Medical tourism has long been a buzzword in the benefits world. But how do you take this concept and actually apply it?
In theory, medical tourism makes perfect sense. As the world becomes smaller and as more and more business is conducted internationally, it’s a natural step that people are learning how healthcare costs differ across the globe and are using this to their benefit. In many other countries, the cost of some procedures is half what it costs in the U.S., not to mention other benefits like shorter waiting times and quality support systems.
Sending employees to Hungary or Brazil for dental work will save about 60% on the cost of most procedures. Sounds great, right? But realistically, traveling half way around the world for a root canal probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for most employers or employees.
The idea of “medical tourism” on a more local scale is more realistic, limiting the “tourism” to a reasonable traveling distance for your employees. You don’t have to look very far to see huge jumps in the cost of procedures.
For example, if you’re looking to get a spinal MRI done in Milwaukee and you look at a 30 mile radius, it can cost anywhere from $400 to $1000 for facilities ranked equally in quality. Just a difference of a short drive could save your company $600 in healthcare costs.
A number of insurance carriers are offering medical tourism & cost comparison tools that allow employees to “shop around” and view the cost differentials for healthcare services in their immediate area. For example, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield offers a tool called Care Comparison to those on their plans that compares price, quality, number of procedures done per facility, and other metrics that are valuable when choosing a place to get care. United Health Care and Humana also have similar tools.
Utilizing medical tourism/cost comparison tools to bring this information to light is the first step in helping employees become smarter healthcare consumers. If you build incentives to use medical tourism tools into your plan design, you have the potential to realize major savings.