Union blocks firm's India care plans

Carl Garrett was ready to go to India to get his shoulder surgery. But his trade union stepped in to prevent that from happening, touching off a debate about the appropriateness of routing employees offshore for cheaper care. Blue Ridge Paper Products of Canton, NC had begun working with Raleigh, NC-based IndUShealth to develop a program letting its workers get procedures done in India. Workers who agreed to make the trip were to get a healthy cut of the resulting savings. Garrett decided that he wanted to serve as the first volunteer for the program, attracted by the financial incentive. His employer was going to save a bundle: While his surgery costs about $100,000 in the U.S., it would have run to only $20,000 in India.

But Garrett and Blue Ridge hadn't reckoned on the backlash they would face from union execs. The union representing Garrett--United Steelworkers--was afraid that forced trips overseas for care were the next step in Blue Ridge's plans, and threatened to file an injunction to halt the company's program. In response, Blue Ridge decided to drop the program. Nonetheless, this idea is far from dead in U.S. corporate circles. A growing number of U.S. insurance companies and employers are looking into medical offshoring. Over the next few years, if U.S. providers don't do a better job of justifying their prices, high-margin surgical procedures could be the next U.S. service industry to migrate to India.

For more background on the IndiaCare debate:
- read this article from The Christian Science Monitor

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