Medical Travel The Domestic Route

December 1, 2006
Employers who do not want to send employees overseas for elective surgeries may be able to reap the benefits of medical tourism—lower-cost health care—in places that don’t require patients to pack their passports.

    Global Choice, a medical travel company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is developing a network of medical facilities that will offer employers set prices for elective surgeries at several hospitals and inpatient specialty clinics. The price includes travel expenses in the U.S. and medical costs.

    Though the surgeries will be more expensive than procedures at hospitals in developing countries, Global Choice president Ken Erickson says they will be priced "very, very competitively" against what employers and insurance companies can negotiate with medical providers.

    If such a business model takes off, it may force hospitals to change the way they charge employers for medical care. Hospitals contracting with Global Choice would offer fixed prices for clients, as opposed to the a la carte pricing hospitals normally charge. In the long term, other hospitals may opt to use low fixed prices to attract patients.

    "We want to lead the way in this whole new global pricing model," Erickson says. "At the end of the day, it will allow people to shop for health care."

    Arnold Millstein, chief physician for Mercer Health & Benefits, says that since a large proportion of hospital costs are fixed, offering transparent, fixed pricing may make them more competitive.

    Global Choice has contracted with Lovelace Health System in Albuquerque and is in negotiations with Christus Health, a hospital system that operates in the U.S. and Mexico, to offer employers the option of sending patients to Christus’ hospitals in San Antonio or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Global Choice also signed an orthopedic clinic in Las Vegas and is negotiating with an orthopedic clinic in Rapid City, South Dakota. Hospitals and clinics in areas with dwindling populations are especially interested in attracting out-of-town patients, Erickson says.

    "They built themselves a cruise ship," Erickson says of hospitals in sparsely populated areas. "It’s sailing every day without a lot of people on it."

Workforce Management, November 20, 2006, p. 31 -- Subscribe Now!