WellPoint begins paying for medical tourism

Medical tourism has been the trendiest idea in medicine for years now. However, it hasn't become a standard part of medical care for most U.S. consumers yet, in part because the patients have had to pay out of pocket.

Now, however, WellPoint is embarking on a new experiment that could, if successful, change the way employers and health plans think about medical tourism. The giant health plan is conducting a pilot with Serigraph Inc., a graphics company with several U.S. locations, under which Serigraph employees would have the option to travel to India for non-emergency surgery. At this stage, WellPoint is focusing the program on cardiac and joint-replacement surgeries.

WellPoint execs say the cost of care is about 80 percent lower in India, primarily due to strikingly lower charges for labor, drugs and medical devices, but that the care itself still produces equally good results.

If providers in India have their way, WellPoint's experiment won't be the last, by far. These kinds of arrangements are being actively sought out by Indian chains like Apollo Hospitals, India's largest healthcare delivery system.

To learn more about WellPoint's medical tourism initiative:
- read this Los Angeles Times piece

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