Health Trend: Out of Town Surgery

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – What happens if your in-network health care provider can’t handle that gall-bladder procedure or knee surgery at a price you and your plan can afford?

As with some other expenses, you may need to take the planes, trains and automobiles approach to get a good deal and have your medical care taken care of. One company, BridgeHealth Medical, Inc. is helping consumers do just that.

The company, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., provides what you might call “brokered” mobile medical care.

BridgeHealth Medical works at getting you the best price on your surgery or other medical procedure, whether it will be performed locally or out of town. The company “partners” with hospitals and urgent care centers to locate the most cost-effective medical center for your needs, so if the facility happens to be out of town, Bridgeport will step in and assist with the travel needed to reach an out-of-the-area hospital.

According to BridgeHealth, by linking up with a “medical travel facilitator” companies can accomplish the following:

•    Save 30% – 50% per case, so instead of spending $45,000 for knee replacement, the cost of operation through medical travel facilitators is $20,000.

•    Choose from a selection of top quality providers both in the U.S. and abroad.

•    Obtain medical services provided by a program with superior quality results: fewer surgical complications and returns to surgery, as well as lower rates of post-surgical infection.

These are significant benefits. If BridgeHealth can do what it claims, consumers would benefit from lower health insurance costs (many insurers will waive premiums when a customer travels for a less costly procedure), as would employers and health insurance companies.

And most major medical procedures are covered under “mobile” medical care, not just the simple ones:

•    Heart bypass and valve surgery
•    Heart pacemaker and defibrillator placement
•    Knee and hip joint replacement
•    Shoulder reconstruction and other major orthopedic procedures
•    Spinal fusion and spinal decompression
•    Laparoscopic prostate surgery
•    Tumor treatment
•    Weight-loss surgery

The company admits that medical travel isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than the limited options available to health care consumes right now, especially for those who don’t have the best health care packages.

“Medical travel is not a panacea, but it does force transparency in terms of quality and costs and should be factored into the proposed programs to fix the U.S. health care system,” says Victor Lazzaro, Jr., CEO of BridgeHealth. “Medical travel exemplifies the concept of private sector competition, as fostered by global and domestic companies, and can have the same impact on health care delivery as it does on other industries. Today, Americans can readily travel to the optimal provider, whether that site is within the United States or outside our borders."

BridgeHealth has seen its hospital network grow from 20 institutions in 2009 to more than 30 medical centers by the end of 2010, some of them outside the country.

It seems a bit complicated (or desperate) to leave your hometown and seek surgical care in another state or another country, but there is some compelling evidence that it works. One BridgeHealth client, Elise O'Keeffe, underwent hip replacement surgery at one of BridgeHealth's “Centers of Excellence” in Newport Beach, Calif. and not only did the surgery go well, but Lazzaro says her insurer waived the $5,400 deductible and out-of-pocket costs in exchange for her decision to undergo surgery away from home, where the cost would have been more expensive.

That kind of cash can add up for companies and employees looking for a break from high health care costs.

"Self-insured employers can save from 15% to 50% working with our specialty network of providers," Lazzaro Jr. says. "The surgery and all after-care are paid for up-front and at a flat rate."

Mobile medical coverage may not be for everyone, but for the cost-conscious it may relieve the financial pressure associated with high cost surgical care – even if you have to leave your home to receive it.

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