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    Medical tourism conference to address finance problems

    The benefits and problems employers and insurers face in the growing industry of medical tourism will be addressed at the International Medical Tourism Conference (TIMTC), to be held in Las Vegas from April 30 to May 2. Medical tourism involves patients traveling abroad to receive healthcare services, often at one tenth of the price offered in the United States.

    The recent trend sees patients going as far as India, a popular destination for those seeking affordable care.
    Insurance companies have quickly taken to medical tourism due to the savings it creates. Some payers even offer incentives such as airfare and lodging for plan members interested in seeking overseas treatment.
    But issues such as taxation, credentialing, liability, and quality and continuity of care have surfaced as the major barriers to medical tourism.

    Ruben Toral, group marketing director for Bangkok, Thailand-based Bumrungrad International Hospital and a speaker at the conference, will discuss an initiative launched by travel service Companion Global Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina to provide international healthcare alternatives to patients. Bumrungrad has been listed as one of the world's top ten international destinations for medical services.

    Although insurance companies couldn't be more ready for medical tourism, American hospitals are not, according to Sparrow Mahoney, chief executive officer of Medical Tourism and co-chair of TIMTC.

    "Hospitals will feel a pinch," she said. She said that medical tourism creates competition between domestic hospitals' quality of care and low-cost overseas care. Mahoney said that a December conference is hoping to address this problem.

    While this year's conference is focused on medical tourism's impact on the healthcare industry, some see the trend as being most beneficial for patients.

    An organizer and speaker of the conference, John F.P. Bridges, PhD, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, sees medical tourism as liberating for patients who can experience a different type of care. The "regionalization" of healthcare brought on by medical tourism is part of a beneficial move towards consumerism in healthcare, Bridges said. "[Medical tourism] is not about rich people receiving care, but about patients traveling to countries where they have similar income status," he said.



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