Will employers and insurers send people overseas?

 

Every week, we see an announcement of a new deal between medical tourism agencies, hospitals, businesses and insurers, offering overseas treatment to Americans.

Persuading American employers and their insurers to send employees overseas has been a much more difficult struggle than many ever imagined. Terrorist attacks in India, Hamas rockets in Israel, kidnappings in Mexico – these are not headlines that help sell employers on the idea of sending employees abroad for medical care, despite the potential for substantial costs savings.

While the patient’s main concern is to save money, employers and their liability insurers are more concerned about safety, and the risk of being sued if an employee sent overseas is injured or killed in an accident or incident, kidnapped, or the treatment goes wrong. Agencies and others promoting medical tourism may play down these concerns, but with the US insurance industry in crisis, no employer can afford to run the risk of alienating their health and liability insurers. Agencies have often concentrated on selling on cost, and not understood the importance of getting risk managers and a company’s insurance brokers on board too.

Medical tourism agency Planet Hospital has signed up five employers. But after the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Planet Hospital’s employer clients said they wanted to cross India off their list. Los Angeles-based clothing retailer American Apparel recently signed up for the service. But the company is restricting its options to Mexico.

While an employer may be hesitant, employees are less so. As individuals, they often have a huge cost incentive. But unless employees are uninsured or underinsured, there is no financial incentive steering them overseas for care. Indus Health, a medical tourism agency specialising in India, is reported as having a corporate customer that has sent 15 employees overseas for care and during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November, had four clients in India, who were unaffected by events. Subsequent trips to India were not cancelled.

Most employers now know what medical tourism is and most healthcare insurers and larger employers have looked at it. The cost saving is appealing, but no employee can be forced to travel overseas. Employees and their families must have incentives and perhaps even get a share of the savings.

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