In 2005, MedRetreat – whose motto is, “Where smart medicine and smart travel come together” — helped 200 people connect with doctors and hospitals overseas for medical procedures. This year, it anticipates helping at least 650 people.
Some, such as Mikey Riley of Fort Wayne, leave the country for medical care because their health insurance company will not cover a procedure or treatment and the savings they see overseas makes the trip worth it. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Indiana would not pay for Riley’s adult stem-cell transplant to treat his multiple sclerosis, calling the procedure experimental.
Riley is now in Shenyang, China, undergoing treatments using umbilical cord blood stem cells. A treatment using his own stem cells, recommended by his doctor at Northwestern University, would have cost between $200,000 and $300,000. The trip to China for him and his mother, including travel and medical costs, will cost about $30,000.
Others travel overseas because they have no insurance, or because their deductible and co-pays are extremely high.
“Right now it’s pretty much a consumer market for uninsured or underinsured Americans,” said Marsek, who is based in a regional office in Chicago. MedRetreat’s nine employees are scattered across the country, some working out of their homes to connect people to affordable care in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Malaysia and Thailand.
In the future, however, self-insured companies and even major private insurers will likely offer foreign medical care as an option for employees, as U.S. health-care expenditures continue to exceed the $2 trillion that will be spent this year, said Marsek, who is serving on a work group addressing global medical tourism with chief medical officers of Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care.
While in Fort Wayne last year to discuss health-care options for Hoosiers, Mitch Roob, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said the largest increase in the state’s uninsured population make $50,000-$75,000 a year. They may work several part-time jobs, be self-employed or work for small companies offering no insurance.
Wouter Hoeberechts, owner of a new California company called WorldMedAssist, has traveled extensively, observing and experiencing medical systems in many countries. Since late last year, he has helped 14 U.S. residents connect with hospitals and doctors in Belgium, India and Turkey, and prefers to call himself a logistical coordinator rather than a medical tourism provider.
“My company focuses more on the serious surgery,” he said, but admits, “We do help people who are wanting to save a couple thousand dollars and spend that on a vacation in the (foreign) country.”
Some clients are surprised to learn Turkey is a good option for medical care, said Hoeberechts, whose company charges a $300 flat rate. The hospital he works with in Istanbul is Anadolu Medical Center, which is accredited by Joint Commission International, the overseas arm of the largest U.S. hospital accrediting body, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
The hospital was designed with the help of medical staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which works collaboratively with Anadolu. Thirty-five percent of Anadolu’s doctors are U.S. board-certified in their specialties.
In India, his clients can get a heart bypass for $7,000. In the United States, the procedure typically costs about $80,000.
“I have met all the doctors, seen their credentials, looked at their success rate,” Hoeberechts said. “There is no difference in quality. The only difference is cost.” He also reviews hospitals’ infection rates, staffing ratios and other factors.
“People need to do their homework. What I assure people is that I will give them all the information they need. It’s up to them to thoroughly review the information provided to them.”
Like Hoeberechts, Marsek isn’t fond of the industry term medical tourism, but said, “I don’t care what they call it, the tourism is secondary. It’s most important to receive high-level care and recuperating time to travel home safely.”
Of the 550 patients his company has assisted, Marsek said only two women reported complications.
“Both developed infections that were due to poor hygiene. The women went swimming two days after a tummy tuck, and they left a week early.”
For a fee of 20 percent of what the medical procedure costs overseas, travel and corporate hotel rate fees, and a $10-per-day hotel surcharge, MedRetreat offers a list of hospitals the company has visited and researched and doctors’ names and credentials. MedRetreat also gathers the patient’s medical history, X-rays and other test results and sends them overseas. The company also arranges for the hotel and certain other details.
At this point, 80 percent of the people using MedRetreat are seeking cosmetic surgery, which U.S. insurance companies don’t cover. Orthopedic procedures such as hip and knee replacements rank second in demand. The third most-sought procedures are gynecological surgeries, Marsek said.
On the Web♦For more information on World Med Assist, visit www.worldmedassist.com.
♦For information on MedRetreat, visit www.medretreat.com.
For updates on Mikey Riley’s transplants, see Page 4A.