Medical tourism gains popularity with health insurers

Cost challenges under healthcare reform have caused major U.S. health insurers to jump onto the medical tourism trend.

Some uninsured or underinsured Americans already travel overseas for bargain priced elective procedures and treatments. Now UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint and Humana are looking to curb expenses by encouraging their members to receive medical tourism procedures abroad through cross-border plans, Medical Tourism Magazine reported.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina has been embracing medical tourism strategies with its subsidiary Companion Global Healthcare, Inc., which has contracts with hospitals in Singapore, Thailand, Ireland, Turkey and Costa Rica. Add to the list MediExcel, a cross-border HMO that offers San Diego-area employers group healthcare coverage, including 24/7 access to routine doctor visits from delivery networks in the Mexican cities of Mexicali and Tijuana, the article noted.

Similarly, Aetna has a benefits plan that provides members and eligible dependents 100 percent coverage for qualified preventative care, such as immunizations and wellness exams, obtained in Mexicali, Tecate and Tijuana, Medical Tourism Magazine noted. Furthering its medical tourism efforts, Aetna in February launched a new partnership with Mexico's largest health insurer to give about 30,000 people who buy high-end plans access to its provider network both in this country and abroad.

Aetna's medical tourism partnership comes as many Mexican immigrants and naturalized citizens living in states like California and Texas cross the border to access healthcare services, given treatments in Mexico usually cost less and the doctors speak their language.

While Medical tourism is gaining ground among U.S. health insurers, the growth is falling short of industry expectations. A recent study found healthcare organizations that have a financial interest in increasing medical tourism have promoted the concept even if it's not based on any data or hard evidence, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The researchers also found fewer people are prepared to travel internationally for medical treatment than conventional wisdom holds.

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