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USA: Domestic medical tourism more popular with US employers than international

A new report by a leading benefits consultant says that while more US employers are using domestic medical tourism for some specialist healthcare, few are prepared to consider international medical tourism or contracting directly with hospitals.

Employers are beginning to rely more on employees to stem the tide of rising health care costs, but the inability to motivate and change habits has prompted concern, according to Aon Hewitt. It asked if medical tourism has a place in employer plans.

Aon Hewitt surveyed 1,028 US employers nationwide in its 2011 Health Care Survey and found that the top health care outcomes organizations would like to achieve this year are improving employee health habits (56 %), lowering the health care cost trend (49%)decreasing worker health risk (44%), increasing participant awareness of health issues (37%) and enhancing participation in health improvement/disease management programs (37%).  This survey suggests that success may be difficult, as 56% of employers say motivating participants to change unhealthy behaviors is the most significant challenge to accomplishing 2011 healthcare goals.

Many companies offer disease management (70%), health and wellness improvement (64%) and behavioral health (60%) as key components to healthcare strategies.  Many organizations are looking to expand efforts during the next three to five years and implement strategies that focus on total well-being to improve physical and mental health.

John Zern of Aon Hewitt says,” Despite reform, organizations still face rising costs and worsening population health.  Leading employers are using a mix of incentives, penalties and targeted messaging to reward healthy behaviour." Employers offer incentives to employees for participation in key initiatives, such as biometric screenings, health risk assessments, wellness programmes and help to stop smoking.  Some are imposing a penalty for non-participation. Money serves as the primary incentive and penalty these employers use to promote employee participation. 

One in four employers are using internal US domestic medical tourism, while half are considering it for the future. This is not for all healthcare, but primarily for managing the costs of dealing with the critically ill and those with specialist needs.28% use domestic medical tourism now and 2% are adding it in 2011. 37% may add within the next five years, but 33% have no interest.

All large employers are now aware of international medical tourism and have studied it in some detail. 74% are not interested in considering it in any way. 3% either have a medical tourism programme or ad hoc arrangements, with another 1% adding it this year. As this is a national survey that international element will include those using cross-border healthcare in Mexico and Canada. But the most significant finding for the medical tourism industry is that while 37% may be prepared to look at it within the next five years, 72% have ruled it out completely.

68% are not prepared to deal direct with hospitals in the US or overseas; they want to deal via insurers or insurance brokers. Only 10% directly contract with US hospitals with 2% more doing so in 2011. 20% may consider it within the next five years but 68% have no interest in doing so.

Source IMTJ