Attn. Biz Agents: Get Med Travel on Your Radar
Attn. Biz Agents: Get Med Travel on Your Radar

Attn. Biz Agents: Get Med Travel on Your Radar

This is the first in a series about employers’ medical travel benefits and opportunities for TMCs and corporate agents.

Few corporate agents are benefitting from the fast-growing medical travel market, despite the fact that companies are increasingly offering healthcare travel as a benefit.

Medical travel vendors told Travel Market Report that companies who pay for travel as part of employees’ medical benefits seldom use their own managed travel programs.

Not helping the situation is the fact that business travel industry associations and large travel management companies do not appear to have medical travel on their radar screens.

An emerging strategy
While more companies are including medical travel as an employee benefit, their approaches to coverage for medical travel vary.

Some companies allow employees to buy any travel they need to receive medical care. Some rely on a travel agency that works for a hospital or clinic. Some companies use a vendor, commonly known as a medical travel facilitator, to package medical care and travel needed to receive care.

“Medical travel is an emerging strategy that we include in our standard strategy material and discuss with most clients,” said Alexander Domaszewicz, principal of the consulting firm and HR specialist Mercer.

“There is great interest (among employers) in hearing about emerging strategies that have the potential to provide equal or better medical care and results at lower costs.”

A 2011 Mercer survey found that 18% of employers with 5,000 or more employees already cover domestic travel for surgeries other than organ transplants. (There is less need to travel for transplants because there are so many centers of excellence around the country, according to Domaszewicz.) Better than half of those employers are also interested in discussing international medical travel.

Medical travel: not a new concept
The idea of traveling to receive health care is nothing new. If you can’t get adequate or affordable care at home, go somewhere else.

The U.S. has been a medical travel powerhouse for decades. Major hospitals across the country have made millions of dollars annually providing state-of-the-art care for wealthy patients from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

But that came to an near halt when 9/11 slammed the brakes on easy entry access for would-be patients who didn’t hold U.S. passports.

Lower costs lure U.S. travelers abroad
Now the U.S. is back as a major player – but this time on the outbound side. Individuals are traveling to Australia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and other destinations to get more affordable care.

It’s easy to see the appeal. Jonathan Edelheit, vice president for sales at United Group Programs, a third party health coverage administrator, told National Public Radio last year that heart bypass surgery costing $80,000 in the U.S. can cost as little as $16,000 in Thailand, at a hospital providing care as good as or better than its U.S. counterpart.

Employers see the advantage
Employers are jumping on the bandwagon. If elective surgery is too expensive at home, why not go somewhere else? That somewhere else could be Bangkok, or it could be within the U.S.

All it takes is a center of excellence, as top-flight medical facilities are called, willing to negotiate.

Lowe’s has negotiated flat-rate fees with the Cleveland Clinic for complex cardiac procedures. Lowe’s employees travel to Cleveland from around the country, with the airfare and other travel costs paid by their employer.

PepsiCo covers costs for employees and dependents who opt to have certain procedures performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The company covers both medical and travel costs, as well as waiving deductibles and coinsurance.  (See story “Pepsico Med Travel Benefit Expands Market for Agents,” Dec. 22, 2011)

TMCs missing the action
Most corporate medical travel is pre-packaged by medical travel facilitators, Domaszewicz said. Facilitators have the flexibility to work with corporate travel departments, TMCs, or business travel agencies, but few do.

That may be because companies aren’t asking them to partner with their travel arrangers.

“If one of our employers asked us to use their in-house travel department or TMC, we would certainly honor that request,” said David Boucher, MPH, president and CEO of Companion Global Healthcare, which packages medical services and necessary ancillary services such as travel.

“If the employer doesn’t have a preference, we generally use a TRAVELSAVERS agency because they know the market and have the flexibility.”

Companion Global Healthcare is a partner with Well-Being Travel, a sister company to TRAVELSAVERS and to Travel Market Report.

Corporate travel agents and TMCs can learn more about the opportunities in medical travel by attending the Well-Being and Medical Travel Conference 2012, June 20-21 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For information, or to register, visit

Next time: TMCs’ leverage with travel vendors would be a big asset in handling medical travel, but so far most aren’t playing.

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Medical travel is an emerging strategy that we include in our standard strategy material and discuss with most clients.

Alexander Domaszewicz, Mercer

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