According to a Business Week article, most of the major US health insurance carriers are moving towards including overseas hospitals in their provider networks, in an effort to encourage policy holders to utilize the much less expensive services that can be found in many of Asia’s top-notch private hospitals. Most of the hospitals are accredited by Joint Commission International, which is the same non-profit organization that accredits American hospitals – so quality control shouldn’t be an issue. If something does go wrong though, patients do not have anywhere near the legal recourse in Asia that they have here in the US.
Price is the obvious reason for the increase in medical procedures moving offshore, where a colonoscopy can be done for under $700, and heart surgery for $20,000. If health insurance companies offer incentives like deductible waivers and travel expense reimbursement, it’s likely that they will have more and more people willing to take a trip overseas to get medical care.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield network formed the first medical offshoring partnership last month, in an agreement with Bumrungrad Hospital, in Bangkok, Thailand, and more health insurance carriers are likely to follow suit. Here in Colorado, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of our largest and most popular carriers, so it will be interesting to see if we start hearing anything from our clients about medical tourism.
Medical care in the US is dramatically more expensive than it is at high-quality hospitals in the rest of the world. But since our health care system – based on a system of private health insurance that typically limits patients to providers within the US – has been relatively insulated from global market pressures, health care prices in other countries haven’t really had an effect here in the past. It will be interesting to see if an increase in travel abroad for medical care results in more competitive prices here at home. Or perhaps providers in other countries will start to bring their prices more in line with American health care rates. Either way, it will be interesting to see what percentage of American medical procedures are performed overseas ten years from now.