Category Archives: Cross-border Health Care

Dental tourism has some travelling abroad to save money

Another tweet from Josef Woodman about dental tourism in Costa Rica.

Getting a million dollar smile can cost thousands of dollars, money that a lot of people are not willing to spend. That’s why more and more Southwest Floridians are traveling abroad for a dental vacation.

Source: Dental tourism has some travelling abroad to save money

Lower Prescription Drug Prices Lure Americans To Mexico To Buy Meds : Shots – Health News : NPR

Good morning all.

Thanks go out to Josef Woodman who tweeted the following today from NPR about prescription drugs and going across the Mexican border to buy them at lower cost.

This is in addition to the article I recently posted, Run for the Border (Not a Taco Bell Commercial).

So wall, or no wall, Americans are going to look for cheaper prescription drugs, either in Mexico or Canada, or elsewhere, until we allow the government to negotiate prices for medications under an improved and expanded Medicare for All.

But thanks to a former Louisiana congressman who left Congress to become the President and CEO of PhRMA, a pharmaceutical company lobbying group, Congress passed a bill that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices and bans the importation of identical, cheaper, drugs from Canada and elsewhere.

But it does not have to be this way. We can lower drug prices, but by allowing the government to negotiate them, and not giving the pharmaceutical industry huge giveaways.

Here is NPR’s article:

Faced with high U.S. prices for prescription drugs, some Americans cross the border to buy insulin pens and other meds. At least 1 insurer reimburses flights to the border to make such purchases easy.

Source: Lower Prescription Drug Prices Lure Americans To Mexico To Buy Meds : Shots – Health News : NPR

Run For the Border (Not a Taco Bell Commercial)

Yesterday, one of my contacts in the medical travel space commented on an article that was posted on LinkedIn that explained why the author was sent south of the border to purchase prescription drugs (you thought I was going to just say drugs, right?) for his company.

He found out that the same drugs, made by the same manufacturer, but packaged in Spanish were much cheaper than ones packaged in English and sold north of the border.

I decided to ask for his permission to re-post his article, and with his kind permission, I am doing so here in its entirety, as posted to LinkedIn. Here is the link in case you want to read the original.

Why Pharma Sent Me South of the Border…

Published on February 3, 2019

You may have heard of people heading to other places for medical care, but is it really the right thing to do?

We know that the cost of healthcare is ridiculous. And, of course, no one is to blame…right? (Tongue in cheek)

I can’t blame the doctors – they’re great folks just trying to charge enough to cover the bills after all the red tape is required from insurance, Medicare, federal regs, etc. I can’t blame the hospitals – most of them are running in the red from having to support a widespread indigent population with recurring visits for drug overdoses and covering that overhead with Medicare reimbursement rates of 20%. I can’t blame the insurance companies – they’re the good folks just trying to break even as “non-profits”, right? (Just ask them) I can’t blame us the patients…after all, we’re just trying to get the care we need (note sarcasm as a handful overuse and abuse the system). I can’t blame pharma because they’re just trying to make drugs that save the world (snark, snark). I can’t blame government – they’re just trying to do the most for society (OK…ran out of snarks).

With no one to blame, no one is responsible to fix this.

What does this mean for me as an employer? It’s simple…

HEALTH CARE REFORM STARTS WITH ME…

No outside party can do it – I have to find ways to partner with my employees to find the right solutions to help manage costs. Let’s talk about just one of them.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER DRUG RUNS

It sounds ominous, but it’s one of the best thing we’ve found. Here’s the opportunity – I can get the same medication from the same manufacturer at substantially lower costs because I get it from a pharmacy that just happens to be located five minutes over the Mexican border. It comes in the same packaging, but it’s just written in Spanish. We verify the sourcing, we verify the manufacturing, we verify everything… And everything is above board. By working with the hospital where the pharmacy is located, we coordinate care with the physician in the United States to ensure that the patient has the right prescription, is seen by a physician in Mexico, and receives the quality product when they arrive. Legally, they can transport up to a 90 day supply over the border per day. To make it worth our while, we have them fly down to San Diego, have a courier pick them up and take them over the border for the first 90 day supply, transport them back and have them stay overnight in San Diego. The next day, the transport picks them up, takes them down for the second 90 day supply, bring them back and they fly home. That way they can get a 180 day supply per trip.

So what’s the catch?

I can’t think of one yet. Last year, our company ran a beta test with two individuals with a specialty drug each. We pay for their travel down, pay for the courier to transport them over the border to the hospital where they are met with the physicians at the hospital, we pay for the pharmacy representative, the medication, the overnight accommodations in San Diego, and a stipend to cover food and ancillary costs. What’s in it for the employee? We also cover their co-pay so they do not have to cover any costs for the medication – the medication becomes free to them, saving them hundreds of dollars if not thousands of dollars a year. Additionally, they get to keep any money that they save from the per diem money that we provide to them for their daily costs.

What’s in it for us is the employer?

Last year, after paying for the medication, all of the transportation costs including the employee costs of travel, the concierge fees for our broker who assists us with this arrangement, and all additional fees, the savings on these two individuals for one medication a piece was well over $70,000.

Do I have your attention?

Everything is legal. Everything is above board. Everything is safe. And the customer service is beyond everything that we can imagine.

This is not unique to us. The State of Utah just adopted this as their primary option for specialty medications for their employees. As I understand it, they are using a different service than I do. However, the results are similar.

We will be rolling this out to all of our employees this year. As you can imagine, there is great anticipation about how much we can save as we consider solutions and opportunities with program such as this. When it comes to healthcare, it is a game – and the people who understand the rules will win. The ones who do not understand the rules of the game will continue to pay more and lose.

Until we get a handle on controlling costs with things such as pharmaceuticals, we must continue to look for new ways to control these costs. If you would like additional information on the solution, feel free to message me.

In the meantime, feel free to get a hold of my pharma tourism broker – I promise I don’t get anything from this. I just share good news is I get it. @rockstarcurrywillix

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Wade Larson

@DrWadeLarson

wade@wadelarson.com

http://www.wadelarson.com

Millions of Americans Flood Into Mexico for Health Care

I wrote about this town in Mexico back in July of 2017 when I posted an article titled, “Cross-border Dental Care in Mexico.”

As the Truthout.com article implies, this is a caravan that no one hears about, and would be closed down if the Orangutan, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Fox News, and Pat Buchanan (he called for a wall on the Mexican border back in 1992 when he challenged the late President George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination. See Kornacki’s book, The Red and the Blue, page 152) get their way.

Here is the Truthout.com’s article:

The US’s “dental refugees” flock to Mexico in the thousands every day, seeking affordable care.

Source: Millions of Americans Flood Into Mexico for Health Care

Utah insurer will pay for members’ travel to Mexico to fill pricey prescriptions

In an effort to combat rising drug prices, one Utah health insurer will pay its members to travel to Mexico to fill prescriptions for certain expensive drugs, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Source: Utah insurer will pay for members’ travel to Mexico to fill pricey prescriptions

Cayman Islands Hospital Delivers Lower Cost Care

This morning’s post by fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, contained a small paragraph that linked to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about a hospital in the Cayman Islands that is delivering excellent care at a fraction of the cost.

Joe’s blog generally focuses on health care and workers’ comp issues, and has never crossed over into my territory. Not that I mind that.

In fact, this post is a shoutout to Joe for understanding what many in health care and workers’ comp have failed to realize — the US health care system, which includes workers’ comp medical care, has failed and failed miserably to keep costs down and to provide excellent care at lower cost.

That the medical-industrial complex and their political lackeys refuse to see this is a crime against the rights of Americans to get the best care possible at the lowest cost.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, the average medical cost for lost-time claims in workers’ comp has been rising for more than twenty years, even if from year to year there has been a modest decrease, the trend line has always been on the upward slope, as seen in this chart from this year’s NCCI State of the Line Report.

The authors of the HBR article asked this question: What if you could provide excellent care at ultra-low prices at a location close to the US?

Narayana Health (NH) did exactly that in 2014 when they opened a hospital in the Cayman Islands — Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). It was close to the US, but outside its regulatory ambit.

The founder of Narayana Health, Dr. Devi Shetty, wanted to disrupt the US health care system with this venture, and established a partnership with the largest American not-for-profit hospital network, Ascension.

According to Dr. Shetty, “For the world to change, American has to change…So it is important that American policy makers and American think-tanks can look at a model that costs a fraction of what they pay and see that it has similarly good outcomes.”

Narayana Health imported innovative practices they honed in India to offer first-rate care for 25-40% of US prices. Prices in India, the authors state, were 2-5% of US prices, but are still 60-75% cheaper than US prices, and at those prices can be extremely profitable as patient volume picked up.

In 2017, HCCI had seen about 30,000 outpatients and over 3,500 inpatients. They performed almost 2,000 procedures, including 759 cath-lab procedures.

HCCI’s outcomes were excellent with a mortality rate of zero — true value-based care. [Emphasis mine]

HCCI is accredited by the JCI, Joint Commission International.

Patient testimonials were glowing, especially from a vascular surgeon from Massachusetts vacationing in the Caymans who underwent open-heart surgery at HCCI following a heart attack. “I see plenty of patients post cardiac surgery. My care and recovery (at HCCI) is as good or better than what I have seen. The model here is what the US health-care system is striving to get to.

A ringing endorsement from a practicing US physician about a medical travel facility and the level of care they provide.

HCCI achieved these ultra-low prices by adopting many of the frugal practices from India:

  • Hospital was built at a cost of $700,00 per bed, versus $2 million per bed in the US. Building has large windows to take advantage of natural light, cutting down on air-conditioning costs. Has open-bay intensive care unit to optimize physical space and required fewer nurses on duty.
  • NH leverage relations with its suppliers in India to get similar discounts at HCCI. All FDA approved medicines were purchased at one-tenth the cost for the same medicines in the US. They bought equipment for one-third or half as much it would cost in the US.
  • They outsourced back-office operations to low-cost but high skilled employees in India.
  • High-performing physicians were transferred from India to HCCI. They were full-time employees on fixed salary with no perverse incentives to perform unnecessary tests or procedures. Physicians at HCCI received about 70% of US salary levels.
  • HCCI saved on costs through intelligent make-versus-buy decisions. Ex., making their own medical oxygen rather than importing it from the US. HCCI saved 40% on energy by building its own 1.2 megawatt solar farm.

And here is the key takeaway:

The HCCI model is potentially very disruptive to US health care. Even with zero copays and deductibles and free travel for the patient and a chaperone for 1-2 weeks, insurers would save a lot of money. [Emphasis mine]

US insurers have watched HCCI with interest, but so far has not offered it as an option to their patients. A team of US doctors came away with this warning: “The Cayman Health City might be one of the disruptors that finally pushes the overly expensive US system to innovate.”

The authors conclude by stating that US health care providers can afford to ignore experiments like HCCI at their own peril.

The attitude towards medical travel among Americans can be summed up by the following from Robert Pearl, CEO of Permanante Medical Group and a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford: “Ask most Americans about obtaining their health care outside the United States, and they respond with disdain and negativity. In their mind, the quality and medical expertise available elsewhere is second-rate, Of course, that’s exactly what Yellow Cab thought about Uber. Kodak thought about digital photography, General Motors thought about Toyota, and Borders thought about Amazon.”

Until this attitude changes, and Americans drop their jingoistic American Exceptionalism, they will continue to pay higher costs for less excellent care in US hospitals. More facilities like HCCI in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and elsewhere in the region need to step up like HCCI and Narayana Health have. Then the medical-industrial complex will have to change.

Follow-up to My Open Letter to the Medical Travel Industry

Just over four months ago, I published an open letter to the medical travel industry.

To date, I have had no response to my letter of December 14th, nor have I been invited to attend any of the conferences that have been held since, or will be held in the future, and I just learned of one at the end of this month in Washington, DC.

By that time, I will have been writing this blog for five and a half years, and still on a daily basis, my posts get at best, less than fifty views, and on most occasions, not even twenty.

I have posted them to LinkedIn, Twitter, and have re-posted them several times, and yet, each time, I get a few clicks added to the ones previously received.

I am putting my heart and soul in this and not receiving any compensation, although I should. So would it hurt if the industry paid a little more attention to my writing and to me, in lieu of actual remuneration?

As a friend we all know once said to me, “What am I? Chopped Liver?”

I am not doing this to stroke my ego, nor am I doing it because I have nothing better to do. I am doing it because I care. I am in the process of reading a fascinating book on the real reasons health care in the U.S. and elsewhere is undergoing major changes that have affected the delivery of health care, it’s cost, quality, efficiency, and its efficacy.

The least any of you could do is acknowledge my efforts and pay me some courtesy. Is that too much to ask?

I’ve met some of you in the past seven years since I began this journey, but I’d like to meet more of you. And I am sure you would like to meet me. I am funny and am a great person to know.

What say you?

Thank you very much.

Richard