dental, preventive and surgical care. It can save you money. But should you do it?

If the 750,000 Americans who traveled abroad for medical care in 2007 is any indication, medical tourism is quickly gaining popularity. According to the report released by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in 2009, this number is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2012. The report also states that medical tourism can offer up to 70 percent in savings after travel expenses.*

WellPoint, Inc. announced in 2008 an international medical tourism pilot product that will allow members to access benefits for certain common elective procedures at designated facilities in India. Beginning 2009, WellPoint’s affiliated health plan in Wisconsin will pilot the program with Serigraph, Inc., a Wisconsin-based graphics company. Under the pilot program, Serigraph members have the option to avail of medical treatment abroad at selected and certified facilities in India. Covered under this plan are non-emergency procedures such as major joint replacement, upper and lower back fusion, and other procedures that typically cost significantly more domestically.**

Who is medical tourism for?

As long as you are healthy enough to travel, opting for medical care abroad should be to your advantage. Anyone who wants to avail of medical care from abroad is welcome to. But most medical tourism customers fall into these categories:

1. People who want elective surgery – Since elective procedures like cosmetic surgery are not usually covered by health insurance policies, most people who opt to get them done, choose to travel abroad, where the costs are significantly lower than in the U.S.

2. Underinsured people – The rising cost of healthcare leaves a lot of people only choosing to get the bare minimum which is all they can afford. All too often, the care they need is not covered by their health insurance policies. Sometimes, their only alternative is to seek for the necessary medical care overseas.

3. Uninsured people – Those who find themselves without health coverage decide on medical tourism for the treatment that they need.

4. People who do not wish to wait – More often than not, a patient is put on an extensive waiting list for the procedure he or she needs. In some cases, this might lead to a decline in your condition. Instead of waiting months and sometimes even years, some people opt to have the procedure done overseas, where it can be planned and performed in a matter of months. Most hospital partners work around the patient’s schedule and timeframe, to ensure that they are given quick access to the care that they need.

The added benefit people see to medical tourism is the chance to see places they would never even dream of visiting otherwise. Medical tourism agencies have since sprung up, offering value-added services that may or may not include any of the following:

  • Accommodations of your choosing
  • A ‘patient concierge’ who will escort and assist you throughout your stay in your destination country, as well as offer translation services
  • Transfers by private car, ambulance, air ambulance (as needed)
  • Personal communication devices such as cellular phones and laptops on a rental basis
  • Personal medical/non-medical caretaker for pre- and post-procedure care
  • Personal chef that adheres to the doctor’s recommendations and dietary restrictions
  • Personal entertainment devices
  • Patient services center connectivity
  • Tour arrangements

Before you decide to get medical care on foreign soil, doing extensive research is highly recommended. Check if the hospitals are long-established and accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI). JCI helps accredited hospitals by educating and advising international healthcare organizations to help them improve practices and procedures to ensure that they can provide first class service.

It’s most important to weigh the pros and cons of medical tourism before coming to a decision. Keep in mind that even though you might be able to save thousands of dollars on a procedure, the follow-up care, or any therapy you may require once you’re back in the U.S. might still be expensive and not covered by your insurance.

Be aware as well that in the event that something goes awry, there may be little to nothing you can do about in the way of getting compensation. In some cases, malpractice claims are very limited, and sometimes not even allowed.

And even though you might know someone who has undergone something similar, what worked for them might not work for you.

Sources:
* http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/us_chs_MedicalTourism_102609.pdf
** http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/press-releases/wellpoint-introduces-international-medical-tourism-pilot-program#ixzz18GtF6dW6

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