Posted by: brucestein | April 14, 2008

Outsourcing Healthcare – Count me out!

A column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on-line edition recently caught my eye.[1]  The moral of the story is clearly spelled-out in its title: “Outsourcing health care may be a thrifty alternative.”  Indeed, the rising cost of healthcare in the United States is making it more and more attractive to have certain medical procedures completed overseas. 

 

These new “medical tourists” are traveling to destinations where healthcare is less expensive, places like India, Thailand and the Philippines.  This sort of medical travel has become especially attractive to those with consumer-driven health plans.  And now, according to this column, some companies are encouraging their employees to take this route, even providing incentives to those who do so.

 

The author of this column writes in agreement with this arrangement.  In fact, he ends his column by stating that the next time he needs hip replacement surgery, he will fly to Ireland for the procedure and recuperate over a pint of Guinness.  Now, I support consumer-driven healthcare as much as the next person.  I agree that as a society, we need to be better consumers when it comes to our healthcare, and that we need to continue to pressure our healthcare providers to contain costs.  On the other hand, when it comes to flying to a different country for a medical procedure, well that’s where you can count me out!

 

In my opinion, being a good healthcare consumer comes down to far more than comparing costs.  Quality of life issues must be considered.  How possible is it to attempt effective and efficient due diligence on the procedure, the facility, the physician, and the overall quality of care when you are half a world apart? 

 

Just a few years ago I underwent a hip resurfacing procedure.  I did my homework beforehand.  I talked to friends, neighbors, and co-workers about their experiences and about the experiences of people they know.  This “research” helped me to be better informed about the hospital and the physician who operated on me…long before I even stepped into the facility.  How possible would it have been to do this research if I had gone abroad for this procedure?

 

Along with the rising popularity of medical travel I will briefly mention a few additional issues that are major concerns to me.  First, healthcare plans can be structured to favor those in higher income brackets, allowing them to choose from a variety of options simply because they have the funds, while lower-wage employees may be forced to go with a particular plan, simply because they can’t afford anything better.  That dichotomy just doesn’t feel right to me. 

 

Second, what if we want to save money on our medicines?  Isn’t it ironic that if we attempt to purchase prescription medicines from Canada the United States government will clamp down on us in an effort to protect our nation’s drug companies?   Sure, we’re told prescriptions are more expensive in the U.S. because drug research and development are costly.  But if I choose to fly to India to have my hip resurfaced, the federal government wouldn’t flinch.  Indeed, my employer may even give me a bonus for choosing a cost effective option.  Very ironic, isn’t it?

 

 


 


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