NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 14, 2007

Though increasing numbers of uninsured patients are traveling abroad for low-cost medical care, few insurers over the past few years have included foreign providers in health plan networks.  That trend, however, is beginning to change, says Devon Herrick, a health economist and senior fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis.


  • BlueShield of California offers an HMO plan, Access Baja, in which enrollees access physicians across the border in Mexico.
  • Although many enrollees are Mexican nationals who cross the United States border each day for work, employers on both sides of the border are free to offer the plan to their workers, with the stipulation that enrollees live within 50 miles of the border.
  • BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina recently announced its health plan enrollees now have access to Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand.
  • Though no patients have taken advantage of the service yet, the hospital treated approximately 400,000 foreigners last year, including 80,000 Americans.

To make international care more attractive, some in the health care industry are tailoring packages to include more international options, says Herrick.  "Mini-med" plans, for instance, permit a limited number of physician visits each year and offer higher coverage limits or allowances that can be used anywhere, at huge cost savings.  For instance:

  • An enrollee needing a heart procedure could easily spend more than $50,000 at a hospital in the United States, and a mini-med policy might have an allowance of only $10,000 to use towards the cost.
  • A patient entering a domestic hospital would face out-of-pocket cost-sharing of $40,000.
  • But PlanetHospital, a mini-med provider, would help enrollees interested in traveling abroad obtain care from highly qualified providers, where the allowances will likely cover the entire cost of a procedure.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Health Plans Adding Foreign Providers to Their Networks," Heartland Institute, July 1, 2007.


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