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Shipping the Problem Elsewhere

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Author: Anne Rimmer

I was reading a recent survey that said if given the choice, most people would rather get increased healthcare coverage than a pay raise. We in the industry know it's a mess and that many people delay getting treatment for fear of depleting their savings. The current state of healthcare in America can literally be deadly.

Which is why I wasn't surprised to read an article that stated many patients are now going overseas for their healthcare. Get a load of this:

"Carl Garrett of Leicester, N.C., will fly to a state-of-the-art New Delhi hospital in September for surgeries to remove gallstones and to fix an overworn rotator cuff. His employer, Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc. of Canton, N.C., will pay for it all, including airfare for Garrett and his fiancee. The company also will give Garrett a share of the expected savings, up to $10,000, when he returns. "

That's right! We're not only shipping jobs overseas, we're now shipping patients there, too! Of course, if this trend continues, we will essentially be sending jobs for medical professionals overseas by default.

I don't know about you, but this embarrasses me deeply. I didn't get into healthcare management to only help treat the people who were lucky enough to have coverage or could afford it. Ill health doesn't discriminate, it potentially affects us all, and the longer we let the situation get out of hand, the more bizarre and defeating solutions will be found by companies and individuals who are fed up with the status quo.

I got a good response to a previous article about people going overseas for medical procedures because it costs less. If you don't mind, I'd like to respond to some of the comments.

The first commenter said:

" you, (I) entered healthcare management (twenty years in hospital administration, consulting and eight managing medical practices)to help based on my non clinical skills. I worked largely in innercity hospitals and then transitioned to medical practice management. There I became more jaundiced with the attitudes of specialty physicians. Behind the scenes the focus of a surprising number of doctors was on paying patients, although periodically altrusim did shine through. I had to look carefully for the quiet ones who took care of patients and did not bluster at the closed door business meetings. When things got tough they would speak up, but only when really pushed. Rhetorically, I wonder why organized medicine, and our lofty management societies and associations don't focus more on the caring side, the professional side, the hippocratic side."

Here again, someone says it better than I can. Another reader makes a good point based on experience:

"Why would H/care be exempt from the global marketplace? Health care services are a product that is consumed by consumers (patients). Accordingly, patients will shop for services. Consumerism in health care has been a long time coming. For instance, my family went to Colombia to get dental work done for a fraction of what it would cost here, and we managed to add in a vacation. Now the one thing to consider, is what if there are complications, is the company going to fly the employee back to resolve the complication? (Probably not)."

Actually, I don't blame the patients for taking advantage of better deals in other countries. Your trip to Colombia sounds like a marvelous combination of business and pleasure, although I wonder if your vacation wasn't affected by the dental work! Still, you ask a great question at the end, and while I'd suppose it depends on the company and the agreement worked out in advance, another reader makes this excellent point:

"You got it right when you said 'COMPLICATIONS'. Try suing the doctor overseas and see how far you get. The malpractice piece is a large part of our health care dollar."

Then there was this comment by Lifeline Medical Associates President/CEO Jack Feltz that eloquently summed up the frustrations he experiences heading the largest provider of women's healthcare in New Jersey:

"One of the biggest wastes of resources is practicing defensive medicine because of the medical liability crisis and lack of meaningful tort reform in New Jersey and elsewhere. Physicians, I believe tend to order more and more tests because they are frightened not to. If there is a bad outcome you can bet there will be an attorney and expert to say they should have ordered every test imaginable. This is tragic, making health care unaffordable. I would rather see these wasted dollars go towards cures for breast cancer, immunizing poor children, improving care and keeping healthcare in the hands of expert doctors and nurses in the U.S.A."

I think you make an excellent point, Jack (may I call you "Jack?"). If only more CEO's had your sense of compassion. I often forget the legal part of the equation because I am so frequently enmeshed in battles with insurance carriers. Or to again quote yet another reader who says it better than I can:

"Insurance carriers are problematic, and don't pay or delay paying claims, and then don't pay them according to the appropriate fee schedule. This means patients get billed eventually for services that should have been covered. Unhappy patients complain to employers about coverage. Employers decide to go elsewhere. This doesn't reflect on American physicians, it reflects on American insurance carriers. "

Exactly. Personally, I think the solution to our healthcare crisis will have to combine tort reform with insurance reform. Outsourcing illness is a symptom of a diseased system. In the end, our political representatives will have to summon the will to play doctor and cure this problem. As I noted in my previous post, their inaction on this issue is deadly.

About the author: Anne Rimmer

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