September 21, 2020

EC plan now offering medical travel service


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By Eric Lindquist From Leader telegram

Health City Cayman Islands is one of the sites where patients can receive care through Group Health Cooperative’s new medical tourism program. Group Health CEO Peter Farrow underwent a colonoscopy at the facility earlier this year.
An Eau Claire health plan is taking flight — into the tourism business.
The trips to foreign countries arranged through Group Health Cooperative of Eau Claire offer more than just the normal rest and relaxation of a vacation. They also can provide a hospital room with a view.
Group Health’s new destination medicine service seeks to arrange care for clients in other parts of the world and the United States — all with the underlying goal of saving money for patients and the organization.
The 41-year-old nonprofit contracts with Chicago-based Best in to operate the program, which researches and qualifies providers in at least 17 countries and provides concierge service to arrange all logistics — from booking lodging and transportation to scheduling surgery and medical records delivery — for patients.
“We’ve know for years that you can get world-class care in other countries for a fraction of what it costs here, but my concern has always been that it be smooth for customers,” said Peter Farrow, CEO and general manager of Group Health.
Farrow said he is comfortable that Best in Class Care — through its website and 24/​7 support — has addressed that concern and made the process of making arrangements for medical care in foreign countries easy for potential clients.
Best in Class Care CEO Jeff Bohnson said Group Health is one of the first four early adopters of the program, launched in January, that he intends to market to health plans and self-funded employers across the country.
The service has tremendous growth potential, Bohnson said, because so many people are struggling to afford health care costs.
“As aging baby boomers get older and more care is needed, this just makes too much sense,” he said. “The interest already exceeds our expectations, so we’re wildly excited by the response.”
At this point, the Group Health program has justified its marketing slogan — “Your healthcare network just got a whole world bigger” — with potential medical travel destinations including , Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cayman Islands, , Belgium, Turkey, Moldova, India, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Australia. The service also offers domestic options in places such as Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.
The first customer, Farrow himself, successfully underwent a colonoscopy in January in the Cayman Islands.
“I said I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do for myself or for my family,” he said.
The price tag for the procedure was about $600 and the total cost of the trip, including transportation and lodging for Farrow and his 18-year-old son, was $3,100. That means the pair got a medical exam and a midwinter vacation to a warm-weather destination and still saved about 50 percent of the price of having the procedure done in the , he said.
“My experience was very good,” Farrow said, noting that the Health City Cayman Islands facility where he had his colonoscopy is accredited by the Joint Commission International, the global branch of the U.S.-based Joint Commission that accredits American health care providers and monitors care quality and patient safety.
Yet Farrow understands that navigating international travel and undergoing a medical procedure far from home isn’t for everyone, even with a money-saving incentive. He acknowledged that getting some clients to trust foreign providers will be a challenge, even though he insisted the quality and safety of care provided at the international facilities affiliated with the program is at least equal to that provided in the Chippewa Valley.
That’s why the program is merely an option for clients who have both a sense of adventure and a health problem.
“It’s always important for people not to feel pressured,” he said. “There certainly is incentive — they get to keep some of those savings — but it’s a completely voluntary program.”
Farrow said clients who choose cheaper offshore options could collect 5 to 10 percent of the savings, which easily could total a couple thousand dollars and cover all or part of their deductibles. The rest of the savings would go toward controlling premium costs for all members.
Though Group Health has just started rolling out the program, one client already had a surgery in Mexico that saved the health plan $25,000 and at least a dozen others are in the pipeline, he said.
“People are really excited about this opportunity,” Farrow said. “There is a strong underlying frustration with health care costs locally.”
That frustration extends to employers trying to provide medical coverage to their workers.
“Employers have asked us to do something like this to save costs,” he said. “We hear from employers constantly that they cannot sustain the kind of cost increases we’ve been seeing.”
Farrow said he’d prefer that Chippewa Valley residents receive health care at local facilities, but added that he views the program as an innovative way to address high health care costs.
“We have to provide some mechanism to create a market force that compels local providers to lower costs,” he said.
Contact: 715-833-9209, [email protected], @ealscoop on Twitter
IMAGE: Photos contributed by Patients Beyond Borders |

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