|Linda Hepler Beaty|
About Linda Hepler Beaty
Linda Hepler Beaty, who lives near Traverse City in Michigan, is a freelance writer for Max Sports and Fitness, Junior Baseball, Growing for Market, and numerous local publications in her area.
Laura Carabello (LC): Medical travel has taken off both internationally and domestically. Many individuals choose to leave their home country and travel abroad for treatment to places such as Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and more.
However, the U.S. domestic medical travel industry has recently gained popularity, which is why I started to publish U.S. Domestic Medical Travel – a newsletter focusing on intrastate travel as well as incoming medical travelers seeking care in the U.S.
Not only are consumers beginning to recognize the many benefits of domestic medical travel, but also a growing number of employers – large, mid-size and small – are introducing benefits options.
Linda Hepler Beaty (LH): Are you saying individuals are able to use their health savings plans, and when applicable, their insurance to travel to a hospital in a different state for more affordable, high-quality care?
LH: This is very interesting. I live in Northern Michigan where access to great medical care is readily available, but if I developed an illness, cancer for example, I would want to travel to a center of excellence where providers specialize in that sort of treatment. I think this is why the option of medical travel appeals to so many others.
LC: I think it is important to note that individuals do not need to have a Health Savings or Flex Account to travel for care. The idea of medical travel is really a carve-out program.
Orthopedic surgeries, spine surgeries, and bariatrics – these are just a few of the popular procedures for which patients are traveling.
The concept has really been pioneered by large employers – especially the nation’s retailers – that are offering travel surgery programs to employees. These programs feature bundled pricing, which includes the hospital and provider fees, etc.
As an incentive, the employer may agree to relieve the employee of any co-pay or deductible because it will still be much less expensive and with better outcomes for employees to travel to a center of excellence.
The international medical travel space is also heating up, specifically in locations that are closer to home for Americans, including Mexico, Costa Rica and even Columbia.
LH: Do you think the growing number of medical travelers in the U.S. has anything to do with the fact that there are fewer individuals who are completely uninsured?
LC: Not at all. I think self-insured employers are making medical travel attractive for their employees by offering incentives such as waived deductibles and co-pays, as well as paying for a companion to travel along with them.
LH: Are employers offering medical travel benefits for international as well as domestic medical travel?
LC: Absolutely. This is probably the fastest growing employer benefit trend and I have been focusing a lot of my attention on working with employers to help them implement a medical travel component to their benefits plan.
Believe it or not, medical travel is more of a phenomenon outside the U.S. than in the U.S. Individuals all over the world travel for treatment because they don’t have access to quality care, and their own country doesn’t have the infrastructure. A lot of medical travelers come to the U.S. for the high-quality treatment that is available.
LH: How does follow-up care work in the world of medical travel?
LC: Generally, patients seek follow-up care with their primary care doctor when they return from a trip– whether in the U.S. or abroad.
If a patient visits the primary care doctor and explains that they have an opportunity for their employer to waive their copay, deductible and any out-of-pocket expenses associated with care, how can a doctor argue with that line of reasoning? They can’t.
Primary care doctors are no longer reluctant about medical travel because when the patient returns home, that doctor doesn’t lose his patient. The follow-up care is just as important as the surgery itself.
LH: I think a lot of the resentment that was forming among doctors was due to the tremendous amount of referrals that were being given.
LC: I think a lot of that resentment has disappeared.
LH: Healthcare should really be about good, affordable patient care. One of the problems with our healthcare system is that people don’t seek care until it is often too late – in part due to finances or accessibility – which ultimately impacts the effectiveness of treatment.
Another factor that influences the delivery of healthcare today is our hospital systems. I’m not sure that this comes into play everywhere, but where I live, if a patient goes to the hospital, the primary care physician is not obligated to visit or follow-up with them.
The primary care doctors can go and see the patient if they want – but they do not get paid for it.
LC: A lot of primary care doctors now work for hospitals and they are no longer independent providers. This has changed things up quite a bit.
The concierge medical phenomenon has also started to take hold.
LH: Could you tell me a little bit about concierge medicine?
LC: Concierge medicine refers to doctors that take on a set fee for the year, which encompasses total care of the patient with the exception of hospitalization or other specialized treatment.
LH: And, what about international accreditation?
LC: There is the Joint Commission International – it’s the international arm of the Joint Commission that accredits hospitals outside of the U.S.
LH: If patients travel for care at an international hospital, let’s say in Cancun, will everyone be speaking a foreign language? Or will patients be able to communicate?
LC: Most places that cater to the international clientele speak English. They know that language creates a major barrier to entry.
LH: What are your thoughts on the utilization of medical travel facilitators?
LC: A lot of facilitators are now joining with third party administrators (TPAs) that work with the employers to manage all of their benefits. In some cases, the TPA arranges the coordination of travel and lodging for the patient, but it depends on how the patient is being handled, where the origin of the referral came from, etc.
LH: I know there are platforms today where a patient can plug in a procedure and the platform will generate places, cost and the whole nine yards associated with medical travel.
LC: There is a brand-new online site called DoctorGlobe that does just this – take a look into it!
This is a technology platform that a number of employers are utilizing so that the patient and the individual worker can go online and check out different hospitals, price of procedures, network availability, etc.
LH: How long have you been publishing Medical Travel Today and U.S. Domestic Medical Travel?
LC: About 10 years ago, I began publishing Medical Travel Today, and when the domestic medical travel market began to take off about five years ago, I introduced U.S. Domestic Medical Travel – both published at my own expense.