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Medical Tourism, Hospitals, and Politics: The Real Challenge Ahead

Famed Indian surgeon claims "India does not represent cheap health care." But such discussions on cost differentials in medical tourism don't reflect the political hellfire of offshoring Medicare patients. We believe political influence and hospital companies like Tenet Healthcare Corporation and Universal Health Services, Inc. will likely shut the door on any discussions of Medicare payments going overseas.

In response to President Obama's recent remarks (April 19, 2011 Virginia) about US citizens getting cheaper health care overseas, Indian heart surgeon Ramakant Panda issued a statement that the President misunderstands Indian health care. My take is that Dr. Ramakant, and most overseas clinicians misunderstand the US political environment, and Medicare in particular.

Like an effort in the fall of 2010 by a group of leading hospital chains in India, including Fortis Hospitals and Max Healthcare to enter agreements for US patients, we see a fundamental misunderstanding of the USA health care system.

As India and other countries increase their efforts to garner patients and revenues from the US, there will be tremendous pressure from hospital companies such as Health Management Associates, Inc., Community Health Systems, Inc., PHC, Inc. and others. US hospital companies will pressure Congress to prevent any outflow of US funds to another country's health care system. And this will not be just for Medicare patients.

Look to United Healthcare, Aetna, Wellpoint, and other insurance companies to be on the receiving end of both Congressional pressure and a concerted PR campaign for their efforts to "off-shore" US patients and US tax dollars.

And for members of Congress themselves we certainly know they will come under intense political pressure for allowing US tax dollars to go to hospitals in another country.

In light of record federal budget deficits, a sinking dollar, and political realities we see little hope for exporting US tax dollars to India, Mexico or any other country's healthcare system.