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Can Medical Tourism Help Solve America’s Health Care Crisis?

By Steven Lash, President & CEO of Satori World Medical

When Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, was asked by Larry King on the March 5 episode of Larry King Live to comment on the Obama Administration’s health care reform plan and America’s current health care challenges, medical tourism was at the top of the list. Below is an excerpt of the transcript from the March 5 segment of Larry King Live. Dr. Gupta said:

He (President Obama) is drawing an inextricable relationship between the economy and health care. As people talk -- the economy is issue No. 1, as we talk about all the time. But he's making the point, I think, and he has been for some time, even while he was campaigning, that you cannot talk about the economy without talking about health care.

Businesses have to provide health care insurance for their employees. It is often very difficult for them to do that, in addition to trying to reach some sort of profit from their product. So I – that message, I think, has been pretty loud and clear, and I think it is resonating.

He's also talking about the fact that you can't fix the health care system without bringing down costs of health care overall. And since you brought it up, I was just in India, and one of the stories that I was doing was about medical tourism. Here is a good example -- 750,000 Americans leave the United States every year to go abroad for life-saving operations. Why? Mainly because of cost. It can be up to a tenth of the cost in some of these countries such as India, such as Singapore.

Dr. Gupta is correct. The potential cost savings are enormous. Take open heart surgery, for instance. The cost of a heart-valve replacement surgery in a U.S. hospital can be anywhere from $60-$100K, yet that same procedure in India costs just a tenth of that, and while still meeting or even exceeding the patient care and quality standards and outcomes of top U.S. hospitals. In fact, many of the doctors who perform heart surgery at international hospitals are U.S./U.K trained and Board Certified. Furthermore, the technology and equipment in these hospitals are absolutely state of the art.

So can global health care really help America’s troubled health care, and how?

Well I believe the answer to that question is yes. As the medical travel industry begins to mature, we continue to see the following trends.

While medical travel will certainly never replace the need for quality, affordable health care in the U.S., it certainly offers many Americans a viable alternative to accessing high quality health care at a fraction of the cost than in the U.S.

1. President Obama’s health care reform program: At the top of President Barack Obama’s priority list for America is ensuring quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans. This will most certainly accelerate the acceptance and demand for medical travel and global health programs.

2. Increased consumer education: More and more Americans are becoming educated about the high quality care that is available outside the U.S. Today’s health care consumers are becoming more informed, which has lessened the concern over patient quality and safety at international hospitals.

3. Industry’s expansion into employer-sponsored health plans: Medical travel programs, while once primarily catering to the uninsured market, are beginning to become available to U.S. employees as part of their employer-funded health plan. In fact, Satori World Medical has created the first global health care program that actually shares the financial savings with all stakeholders, including the employee.

The cost of undergoing a procedure through Satori World Medical is anywhere from 44 to 84% less expensive than in the U.S. (including the costs of travel and 4-star hotel accommodations for the patient and a companion) Therefore, by selecting the Satori Global Network™ for their surgical procedure, not only will the individual/employee not incur any out-of-pocket cost whatsoever but they will also have the opportunity to receive thousands of dollars funded into a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) that is established by their employer. These funds deposited into the HRA are tax-free to the employee and can be used to cover future medical expenses including premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and more.

4. Growing demand for Consumer-Driven Health Care: Americans are now demanding greater control over decisions that affect their health and medical care. “Employers, health plans and policymakers recognize that unless consumers are more engaged in decisions about their health and the costs associated with those decisions, costs will continue to soar.” (Deloitte) High-deductible plans, skyrocketing premiums, and increasing co-pays and co-insurances are prompting patients to act more like traditional consumers.

5. Explosion of retiring baby boomers, also known as the “Silver Tsunami”: The first wave of the 80 million baby boomers heading towards retirement also referred to as the “Silver Tsunami” phenomenon, will result in a significant population shift and a considerable bulge in healthcare expenditures.

While medical travel will certainly never replace the need for quality, affordable health care in the U.S., it certainly offers many Americans a viable alternative to accessing high quality health care at a fraction of the cost than in the U.S.

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Tags: Financial, Global, Gupta, Healthcare, Lash, Medical, Reform, Sanjay, Savings, Steven, More…Tourism, Travel

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Comment by Li Deng on April 2, 2009 at 2:46pm
There are no easy solutions for fixing US Healthcare and most likely any changes will take time to enforce. Meanwhile, medical tourism offers a good alternative for affordable quality procedures abroad. With reputable medical tourism company such as WorldMed Assist helping patients with the logistics, it makes medical travel to other countries that much less stressful. Another motivator for medical travel is to have procedures done that either aren't approved in the U.S. like two-level cervical disk replacement (whereas only single-level is approved in the US) or procedures that were just recently approved (like Hip Resurfacing - approved in the US only in 2006) where US surgeons don't have anywhere near the experience of their counterparts in certain countries.

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