Rampant inflation, high health care costs and a shortage of medical travel | Journal of Medical Tourism | Medical travel

Recent reports have confirmed that inflation has had a significant impact this year, causing consumers to lose the value of their hard-earned money and making healthcare less affordable.

According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), health insurance prices saw their biggest increase since 2011, with family plans rising 7% to nearly $24,000. By comparison, workers’ wages rose just 5.2 percent this year, while inflation rose 5.8 percent, eating into workers’ incomes and making health care costs more burdensome.

KFF’s 2023 Employer Health Benefits Survey shed light on the significant impact of inflation on health care costs this year and provided insight into the future given the current economic trend. The study revealed that average annual health insurance premiums have risen 22% since 2018 and 47% since 2013 due to rising inflation.

For single coverage, annual premiums have increased from $7,911 in 2022 to $8,435 per year in 2023. The average premium is even higher for small businesses ($8,722) compared to large businesses ($8,321), and the total varies by of the type of plans workers have. One positive note for workers is that employers have yet to raise deductibles despite continued inflation. However, it remains uncertain how long this will last.

As a result of rising health care costs, as well as other basic expenses such as food, housing and clothing, many consumers are beginning to avoid or delay medical treatment and tests in order to save money for basic expenses.

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly four in ten Americans said they or a family member have put off medical care because of costs. The polling organization reported that nearly 40 percent of Americans have put off health care because of costs in 2022, the highest number in more than 20 years.

This is in line with KFF’s 2022 annual survey, which revealed that four in ten adults report having debt due to medical or dental bills, including debts owed to credit card companies, collection agencies, family and friends and banks .

These findings underscored the need for employers to take decisive action to review health plans for their employees and explore ways to reduce costs while achieving optimal health outcomes for their workers. One potential solution is to consider medical travel options to reduce costs while maintaining high-quality care.

Medical tourism offers a wide range of options that combine tourism and wellness opportunities with treatment plans. Some medical tourism destinations, such as Korea, Thailand and Costa Rica, provide advanced procedures such as orthopedic and complex heart surgeries at a fraction of the cost compared to the United States, resulting in significant savings.

A large employer that has successfully used medical travel offerings to provide care for its employees is North Carolina-based Hickory Springs Manufacturing (HSM). HSM initiated a direct contracting program more than a decade ago, establishing relationships with medical centers and clinics in various parts of the world, including India and Costa Rica.

Some of these hospitals are affiliated with global centers of excellence in the United States and other advanced countries. These hospitals, according to Tim Eisenhower, the company’s former director of benefits, are among the best in their respective countries while offering quality treatment comparable to that provided in the US at a fraction of the cost.

Over time, the program also began offering second opinion packages to employees who sought treatment in the US and required consultation with other specialists. Many times, spine and orthopedic surgeons in Costa Rica evaluated employees, reviewed their imaging reports, and recommended simple physical therapy instead of the high-end back surgery recommended by American surgeons.

HSM data shows that physical therapy has been successful for most employees, saving millions of dollars in unnecessary treatment costs. In the first years of the program, the company recorded savings of over $11 million.

Employees embraced the program as they realized the benefits and discovered that they might not need surgery at all, or that another surgery could restore them to health instead of the one originally recommended by American doctors. Additionally, these programs impose no cost to employees compared to paying up to $5,000 out of pocket for the same procedure in the US

More medical tourism destinations are emerging globally as destinations and medical institutions expand their offerings through global collaboration. These destinations in Europe, Asia and parts of the Middle East provide high-quality healthcare at affordable prices.

In Korea, hospitals like Asan Medical Center have cutting-edge treatments, with many firsts enrolled in various fields, including transplant surgery and cardiology.

For example, the Institute of Liver Transplantation of Assan Medical Center has recorded tremendous achievements in the past two decades, being the first center to perform an adult living donor liver transplant using a modified right lobe in 1999 and a double living donor liver transplant from two donors in 2000. In 2019, the center was ranked number 1 in the number of liver transplant surgeries performed, with a record 505 liver transplants that year.

The Center’s Heart Institute is also ranked highly globally for advanced cardiac procedures. The center pioneered the world’s first left main coronary artery stenting and the first success for transcatheter mitral and aortic valve repairs in Korea.

Many more world-class hospitals and medical travel destinations are emerging in Europe, Asia and parts of the Middle East that offer high-quality healthcare at affordable prices.

Accreditation plays a critical role in ensuring that stakeholders adhere to international standards and best practices, ensuring that healthcare delivery is in line with global safety and quality standards.

Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), the leading global healthcare accreditor with a focus on the patient experience of medical travel, provides valuable resources and tools to guide prospective buyers in making informed healthcare tourism decisions. GHA offers high-level accreditation and training to help healthcare providers demonstrate their capacity to provide safe and quality healthcare for international patients.

Costs should no longer prevent healthcare users and patients from achieving their full health potential when there are untapped resources in medical travel. For those seeking medical care abroad, we highly recommend hospitals and clinics that are accredited by Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA).

With a strong focus on an exceptional patient experience, GHA accredited facilities are tailored to your cultural, linguistic and individual needs, ensuring you feel understood and cared for. They adhere to the highest standards, putting patient safety and satisfaction first. Check out the best GHA accredited facilities here. Trust us, your health journey deserves the best.

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