Insurance providers Are Changing The Medical Tourism Market

Medical tourism describes people who fly to get medical attention abroad.  In the past, this typically applied to those who travelled home from underdeveloped countries to major medical centres in highly developed countries for unavailable care. However, in past years it can apply similarly to those from developed countries who migrate to developing countries for low-priced medical treatment.

Because of the availability of high-quality alternative healthcare overseas at inexpensive and fiercely competitive rates, there is a rising demand for healthcare beyond borders, and both employers and insurers are trying to cash in on this shift in an attempt to save costs. Employees found that pursuing healthcare facilities outside the country is more cost-effective than finding the very same facilities at home. It is so that patients also get to save more money after factoring in travel costs, housing and sick leave from work.

For instance, in India, a hip-replacement surgery costing $75,000 in the U.S. will cost $9,000. These financial incentives are responsible for the massive shift of Americans to access healthcare in several other countries like Singapore, Thailand and Turkey. Major insurance providers, including Aetna and CIGNA, are now offering medical travel, which has been the realm of uninsured and underinsured clients until now.

Health insurance providers around the world have started to immerse themselves in the medical tourism industry experimenting with cross-border and international medical coverage. The premise of such policies is that insured persons may visit another nation to undergo specific medical treatment at a clinic covered in the insurance plan and have the insurance company cover the medical expenses in whole or in part. Such services give patients trust in the country of destination about the standard of treatment.

Insurance firms use a portion of the considerable savings generated by such services to provide incentives for patients wishing to pursue medical treatment outside the country. Many of the benefits include waiving premiums and out-of-pocket insurance costs and covering the patient and a travel companion's travel expenses. Many of these insurance schemes in other parts of the world have started to introduce partnerships with doctors. Employers are not left out in the current trend as several Fortune 500 companies outsource costly medical procedures to health care providers overseas in a bid to cut employee healthcare costs.

Another major factor leading to this new paradigm is the rising number of South-East Asian and European healthcare facilities that match developed countries' healthcare requirements, including the United States and Canada. The standard policies provided by medical tourism companies typically cover risks of health treatment, medical evacuation, cancellation of journeys, acute illnesses, and accidents that may occur to the patient and travel partner during the health travel. That being said, the packages and coverage limits depend on each insurance company's pricing policy.

The four leading U.S. insurers: Aetna, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, and Humana are now taking measures to extend their coverage to include international policies focused on healthcare availability in foreign countries. BlueCross BlueShield, a South Carolina-based insurance firm, has collaborated with healthcare providers in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Malaysia and Costa Rica to create low-premium, high-deductible insurance policies aimed at lower-wage employees who are worried about saving money.

Aetna, the United States' largest for-profit healthcare services corporation, has partnered with Apollo hospital, India, to provide an insurance package for Americans to obtain medical treatment. Aetna's provision of this policy sends employees of Serigraph Inc., an Athena WellPoint customer, to Apollo Hospital for necessary regular procedures. The scheme is set to begin with Apollo Hospitals in Delhi and Bangalore, then go to their clinics authorized by JCI. Under this insurance scheme, Athena Wellpoint would cover all costs incurred by the patients, including travel and lodging.

The UnitedHealth Group has established a similar initiative that sees over 200,000 Americans travelling to Bumrungrad International Hospitals in Thailand and Apollo Hospitals in India via fully-insured as well as self-funded healthcare plans. Blue Shield and Health Net have established an insurance scheme in California that provides healthcare in Mexican hospitals for U.S. employers employing a large number of Mexican workers includes about 20,000 patients in this plan.

Additionally, Blue Cross Blue Shield offers insurance plans to allow and enable people to go overseas for low-cost medical treatments from their home countries. The healthcare management company has partnered with Bumrungrad International Hospitals to include compensation for medical services arranged by Companion Global, an insurance firm. The use also requires two Medical Care follow-up appointments with the doctors.

In Europe, this development has also had a substantial effect on the continent's health tourism industry. The European Insurance Alliance currently provides a scheme in Ukraine in which its covered patient will undergo a thorough medical examination and care in Israel under either the regular plan or the VIP plan. Moreover, today the Ukrainian government has put in place legislation to improve medical tourism in Ukraine. The legislation states that travel insurance, consisting of medical and injury insurance, is compulsory and should be carried out in compliance with an arrangement between both the subjects of such travel activities and their insurance providers.

For this scenario, an insurance contract should be provided before departure to the travel agent. As specified in the law, the insurance policy shall provide tourists with medical treatment and reimbursement of the expenses incurred during the country's stay time. An interesting response to this rise in medical tourism would be that, for instance, healthcare facilities in the U.S. have started accepting recommendations from health travel companies, offering discounted services to American and non-American patients.

In participating countries, this increase in health tourism has a significant effect on health care. Medical tourism provides an opportunity in countries where patients face long delays before completing a surgical procedure or treatment to clear those backlogs by recommending their patients to foreign health care providers. This is true of the British National Health Service that refers patients to neighbouring countries for alternate medical procedures.

With more than 14 million patients travelling annually for healthcare, medical tourism is still considered a growing market. Even then, as technical developments and better partnerships by insurance firms endure in international healthcare, medical tourism will become a borderless industry.