See the world, save your life
BlueCross BlueShield makes it easier to
have your heart bypass in, say,
Posted on Sat, Feb. 10, 2007
By Czerne M. Reid
Renowned hand surgeon Norman Cowen had patients who traveled from around the world to see him. Last year, it was his turn to go abroad for surgery.
He flew thousands of miles to
“The hospital was fantastic! I had a very good
experience,” Cowen said of the face lift he had at
Cowen, who lives in
BlueCross BlueShield of
“All we’re really doing is being a channel to help folks,” said David Boucher, assistant vice president of health care services at the insurance company. “If they’re going to do it, we’re going to make it a little easier for them.”
The insurance company is the first in
More than 500,000 Americans went overseas for health care in 2005, according to the National Coalition on Health Care.
Some see the medical excursions as a way to save
money on needed — or wanted — services. Others see it as another kind of
outsourcing that undermines the
Cowen got a very good deal on his face lift. He
paid about $7,000 at the hospital/luxury hotel instead of the $25,000 he
estimates it would have cost him in the
For far less than what it costs in the United States, patients can get services such as joint replacements and heart surgery in countries such as Thailand, India, Costa Rica and Mexico.
But it’s not just patients who save money by going overseas —insurance companies save, too.
When insurance companies help people to go overseas
for care, that could give the companies more bargaining power locally,
both with health care providers and with policyholders, said Tom Getzen,
professor of health-care finance at
“It’s the possibility of a threat,” he said.
Boucher does not know what the response to the program will be, but hopes it will help his company gain customers and keep the ones it already has.
“Thomas Friedman is right; we are living in a flatter world where competition is not just local, it is global,” said Thornton Kirby, president of the South Carolina Hospital Association.
Some industries will be able to compete globally and some won’t, he said. “I would say health care has a foot in both those worlds.”
For example, people are not likely to travel overseas to take a child to a pediatrician, or to an emergency room after an accident, or when they are in the middle of a heart attack.
On the other hand, some procedures, such as open-heart surgery, are so expensive here that even with the cost of travel, it is cheaper to go abroad.
“The question we have to ask ourselves in this country is why do these procedures cost so much more than they do in other countries?” Kirby said.
Some point to low- to non-existent malpractice claims and lower pay for doctors and other staff in those countries.
But partly, it is because paying patients in the
“We really ought to be working toward a system in this country where we don’t have to charge the insured ... to make up for the fact that other people don’t have insurance.”
In the meantime, Boucher hopes to form up to two new partnerships a year with hospitals around the world, to provide high-quality care to patients.
Bumrungrad, like other hospitals overseas, has physicians who are American-board certified. The hospital is accredited by Joint Commission International, the international arm of the Joint Commission, a leader in setting standards for health care.
Boucher, who has been CEO of three hospitals, visited Bumrungrad last year.
“I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of care,” he said.
But Kirby doesn’t expect to see an exodus of
Reach Reid at (803) 771-8378.
© 2007 The State and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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