If you think it’s difficult attracting and retaining qualified nurses and other skilled medical staff now, just wait until hospitals have a hard time attracting and retaining patients.
According to the newspaper Hindustan Times, at least 40 American corporations are participating in a health plan to send some employees abroad to receive medical treatment. United Group Programs, a health insurer in Boca Raton, Florida, began offering the program six months ago. Of its 4,300 corporate clients, 40 have signed on to the plan that sends employees who seek non-emergency medical procedures to countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Whether it is for back surgery or hip replacement, employees are not forced to go overseas for these procedures, explains Jonathan Edelheit, vice president of United Group Programs.
The employees can choose to get the surgery in the United States and pay the deductible and co-insurance, which could cost them a couple thousand out of pocket, or go overseas with a friend or spouse. The advantage is they pay nothing out of pocket if they go overseas, he notes, in addition to a fully funded vacation abroad.
Though the initial perception may have some questioning foreign medical care, Edelheit notes that patients get a private room in a hospital that is akin to a five-star hotel, are waited on by attentive nurses, and are treated by doctors who, more than likely, attended an American medical school and have practiced in the United States.?
“The pros are that people get to take a vacation on their own, before or after the surgery, and can visit Thai beaches or see the Taj Mahal, in addition to saving several thousands of dollars,” says Edelheit. “Cons are that it could be a 20-hour flight to their destination and they are in a foreign country. However, it is safe and they are chauffeured to the hospital. For some people, they find it exciting. It might not work for others who want to be around family.”
What about complications that could potentially arise, leaving an employee recuperating in a foreign hospital for weeks? “The employer would want them to be over there because the employer is saving more than 80% of the total cost of the procedure,” adds Edelheit. ?
The latest issue of Newsweek says angioplasty, which costs $50,000 at an American hospital, can be performed for merely $6,000 in Mohali, India, according to GlobalChoice Healthcare, a firm that arranges foreign medical procedures.
The magazine also estimates that medical tourism to Asia could generate up to $4.4 billion by 2012.
The Employee Reaction
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Healthcare analyst Kathleen O’Connor thinks that giving employees a range of choices for medical care would keep current and future employees satisfied. In particular, programs that could enable employees to save money on medical procedures could become more popular if the employees were given a range of choices in the matter.?
“If going to a foreign country was the only choice, employees might be upset. This could affect turnover, because people like choices. It would be better if they are presented with a rationale about the costs and benefits and can participate in the decision,” she says.?
Employees Dissatisfied With Healthcare Costs
According to the 2006 Health Confidence Survey from the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute, rising healthcare costs are a primary driver of Americans’ increasing dissatisfaction with the nation’s healthcare system.
The data shows that many Americans feel that rising healthcare costs have hurt their household finances and believe that steps should be taken to slow the increases.
The survey shows that 52% of Americans are not too satisfied or not at all satisfied with the costs of health insurance, compared to 16% who said they are extremely satisfied or very satisfied with costs.
In addition, 48% said they were dissatisfied with costs left uncovered by insurance.