The Insured Medical Tourist

Healthcare, travel and insurance are all heavily intertwined subjects, and most often, incomplete without each other. You don’t travel without adequate travel insurance. And ideally, your health insurer would pay for your healthcare. That’s the point of insurance. You pay monthly premiums, whatever the current state of your health ( or travel ), to safeguard against the possibility of having to pay out-of-pocket for sudden or expensive treatment.

Healthcare is a field that is interconnected to both travel and insurance as all three are concerned with a person’s health and well being and medical tourists require these 3 things in equal measure so that their body is free from diseases and they can lead comfortable lives without stress and tension. Medical practice marketing has never been easier as people can avail benefits related to business and can serve mankind at the same time but this has earned a dubious reputation as unscrupulous minds have used this noble profession to their advantage and misused it to make quick money at the cost of many lives.

Problem is, with the healthcare infrastructure in tatters, and insurance premiums sky high, it’s not working out that way. There’s lots of holes, through which the roof can fall down on your head. Inadequate coverage, long waiting lists and changes in healthcare legislation make for a very insecure future, as regards to safeguarding your health and finances. And where there’s a supplier vacuum and market demand, naturally, someone steps upto the plate. This is where medical tourism comes in. Like any nascent industry, it has it’s fair share of problems and hiccups. While there are some truly excellent healthcare centers in places like Thailand ( Bumrungrad ) and India ( Apollo Hospitals ), the vast majority of health providers across the world are unknown entities to American patients and tourists.

There are two ways the medical tourism industry can take it from here. One, they need to make it mandatory for all healthcare centers catering to foreign tourists to conform to standards set by organizations like JCI. Second, congress and the Insurance industry could team up to provide legislation and coverage for overseas medical travel. The second solution has a little magic to it. For one, the patient does not have to worry about the cost or reliability of the overseas healthcare provider. Also, this is a very attractive option for insurers, since the costs are around 1/10th of that incurred when a patient undergoes similar treatment locally. In fact West Virginia proposed legislation in 2006 which seeks to do exactly that. And Bluecross Blueshield in South Carolina already has a solution where your overseas medical treatment, including hotel stay and travel, is fully covered. The problem, of course, is that this solution virtually ensures mayhem in the local healthcare industry. It pits the patients and insurers on one side, against the medical profession on the other side. I, for one, have very little doubt which side will win this particular battle.

So, to sum it up – Either industry and congress can let things continue as they are, with patients deciding their best course of action. Or, our leaders could step up to the plate and provide comprehensive legislation, seeking to ensure safe treatment abroad, which is beneficial to both the state ( in terms of healthcare costs ), and the patient ( in terms of vastly reduced premiums )

One final question – If treatment in a hospital in India were covered by your insurance, as was treatment locally in various healthcare centers, and your insurance provider gave you the option of a vastly reduced premium under the Indian health plan, which one would you opt for?