Growth of Medical Tourism May Become Political Issue

Americans going overseas for healthcare mean fewer patients visiting hospitals in this country.

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HERE’S AN UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP that is a sign of the healthcare times. The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) recently announced that they will work together to facilitate medical-related travel into Latin America.

The goal of this partnership is to promote medical tourism. IHG is one of the world’s largest hotel companies while the non-profit MTA, based in West Palm Beach, Florida, represents international hospitals, insurance companies, healthcare providers, and medical tourism companies. MTA said medical-related travel into Latin America has increased exponentially over the past decade, as patients and insurers seek viable, innovative alternatives to manage healthcare costs.

Keeping Patients In U.S.A.

Growth in the number of Americans willing to travel abroad for healthcare may become a political issue. In this country, unions have noticed this trend. During the past two years, several union leaders have commented publicly that Americans should get their healthcare in America.

Obviously, more patients in the United States means more employment for union members who work in hospitals and other healthcare settings. At the same time, about half of the acute-care hospitals in the United States are insolvent and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, according to a recent report. (See TDR, May 26, 2008.) These struggling hospitals would welcome access to these patients—who can afford to pay for their own care and are willing to travel great distances for quality medical care.

Many American patients in the United States travel abroad for better care, according to an article “Medical Migration,” in the May 5 issue of Modern Healthcare. The magazine published the results of a study by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions showing that U.S. healthcare providers will lose $16 billion in revenue this year as a result of patients seeking care in other countries. That study also predicted that, by 2010, U.S. patients traveling to other countries for healthcare could cost U.S. hospitals and other providers $68 billion.

The numbers are significant. According to the Deloitte study, some 750,000 U.S. residents traveled abroad for medical care last year. Predictions are for an increase to six million by 2010.

Sustained growth in medical tourism means access to fewer patients by hospitals and physicians in this country. THE DARK REPORT foresees the possibility that the hospital industry and unions might unite in calling for political action to discourage or rein in medical tourism, making it tougher for Americans to seek healthcare in other countries and to have their health benefits program reimburse for part or all of their care outside the United States.

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