2009 Archives

Insurers aim to save from overseas medical tourism


The following article, which appeared in numerous regional and national publications, is from the August 22, 2009, edition of USA Today. Nathan Cortez, a professor in SMU's Dedman School of Law who studies medical tourism, provided expertise for this story.

August 24, 2009

By Tom Murphy
The Associated Press

Elizabeth Kunz left her dentist's office this spring with a mouth full of problems and no way to pay for them. The South Carolina resident went out of her way, literally, to find a solution, which turned out to be in Central America. Her trip to the tropics is part of a health insurance experiment for trimming medical costs: overseas care.

As Washington searches for ways to tame the country's escalating health care costs, more insurers are offering networks of surgeons and dentists in places like India and Costa Rica, where costs can be as much as 80% less than in America.

Until recently, most Americans traveling abroad for cheaper non-emergency medical care were either uninsured or wealthy. But the profile of medical tourists is changing. Now, they are more likely to be people covered by private insurers, which are looking to keep costs from spiraling out of control.

The four largest commercial U.S. health insurers — with enrollments totaling nearly 100 million people — have either launched pilot programs offering overseas travel or explored it. Several smaller insurers and brokers also have introduced travel options for hundreds of employers around the country. . .

Concerns about liability also may be keeping some employers from adding overseas care options to their (health care) plans.

U.S. employers who encourage an overseas medical trip could become litigation targets. It can be difficult to sue an overseas provider in U.S. courts, said Nathan Cortez, a Southern Methodist University law school professor who studies medical tourism. And the average malpractice recovery in Thailand is about $3,000, roughly 1% of the U.S. average.

To ease this fear, medical tourism companies have started offering insurance that protects employers who send employees overseas from liability.

Read the full story.

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