Wisconsin


Healthbase Collaborates with WellPoint to Bring Affordable Medical Tourism Solutions

Healthbase collaborates with WellPoint to bring affordable healthcare benefits to Americans through an international medical tourism pilot program. Members will now have more choices regarding where to receive care and a greater involvement in the care they receive

BOSTON, Jan. 5 /PRNewswire/ — Healthbase Online Inc., a Boston-based award-winning medical tourism facilitator, has collaborated on a pilot basis with WellPoint, Inc., an Indianapolis-based health benefits company to provide global health care coverage to members of WellPoint’s affiliated health plan in Wisconsin. Healthbase will handle all the medical travel logistics and arrangements for WellPoint members.

According to Saroja Mohanasundaram, CEO of Healthbase (http://www.healthbase.com), “Healthbase is committed to providing high quality medical travel services at affordable cost. Healthbase will assist WellPoint members with coordination of the trip, medical appointment scheduling, digital medical records transfer, and concierge travel service.”

Under this program, effective from January 2009, members who travel for certain non-emergency elective procedures like joint replacement and spinal fusion, will have access to Joint Commission International accredited healthcare providers in India. This will result to lower out-of-pocket costs for members translating into thousands of dollars in total savings. A hip replacement surgery, for example, costing over $60,000 in the US, costs less than $8,000 at an accredited hospital in India.

“We are pleased to work collectively with Healthbase to deliver an international medical tourism pilot product to our clients who are interested in exploring a medical tourism solution,” said Dr. Razia Hashmi, vice president and medical director for WellPoint’s national accounts division. “Medical tourism is a promising option for improving access to affordable, quality health care. Working with Healthbase, our case managers will coordinate all steps of the medical tourism process for members interested in receiving care overseas.”

About Healthbase:

Healthbase is a one-stop source for global medical and dental choices, connecting patients to internationally accredited providers in 14 countries including India, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. Healthbase caters to individual consumers, self-funded businesses, insurers, benefit consultants, third party administrators and those using Consumer Directed Healthcare Plans (CDHPs) or voluntary benefit plans. More information at http://www.healthbase.com.

About WellPoint, Inc.:

WellPoint, Inc. is the largest health benefits company in terms of medical membership in the United States. WellPoint is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and serves its members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), Wisconsin; and through UniCare. Additional information about WellPoint is available at http://www.wellpoint.com.

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The health insurer Wellpoint is testing a new program that gives covered patients the option of going to India for elective surgery, with no out-of-pocket medical costs and free travel for both the patient and a companion.

The program is being tested at Serigraph, a printing company in Wisconsin whose managers have been looking for ways to curb rising health care costs, said Dr. Razia Hashmi, chief medical officer for national accounts for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is affiliated with Wellpoint.

“This is a first for us,” Dr. Hashmi said. “We will be monitoring every aspect of this very closely, to make sure everyone is satisfied and there are good clinical outcomes.”

By the year 2010, more than 6 million Americans annually will be seeking medical treatment abroad , according to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a consultancy. The potential savings are significant. Knee surgery that costs $70,000 to $80,000 in the United States can be performed in India for $8,000 to $10,000, including follow-up care and rehabilitation, Dr. Hashmi said. Similar savings could be achieved for such common procedures as hip replacements and spine surgery .

If other insurers follow Wellpoint, Dr. Hashmi said, the trend ultimately may pressure on United States hospitals to be more competitive in their pricing.

Critics say that’s unlikely.

“There have been some reports of hospitals that have been willing to match the prices, but I don’t know how they’re doing that,” said Howard Berliner, a professor of health policy and management at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. “The reality is there’s just no way that most hospitals can respond to this. It’s just like any service that’s outsourced – the price is so cheap abroad that there isn’t much an American company can do about it.”

At the same time, he said, the program could potentially siphon off the healthiest, most profitable patients from a local hospital.

Dr. Hashmi predicted that the program would appeal primarily to people who have traveled abroad. Many employees of Serigraph, which has offices in India, are familiar with the country.

“The quality is comparable” to care provided in the United States, Dr. Hashmi said. All the physicians speak English, and patients can share their medical records and consult with a surgeon in India before making the trip, she said.

The pilot program arranges for patients to be picked up at the airport and provides special meals to prevent food-borne illnesses. The program complies with the American Medical Association guidelines on medical tourism and uses hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International.

Dr. Hashmi said it had actually been easier to evaluate the quality of medical care abroad than in the United States. “There is a lot more willingness to share data about complication rates, the total number of procedures and the outcomes,” Dr. Hashmi said. “We’re able to get detail per hospital and per physician.”

In addition to saving out-of-pocket costs for surgery for patients, the program could potentially help keep insurance premiums affordable, Dr. Hashmi said.

More at: NY Times

For information about affordable surgery overseas, visit Healthbase.