Medical Tourism: Saving Money on Global Benefits, Part 3

George Bashaw

George Bashaw – Atlas Global Benefits

Medical tourism is a hot topic, but can it save money for your company?  And if the answer is yes, should you adapt your health plan to incent certain employees to go overseas for medical procedures because it is less expensive?  This is a complex issue and requires that you do your due diligence before deciding anything.  This blog on medical tourism is part 3 in a series to help companies save money on international benefits.

Medical Tourism
If you are unaware, medical tourism is exactly what it sounds like, people traveling abroad for medical procedures.  According to McKinsey and Company, the industry is expected to reach over $100 million by 2012.  With medical cost skyrocketing in developed countries like the US, people are traveling to places like India, Singapore, and Thailand for savings up to 90% on certain procedures. For example, a heart bypass in the US can cost around $150,000 compared to $15,000 in India, which includes air fare and a brief vacation. Therefore, self insured corporations with and without global operations are taking notice and beginning to investigate.

Multinational Companies
If you already have a multinational employee base with a true global benefits plan, medical tourism is a viable option for your employees covered under the existing plan.  Typically, under these plans your employees can seek medical attention from the provider network.  However, it is also typical to find the domicile country of your company to be excluded from these plans.

If you have a true global benefits plan, ask your broker or your carrier about the possibility of medical tourism within this population.

Self-Insured Plans
Perhaps the greatest potential savings can be realized by self-insured plans in developed countries like the US where medical cost are high.  Unfortunately, I am unaware of a clear solution you can implement.  However, large medical carriers like CIGNA will help you explore the opportunity.

I recommend performing a utilization study going back 3-5 years to determine the occurrences of planned medical procedures which are good candidates for large savings like heart bypass, hip replacement, or knee replacement.  Armed with this data, you can compare those costs with alternatives in other counties.  Then, create an incentive plan that may appeal to a segment of your employees.

Sounds great for the wallet but India for Heart Surgery?
The thought of traveling thousands of miles to a distant country, where you may be unfamiliar with the culture and customs, and sometimes even the language, may sound like a big step, and it is.  However, you may find the quality of care equal or better than you are receiving now.  I live in Tulsa, OK and going to Cleveland Clinic sounds appealing if faced with a medical procedure.  Did you know that the Cleveland Clinic has a joint venture with the UAE and a clinic in Dubai?  Did you know that the Harvard Medical School has a joint venture with Wockhardt in India?

In Summary
There are many additional aspects to explore with medical tourism: cost, quality of care, cultural, legal, liability, and more.  Unfortunately, it would take a novel to address them all and I cannot in a blog piece.  However, if you are serious about saving money the potential is there.  Just be sure you do your due diligence.  Please leave a comment to let me know your thoughts or experience with this topic.

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4 responses to “Medical Tourism: Saving Money on Global Benefits, Part 3

  1. Good morning George,

    I just contacted you via email; however, I wanted to comment on your blog post as well. I agree with you that international as well as domestic competition is the way to reduce escalating health care costs. Things have become out of hand with the lack of competition and transparency in the health care marketplace. “Innovative” solutions such as wellness programs and higher deductibles have only scraped the surface of a larger issue in the rising cost of health insurance. We have come up with self funded solutions for employers on both an international and domestic level that can be offered as standalone plans or side by side options to a B.U.C.A. ASO. (BCBS, United, Cigna, Aetna).

    I also commend you for noting that we need to provide incentives for employees to encourage them to travel for the highest cost procedures.

    I look forward to hearing from you and commend you for continuing the discussion of medical tourism and bringing competition and consumerism back into the market.

    Feel free to get in touch with any updates or to learn more!

    Best regards,

    Matt Mckelvey
    617 770 0917 ext. 301

  2. George,

    A thoughtfully-written article about a subject that is increasingly relevant, particularly for self-funded group health plans. My organization has developed a clear solution for self-funded plans that cleanly integrates into existing plans.

    In fact, we are certain that it integrates easily and that it works because we already have two global companies who have adopted our Corporate Services model for medical tourism.

    Please feel free to contact me any time: or 800-290-0197.

  3. Thank you both for your comments and I look forward to learning more about your solutions for medical tourism. George

  4. George.. I appreciate the information that you have conveyed via your article