WellPoint to begin covering some medical tourism

In a what could be a precedent-setting move, health insurer WellPoint Inc., the second largest insurer in the United States, has kicked off a small test under which it will reimburse patients for getting care overseas. Industry watchers are sure to keep a close eye on the results of this test, which could influence other large health plans to pay for medical tourism as well.

The test, which starts in January, will involve only employees of Serigraph Inc. in Wisconsin. Under the new plan, employees will have the choice to travel to India for non-emergency procedures such as joint replacement surgery. In exchange, Serigraph will waive all deductibles and coinsurance, and also will pay for all medical and travel expenses for the employee and a companion.

What makes this announcement special is its uniqueness, as to date, only a small handful of insurance companies have taken the plunge with regard to medical tourism. Most of the 750,000 Americans who participated in medical travel in 2007 did so at their own expense.

To learn more about WellPoint's decision:
- read this Star-Tribune piece
- view this WellPoint press release