US Federal health care legislation adds to push for medical tourism

Changes to the U.S. health care system under President Obama's new law may have the unintended consequence of increasing Americans' demand for medical tourism, says Sarah McIntosh, constitutional law and American politics professor at Wichita State University in Kansas.

David Boucher, president of Companion Global Health Care, says demand will in part originate from Medicare recipients.

Now that the health care reform bill has passed, we expect more employers to seriously consider medical tourism, for several reasons, says Boucher. One impact of the national reform law is that more doctors are going to be giving up their private practices:

  • The number of doctors participating in Medicare has been dropping since the 1990s.
  • In 2008, 28 per cent of Medicare beneficiaries looking for a primary care doctor had trouble finding one.
  • Medicare recipients are eventually going to find it much easier and faster to get treatment outside the country as hospitals drop their coverage of such patients.

    This trend is becoming evident in surprising ways, says Boucher. The Mayo Clinic was named as the number one U.S. hospital in 2009, and just 30 days later they announced that they would be opting out of the Medicare program.

    The federal reform will also increase the likelihood of employers supporting such tourism, says Jeff Koch, former vice president of the employer benefits programs at the National Federation of Independent Businesses, as long as pending regulations do not prevent such activities.

    Regardless of what happens after federal reform, if there is still room for innovative plan design that allows for pooling of small employers, then they would be allowed to build in things like access to medical tourism and access to concierge health care, while driving down costs, which would allow small businesses to have a new solution to high health care costs, says Koch.

    Source: Sarah McIntosh, Federal Health Care Legislation Adds to Push for Medical Tourism, Heartland Institute, July 2010.

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    First published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, United States

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 27 July 2010
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