Walmart and Boeing Co. are the latest companies to offer their employees medical travel coverage for treatment at medical facilities out of their home areas.
Walmart’s is the more comprehensive of the two. It offers coverage for treatment at six health care facilities around the country, effective Jan. 1.
Boeing’s new medical travel coverage extends only to Cleveland Clinic.
“This is another indication that more employers will be providing healthcare for their employees that has a medical travel component,” said Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Well-Being Travel.
Heart, spine, transplant surgeries
Walmart’s new program, called Centers of Excellence, offers 100% coverage for heart, spine and transplant surgeries.
The coverage is available to an estimated 1.1 million Walmart employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the employer’s healthcare plans. Walmart is the nation’s largest employer.
Along with consultations and care, the coverage includes travel, lodging and food for the patient and a caregiver companion. Patients must be healthy enough to travel for the surgeries.
Patients requiring heart procedures can travel to Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio; Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.; and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Those requiring spine-related procedures can travel to Mercy Hospital Springfield in Springfield, Mo., and Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas. For transplants, they can travel to Mayo Clinic sites in Rochester, Minn., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Jacksonville, Fla.
Walmart is the first retailer to offer such “a comprehensive, nationwide program for heart, spine and transplant surgery,” according to Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits at Walmart.
“We devoted extensive time developing Centers of Excellence in order to improve the quality of care our associates’ receive,” she said. “We have identified six renowned health care systems that meet the highest quality standards for heart, spine and transplant surgery.”
The company plans to expand the program to include more procedures and providers, according to Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove.
Boeing’s agreement with Cleveland Clinic, which went into effect Oct. 1, allows about 83,000 of the aerospace corporation’s employees, retirees and their family members to receive cardiac care at the facility for a fixed price.
The fixed-price coverage will include the cost of certain cardiac procedures as well as travel and lodging for the patient and a companion. .
A matter of time
Walmart has been studying the medical travel option for a number of years, according to David Boucher, president of Companion Global Healthcare, whose firm did a sales pitch to Walmart several years ago.
“Doing something domestically is a first step,” said Boucher, adding that he expects employers to expand their medical travel coverage to international facilities as consumers grow more comfortable with the option.
“As more and more Americans and Canadians get used to getting on airplanes for surgical care, it’s a function of time [before they say], ‘We can go to the same airport, maybe go three hours longer, and instead of ending up in Birmingham, go to Costa Rica and get just as good care for 50% to 80% lower cost.’”
Moebes of Well-Being Travel noted that “Walmart joins companies like PepsiCo and Loews that are looking for alternative health services for their employees.”
“More and more employers are finding cost-effective solutions by negotiating pricing with quality medical facilities outside their home city,” she said.
PepsiCo announced a year ago that employees covered by its health plan could travel to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore for heart surgery and joint replacement procedures with no out-of-pocket costs.
Lowes started offering cardiac surgery coverage at Cleveland Clinic in 2010. Lowes recently expanded coverage to include chronic pain management and spinal surgery. (See: PepsiCo Med Travel Benefit Expands Market for Agents, Dec. 22, 2011)
Impact of healthcare reform
U.S. healthcare reform is a significant factor in the trend, Moebes said.
“With companies like Walmart preparing and buying healthcare products that their employees can take advantage of outside their home city, it’s obvious that self-insured companies are beginning to understand the impact that the Affordable Care Act will have on healthcare costs, services and availability,” said Moebes.
“It is clear that healthcare is becoming a global business,” she added. “Employers need to understand how this expands their options in terms of quality, price and availability.”
Opportunity for agents
For travel agents and suppliers, the employer trend toward medical travel coverage represents an opportunity, said Moebes, whose firm serves as a medical travel resource for travel sellers. (Editor’s note: Well-Being Travel is a sister company to Travel Market Report.)
“Well-Being Travel will be making announcements in the near future that will help travel suppliers and agencies alike understand the medical travel business for their employees and their customers,” Moebes said.