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While the government battles over a health care plan, many companies are taking matters into their own hands - finding solutions that they hope will bring their employees high quality medical care and substantial savings to their bottom line.
One such solution - sending workers overseas for major medical care, a burgeoning field known as "international surgical travel" or "medical tourism."
This year, health care spending in the U.S. is expected to reach $2.5trillion, more than four times the amount spent on national defense. It is the fastest growing cost component for corporate America and shows no sign of stopping.
Snow Summit Ski Corporation is self-insured and faces a 6% increase in health care cost each year. For 2010, the California-based company has only $1 million to cover all health care costs for its 127 full-time employees and their families.
In 2007, Snow Summit began offering employees the option to go overseas for major medical care, as part of its health plan. The cost can go up to 70% less than U.S. hospitals - for heart surgeries, joint replacements, even organ transplants.
Jan Evans, Snow Summit's Risk Manager, got the option implemented. "I read this one article that said this is a good deal and it is better care, in many cases, than you can get in the United States." Evans said. "When I looked at those prices, I was astounded because the cost savings were really huge."
Steve Hanft, Snow Summit Vice President, says the savings are so great that the company will pay all travel and medical expenses, plus a cash bonus for going overseas for care. "The cost savings to the company and the insurer are so great that they can share that with the employees as well," Hanft said.
Annie Bujakowskiis the first employee from Snow Summit, and the second in the U.S., to be sent overseas by their company for major medical care. She flew 9,000 miles to Singapore to have her knee replaced. "I think that I'm saving them anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 by doing this," Anne explains.
Questioning the quality of care outside the U.S.?
In its latest report, the World Health Organization ranked Singapore 6th in the world's health systems. The United States was ranked 37th.
Annie's surgery is being done at Singapore's Gleneagles Hospital, one of 271 hospitals outside of the United States that is accredited by Joint Commission International - which means it has to meet or exceed U.S. hospital standards.
Like in the U.S., all doctors in Singapore have malpractice insurance but their premiums are drastically lower due to the few number of medical legal cases in the country. In the U.S., 60 cents of each dollar spent on malpractice premiums goes towards legal fees.
Rudy Rupak, co-founder and President of Planet Hospital -- a pioneer in medical tourism, says these are the best countries to go for specific care:
In response to lower health care options overseas, some U.S. hospitals are actively matching prices offered by their international counterparts. The new trend is being deemed "domestic surgical travel" - offering patients the chance to fly state-to-state for lower costs.