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"Bill of Health" - Medical Tourism

by JEFF YASTINE ,  PBS | 2008-07-24

JEFF YASTINE: The high cost of health insurance is driving more Americans overseas for treatment. And that's catching the eye of large companies hoping to capitalize on the trend. In tonight's "Bill of Health," we look at how the medical tourism marketplace is maturing from a cottage industry into a big business. In the latest sign of medical tourism's growing popularity. Intercontinental Hotel Group recently struck a deal to sell hotel rooms and other services to Americans venturing to Latin American hospitals. The arrangement opens Intercontinental's brands in Mexico, Brazil, Panama and Costa Rica to travelers seeking surgeries and other medical treatments. Industry consultant Michael Horowitz says such programs are becoming popular as large companies recognize the growth of medical tourists.

DR. MICHAEL HOROWITZ, PRESIDENT, MEDICAL INSIGHTS INTERNATIONAL: They spend a night or two in the hotel before their procedure. They have hospitalization and then they need to spend more time in the country recovering. The Intercontinental Hotel Group wants to provide services to those patients within the realm of what they usually do, that's hospitality services, a familiar brand, a familiar setting, food, lodging.

YASTINE: Large healthcare companies like Aetna are also taking a closer look at overseas healthcare. Hannaford Brothers, one of New England's largest grocery chains, struck a deal with Aetna to offer care in Singapore for employees seeking hip surgeries and other expensive procedures. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina has also set up a subsidiary, Companion Global Healthcare, linking eight accredited foreign hospitals with the 1.5 million members of its health plan. The trend has caught the attention of the U.S. medical establishment. The American Medical Association recently issued its first medical tourism guidelines for employers and insurers, while adding that it was quote, unclear at this time whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Bridge Health International advises companies and insurers on medical tourism. CEO Vic Lazzaro sees several factors at play as companies look for lower healthcare costs.

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