Medical Travel Insurance for Treatment Abroad

There is a rise in the number of insurance companies providing medical travel insurance

The American Medical Association agrees that an expanding group of medical insurance company have consented to bearing at least a portion of the cost of medical tourism.

Medical Tourism, which was previously the territory of the uninsured and the under-insured is now being considered by industry giants like CIGNA, Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. These companies state that they have either started or are considering pilot programs that will offer partial travel medical insurance.

Lately, Employee Benefit Management Services Inc., a Montana company started providing medial tourism programs to their 120 self-insured customers located northwest.

Medical tourism is transforming from a market mainly of under insured or uninsured patients to a situation where healthcare travel will be accepted by U.S. health insurance policy to make it accessible to a greater U.S. population.

The pros and cons of medical travel insurance:

Various benefits provided by insurance companies to medical tourists

Insurers admit that they are thinking of providing a variety of incentives, intended as a stimulus for patients to select overseas healthcare.

Jackie Aube, the vice president of product management for CIGNA confirmed that some kind of incentive needs to be considered, while presenting an option to an employee to take a five to eight hours journey by plane.

Some insurance policies may not claim co-payments or repay patients for selecting cheaper medical facilities. The Montana firm EBMS, stated that some overseas healthcare insurance policies besides paying all healthcare costs will also cover air tickets, accommodation and other charges of the tour for the patient and an attendant.

Current estimates state that approximately 1.25 million Americans will seek out medical treatment abroad in 2014. Supporters and critics admit that providing coverage could result in further expansion of healthcare travel.

Huge monetary benefits for insurance companies

McKinsey and Co. estimate that the money saved on treatments conducted abroad could reach $20 billion yearly. This could be the reason behind the growing trend of medical travel insurance.

Countries like India, Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica and Korea provide medical treatment at a lower cost as compared to healthcare facilities in U.S. The recently created Medical Tourism Association of West Palm Beach Fla reports that a heart-bypass surgery in U.S. will cost $130,000; whilst a similar procedure will cost about $34,000 in Korea and about $6,650 in India. A hysterectomy in the U.S. cost $20,000 whereas the same treatment will cost around $4,000 in Costa Rica combined with a tour to Costa Rica.

Aube of CIGNA agrees that the main interest definitely lies in the monetary savings. She observes that many big employers are thinking of providing overseas healthcare insurance. However, so far they have not made a decision. She further adds that they are also encouraged by the possibility to present more options to their customers.

This is true also for Aetna, who has come into the market gradually with one employer Hannaford Brothers, a Maine based grocery chain, that has started providing travel medical insurance for hip and knee surgeries to their 27,000 workers. A spokesperson said that to date, no one has shown interest in the offer.

Also, this was the reason for the creation of Companion Global HealthCare Inc., a program of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of South Carolina. It offers foreign healthcare as a component of a package of health insurance policies.

David Boucher, the assistant vice president of health care services, thinks that the primary benefit for patients will be to evade ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses and for employers to start reducing a small part of their healthcare cover expenses.

Some insurers and physicians are cautious of lower cost luxury

This trend is commended by insurance companies and medical tourists. They are tempted by lower cost of medical facilities abroad as compared to the price of similar facilities in U.S. and healthcare facilities that claim to be on par with top U.S. hospitals.

However, it also has ignited apprehensions amongst physicians and cautious insurers in the US. They are concerned about ensuring safety, high quality and constant access to care while treatments are conducted overseas.

The American Medical Association, recently released the first-ever guiding principles for medical tourism. In this guide, they mentioned that, for the moment it is not clear whether the dangers overshadow the profits.

The guidelines mention that medical tourists should only be recommended to institutions authorized by the international wing of the Joint Commission, a major accreditation agency of US, or the International Society for Quality in Health Care. Also, the patients must have greater access to information regarding physicians' qualifications and consequences.

Physicians cautioned that it is vital to arrange in advance for follow-up healthcare after coming back home. Also, medical tourists should be informed about the hazards of combining treatment with lengthy air travel and holiday activities.

Currently, a large number of U.S. patients are paying cash from their own pocket for overseas healthcare. However, this is predicted to change as insurance companies and employers are including treatments abroad to their networks and providing medical travel insurance to reduce "runaway" expenses.