The earthquake in Haiti has called attention to the role that micro-finance can play in developing countries, especially following a catastrophe. The largest microinsurer in Haiti was in a position to respond more quickly than many traditional financial entities, a story reported in Newsweek last month:
Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. Late in the afternoon on Jan. 22, an armored car packed with $2 million in cash rolled out of J.P. Morgan Chase headquarters in downtown Miami, headed to the Homestead Air Force Base. Thirty-four bricks of bank notes packed into ordinary office supply boxes were loaded onto a C-17 transport plane redeployed from Langley, Va., and dispatched to Haiti, lighting up switchboards at the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, the Federal Reserve, and military rescue bases in Port-au-Prince.
Before dawn the next day, the stash was on a helicopter bound for 34 branches of microlender Fonkoze. While Port-au-Prince’s nine commercial banks were in a shambles and Western Union was paralyzed, half of Fonkoze’s 42 agencies were up and running in four days, and all but two of the rest within a week. The amounts were trifling: no more than a few dollars per client. But for tens of thousands of desperate Haitians, the nimble infusion of cash amid the chaos and ruin literally meant survival. For the legions of aid bureaucrats, charities, civic groups, and emergency organizations struggling to get a grip on the Western hemisphere’s worst natural disaster in memory, Fonkoze’s nationwide client base of 200,000 depositors (50,000 of whom are also borrowers) was a ready-made lifeline. Could microcredit be the new Red Cross?
We made a mistake in the print version of our client magazine, and are using this opportunity to set the record straight. In “The Rise and Risk of Medical Tourism,” we misidentified the International Medical Travel Association (IMTA) as a provider of medical tourism certification. The organization we meant to identify was in fact the Medical Tourism Association (MTA).
There are important distinctions between groups active in the medical tourism industry, and it’s easy to mistake one from another. In addition to the Medical Tourism Association and the International Medical Travel Association, there is also an Indian Medical Tourism Association, among many other similar naming conventions. There are important distinctions among these groups, which points to the challenge of knowing the differences between them all and what that means to the medical consumer–let alone using them effectively to inform quality care decisions.
Medical tourism has gotten a lot of ink. International healthcare expert Lisa Beichl explains how it is now becoming more accepted:
A $250,000 heart surgery in the United States costs approximately US$15,000 in India, including airfare and accommodations. As a result, a number of major U.S. insurance agencies and provider companies are offering coverage for a range of medical procedures performed internationally. It is easy to imagine how this could lay the foundation for a growing treatment alternative and possibly, depending on variables such as the future of Medicare and the concept of universal coverage, a sea change in the U.S. healthcare industry.
Going abroad for inexpensive medical care sounds like a great solution upon first inspection, but there are possible perils:
Important factors such as hospital reporting, medical residency requirements, the use of evidence-based medical guidelines, and even pharmaceutical nomenclature vary worldwide, and so a critical component remains unsolved: how to standardize the way patients, providers, and payers assess and manage the risks associated with this new medical frontier.
Learn more in Lisa’s recent article.
Today, the New York Times picked up on an increasingly popular narrative: the cost-driven move to pursue cross-border care (a.k.a. “medical tourism”). Cross-border care has received much attention for its savings potential. For example, from the Times article:
Mr. Schreiner is what’s known in the health care world as a “medical tourist.” No longer covered under his former employer’s insurance and too young to qualify for Medicare, Mr. Schreiner has a private health insurance policy with a steep $10,000 deductible. Not wanting to spend all of that on the $14,000 his operation would have cost stateside, he paid only $3,900 in hospital and doctor’s bills in Costa Rica.
The concept may be compelling, but there are risks. Health consumers are still limited in their ability to compare quality of care in different countries, though sound evidence is emerging. Lisa Beichl, international healthcare expert with the Milliman Care Guidelines, discusses this dynamic in a recent issue of Health Perspectives.