In Mexico, U.S. Network Brings Medical Travel Closer to Home

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media, February 24, 2009

For the cover story in last month's HealthLeaders magazine, I noted that U.S. employers are aggressively trimming healthcare benefits and some are looking to get out of employer-sponsored coverage entirely.

As these employers get creative in offering lower cost benefits, global hospitals and medical travel facilitators can, to a degree, step in and fill some of the void for employees turned healthcare consumers. At the same time, however, we're seeing that necessary electives are down—mirroring other consumer purchases—because of the uncertain economy.

"I would speculate that some of this is due to employees either not having or not wanting to spend the $2,500-$5,000 out-of-pocket amount required for certain non-emergent procedures," says David Boucher, president of Companion Global Healthcare. "Some of the reduction may be due to employees not wanting to be out of work on rehab when downturns affect their employers."

I had an e-mail conversation today with Boucher, who is one of the best traveled healthcare executives you'll meet (he wrote to me from the IMTA conference in Singapore). Your travel and discretionary spending budget might have been slashed as a result of this deep global recession, but Boucher continues his globetrotting ways as Companion keeps adding to its network of JCI-accredited hospitals.

Last week Companion added CIMA hospitals in Mexico, giving U.S. clients and employer groups a medical travel option that's much closer to home.

I've heard people scoff at the notion of healthcare consumers enduring a 30-hour flight to Asia for knee-replacement surgery, but an hour-long trip to Monterrey seems a lot less laughable. In addition to the attraction of proximity, Boucher adds that with an influx of U.S. residents of Latin descent, this lets them get cheaper care in their home country.

Still, the skeptics might point out—as I did with Boucher—that there's been a spike in gang activity and kidnappings in Mexico lately. He says Companion is watching U.S. State Department travel alerts closely and is recommending that consumers fly directly to CIMA hospitals in Monterrey and Hermosillo, rather than driving across the border. Most of the violence is happening in border towns. "I've been to both communities and these hospitals recently and felt perfectly safe," says Boucher.

Last year, when Companion added ParkwayHealth Hospitals in Singapore to its network, Boucher told me he thought his entire network would grow to about a dozen high-quality global hospitals, but now says he thinks the network will top off at 20 to 25 hospitals. In the case of these CIMA hospitals, he says employer groups and individual consumers have been requesting that Companion offer Mexico as an option.

Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at
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