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Economic Turmoil Creates Boom for Medical Tourism

Medical tourism company WorldMed Assist says economic downturn has created an uptick in his business as more people find themselves either without employer-provided insurance or with benefit plans that have been dramatically scaled back.

Concord, CA (PRWEB) April 3, 2009 -- As economies began to falter last fall, there were many predictions how this would play out for the young but booming medical tourism industry. With six months of shaky economic news to look back on, some interesting trends are starting to emerge, most of which are adding fuel to medical tourism's growth.

"We're finding there's a definite dip in requests for surgery overseas where there's no medical urgency, such as tummy tucks, chiseled noses and dental veneers," said Wouter Hoeberechts, CEO of WorldMed Assist, a company at the forefront of medical travel for North Americans. "But we're also seeing an uptick in patients who need serious surgery -- such as knee replacements, bypass surgery, spine fusion, hip resurfacing -- but can't afford insurance, were disqualified by pre-existing conditions, or have had to rejigger their health plan to cover only catastrophic situations."

WorldMed Assist's study of recent patients reveals that more than 90% travel for procedures that would have been covered, if they'd had a typical employer-provided policy. "Because our focus has always been on the more serious surgeries, the net effect on our business of the economic turmoil is tremendous growth. We are glad to be able to help so many in need," Hoeberechts said. "With employer-provided insurance slipping away or costing individuals more, combined with most procedures costing 85% less overseas than near home, we're seeing a spike in patients who find medical tourism their most attractive option."

It's not just individual patients who are attracted to the significant savings of overseas care. Employers and insurance companies are forced to more closely examine their health plans to protect against health insurance premiums that have risen 73 percent since 2000, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. This has spurred some employers to cover fewer employees by eliminating benefits for retirees or by imposing longer gaps between hiring and benefit eligibility dates. Other employers have been steadily increasing co-pays and co-premiums (employee contributions increased 145 percent since 2000 according to NCHC), and still others are shaving costs by narrowing the list of covered procedures.

"Progressive companies are finding there's another, better way that protects employee loyalty while saving money," Hoeberechts said. "By adding a medical tourism option into their health plans and providing incentives for employees to travel overseas for costly procedures, there are big savings for employers, plus employees gain expanded options and the potential of sharing their employer's savings: a win-win. Savings in the range of 85 percent is hard to ignore during the best of times, and imperative to examine during perilous times."

Savings of this magnitude come from many factors. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute found that costs at U.S. hospitals are nearly twice as high as in the 13 industrial nations studied. Significantly higher salaries, insurance and the costs of equipment and administration are the leading reasons for the disparity.

In 2008, two significant events signaled heightened commercial interest in medical tourism: Swiss Re Commercial Insurance started offering medical travel costs as part of its stop loss policy to clients in all 50 states, selecting WorldMed Assist as its preferred third party logistics company. Also during 2008, insurance products were introduced to provide liability protection for employers. Commercial interest in medical tourism has been percolating from coast to coast ever since, and is unlikely to abate until Congress enacts stem-to-stern health care reform.

Hoeberechts reports that one of the first medical tourism questions employers ask is around quality. "As long as a company partners with a reputable facilitator, employees will gain access to doctors at the top of their field worldwide and be able to select a facility that has achieved a world-recognized standard of excellence," he said. "All our patients have been impressed with how much state-of-the-art technology these facilities deploy for high quality diagnosis, treatment and administration, and the high ratio of staff to patient."

To further ensure quality, Hoeberechts' own company performs multi-day on-site visits with each medical facility -- including in-depth interviews with the key surgeons and top administrators -- before admitting them into his tightly controlled network of providers. "I'd be out of business in a flash if I couldn't assure that the care my patients receive is on par with or better than the care they'd receive at the top U.S. facilities," he said. "Quality care is the top focus of everyone on my staff, and with each of my providers. Quality is never sacrificed to achieve higher savings."

About WorldMed Assist:
WorldMed Assist ( helps patients, employers and insurance companies get affordable and high quality international health care at top-rated medical facilities, with surgeons at the top of their field worldwide. Waiting lists are virtually eliminated. WorldMed Assist manages every aspect of care and travel for each patient, with a high-touch process that extends from first contact through full recovery at home. Employers interested in learning more about the start-up and maintenance of medical travel plans should contact WorldMed Assist at 866 999-3848.


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