More insurance groups are offering domestic medical travel plans to employers and more employers are offering them to their employees.
Domestic medical tourism is skyrocketing in growth. "More insurance groups are offering domestic medical travel plans to employers and more employers are offering them to their employees," said David Goldstein, president of Health Options Worldwide, an online medical tourism agency that provides surgical benefits management to self funded employers. While insurers prefer sending patients overseas to save money, they can still reap cost savings by keeping patients in the United States by offering discount incentives.
Surprisingly, some insurance carriers don't cover medical travel expenses nor do they encourage patients to travel to another state for care, unless for very serious, complex medical issues. Those insurers who don't have a domestic medical travel product offer cost comparison tools to compare costs for a variety of procedures against another hospital. Patients can use the tool to see all of the costs associated with a specific medical procedure, from lab tests to recovery room charges.
However, domestic medical travel is the reason why many insurance companies provide a list of "distinction centers," or "centers of excellence" - American hospitals that score high in areas such as transplants, surgeries and cancer. "These centers are the reason for inbound medical travel whereby wealthy people from other countries come to the United States for medical treatment," said Goldstein, whose website connects patients to physicians who offer high-quality low-cost surgical and medical procedures.
United Healthcare currently has contracts with nearly 5,000 nationwide, as well as over 550,000 doctors and healthcare providers. United Healthcare provides a service that rates different hospitals on certain elective procedures. Their site also gives a breakdown for quality and costs, which is extremely helpful for domestic medical travelers.
"The healthcare industry is on the brink of an historic milestone, with a consumer-driven healthcare marketplace that has global solutions," said Goldstein, "Insurers and third party administrators (TPA's), that have millions of members, are in a unique position to manage cost and access for the industry, both here and overseas."
Insurers and TPA's realize that patients now have the ability to make consumer decisions based on cost and quality. "With insurance initiatives that promote healthcare transparency, medical travelers can drive healthcare decision-making and foster a truly competitive medical marketplace," said Goldstein.
Self-funded employer groups have more flexibility to make quick decisions and redesign medical plants to incorporate domestic medical travel options. Many have already implemented this benefit or are working with TPA's to offer a medical tourism benefit. "These entities are sure to be watched closely by others who will then follow suit to offer the aspects that work and avoid those that don't," said Goldstein.
As domestic medical tourism program experience growth and success, domestic healthcare providers will experience some downward pressure. For example, a large domestic employer recently announced their medical tourism program. This announcement was met by a response from a US provider that matched the international price quotes. "That's what domestic medical tourism will do - prompt a reaction from US healthcare providers to lower their prices," said Goldstein, "Organizations will benefit from downward pressure and correct their pricing strategy and increase their patient numbers and profitability."