Category Archives: Knee Replacement

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Messenger

From the “I Think It’s Time for Another Rant” Department

In response to my last post, The Further Adventures of Ashley Furniture in Medical Travel, I received several comments about the facts presented in the article, which by the way was also published in The New York Times, A Mexican Hospital, an American Surgeon, and a $5,000 Check (Yes, a Check).

Now I don’t mind comments, I welcome them. But they should not be directed towards me personally, because I am not responsible for any misleading or inaccurate reporting by the author or authors of articles I write about.

Some of the comments should, rightly be directed to the individuals or organizations mentioned in the article, as they are the active participants in what the article was describing, namely the knee replacement surgery of the spouse of an employee of Ashley Furniture Company.

I would like to point out one fact I failed to mention. Ashley has sent about 150 employees or dependents to either Mexico or Costa Rica, and since 2016, they have saved $3.2 million in health care costs, according to Marcus Gagnon, the company’s manager of global benefits and health.

Mr. Gagnon, as a side note, was featured in two previous articles published by Medical Travel Today.Com back in October and November 2017. (See my posts: Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 1 and Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 2)

Points were raised as to why NASH is sending patients and exporting surgeons to other countries to perform cheaper surgery pricing? NASH stands for North American Specialty Hospital. To answer that question, go to the source, NASH.

Another point was raised about pricing, and it was mentioned that US facilities charge as low as $14,990 for a total knee replacement, implant included, as a transparent bundled case rate. Hotel room for that is $149 plus tax, no hospital overnight required. And that malpractice insurance has no additional cost, plus there is no need for expensive flights, passports, etc.

Good question, Then why does the medical travel industry exist at all in the US, if what was commented is true? The fact is, it isn’t. That’s why Ashley, and HSM, a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina has been doing this for some time, as I have previously reported, and because I met the patient advocate for one of HSM’s employees at the ProMed event in 2014.

The patient in the KHN article, Donna Ferguson, also works for a furniture manufacturer in her Mississippi home town, and I bet that her employer was sure glad it wasn’t his dime that paid for her surgery, but that her husband’s company did.

Another point was made about the “concerns about quality of care” and the way Mexico does not require continuing education credits, and other criticisms of the Mexican health care system. Yet, as the article stated, they went beyond the JCI standards, and even got an extra autoclave to sterilize instruments more quickly.

Also, a comment was made about where the surgeon was from. In this instance, he was a Mayo Clinic trained, orthopedic surgeon from Milwaukee, and he would not have done this if he felt it would ruin his standing in the profession. Oh, and maybe there have been other physicians who have traveled to meet patients elsewhere. So what. The article was talking about this one, not a whole list of them.

Yes, I have not visited Galenia or Bumrungrad, as many of you have. That has been the point of my writing a blog for nearly seven years. But I have only been to three events, and only one invited me to speak. What am I, chopped liver? I post my articles to my blog and LinkedIn so that folks can read them and invite me.

Of course, I’d like to take fam tours of facilities. Of course, I’d like to meet other people in the industry, but since October 2012 when I began, I have struggled financially, personally, and medically to just stay alive. A little concern and interest on your part would have been nice.

The other points raised in the comments about the $5000 dollars she received and fees and patents, waiving deductibles and copayments were more than likely handled by Ashley’s medical travel plan administrator, IndusHealth, who also happened to be the administrator for HSM, and whose president I also met at ProMed in 2014. Again, I am only a messenger.

Finally, a comment was made that my next to last paragraph was a stretch. Perhaps so, but in light of this past weekend’s protests in Portland between anti-fascists and fascists, and the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, not to mention, three that were foiled last week, and Trump’s Nuremburg-style rallies, I can be forgiven if I want to express an idea that could bring some people to understand what the rest of the world is like.

I am not interested in what other protests happen around the world. I am only concerned, as far as Americans and medical travel are concerned, with showing them that there are no “shithole” countries, and that there are good and bad everywhere. I believe a little on-the-ground education, especially among the working class, white or otherwise, will improve racial and ethnic relations. Call me an idealist, but that is all we have to go on if we are ever going to have peace in the world.

There was something mentioned in the article that is kind of puzzling. A medical travel expert was quoted as saying that “Building a familiar culture in a foreign destination may be appealing to some American consumers, but I do not see it as a sustainable business.” If that is so, then why is he in the business in the first place, and why is he partnered with someone else on a podcast on that very subject, and who are both known in the medical travel world?

That’s the end of my rant. I invite anyone who wants to invite me to the next event or fam tour, to do so. Please let me know in advance what you are willing to pay for, and give me enough time to make arrangements for traveling with my medical condition, as traveling outside the US is somewhat problematic, depending on where it is, and other factors that might prevent me from doing so.

And again, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Messenger.

 

The Further Adventures of Ashley Furniture in Medical Travel

Readers of this blog will remember two previous articles I linked to back in October 2017 and November 2017 about the Ashley Furniture Company’s foray into Medical Travel.

Now comes a new article, courtesy of Kaiser Health News, that shows just how American patients are saving money by having surgery in Cancun, Mexico for procedures such as knee surgery (are you listening, Workers’ Compsters?)

Not only are the patients traveling to Cancun, but so are the physicians from the US.  As pictured below, Donna Ferguson, the wife of one of Ashley’s employees, is shown in the hospital in Cancun, along with her doctors, one of whom will be performing knee replacement surgery. As stated in the article, all she had to do was walk out of her hotel, and into the Galenia Hospital through a short hallway.

Donna Ferguson, center, of Ecru, Miss., had no contact with Milwaukee surgeon Dr. Thomas Parisi, left, before meeting him in Cancun the day before he performed her knee replacement surgery. (Rocco Saint-Mleux for KHN)

Donna’s surgeon, Dr. Thomas Parisi, from Milwaukee, had flown to Cancun the day before. To get this surgery, which she was getting for free, she would also receive a check when she got home. (I’ve said this before, but you never listened)

According to the article, the employees of Ashley receive a $5,000 payment from the company, and all their travel costs are covered. They use this option because they have no out-of-pocket copayments or deductibles, so it made financial sense for both a highly trained orthopedist and a patient from Mississippi to leave the US and meet at an upscale Mexican hospital. (Let’s see Trump try to built a wall to stop that!)

Dr. Parisi spent less than 24 hours in Cancun, so no one could accuse him of slacking off to play golf, and was paid $2,700, which as the article stated, was three times what he would have gotten from Medicare. The cost of the surgery for Ashley was less than half of what it would have been in the US.

To understand better, just why Ashley is doing this for their employees and their families, let’s look at what the average knee replacement would cost in the US: about $30,000 — sometimes double or triple that; whereas in Mexico, at Galenia, it was only $12,000. according to Dr. Gabriela Flores Teón, the hospital’s medical director.

The standard charge for the night at Galenia is $300, compared to an average of $2,000 at US hospitals, said Dr. Flores.

But besides the big savings on the surgery, there was also savings on the cost of the medical device, made by a subsidiary of the Band-Aid people, J&J, in New Jersey. The implant cost $3,500 in Mexico, but nearly $8,000 in the US, Flores continued.

In case you WC hotshots were wondering, Galenia Hospital is not some fleabag hospital on the cheap. It is accredited by the international affiliation of the Joint Commission (JCI). They set the standards for hospitals in the US.

However, so that doctors and patients could feel comfortable with surgery, NASH (North American Speciality Hospital) based in Denver, and who has organized treatment for dozens of American patients at Galenia since 2017, along with Galenia, worked to go beyond those standards.

In the two SPOTLIGHT articles referenced above, the manager of global benefits and health at Ashley, Marcus Gagnon said, “We’ve had an overwhelming positive reaction from employees who have gone,”

The company has also sent about 140 employees or dependents for treatments at a hospital in Costa Rica, and together, the foreign medical facilities have saved Ashley $3.2 million in health care costs, said Gagnon. (Wake up, you WC guys! Why are you being so stubborn?)

Gagnon continued, “Even after the incentive payments and travel expenses, we still save about half the cost of paying for care in the United States,” “It’s been a nice option — not a magic bullet — but a nice option.”

So, if Ashley can do it, and if HSM could do it too, the so could you. Not all the hospitals outside of the US are fleabags. Galenia in Cancun is one example. Bumrungrad in Thailand is another, and there are plenty more around the world that cater to medical travel.

The whole point of my advocacy for medical travel and workers’ comp was so that American workers and their dependents like Donna could travel abroad and see what the world is really like, so that political, hate-filled rallies and incidents we are seeing everyday since the election of a white supremacist to the presidency, would not take place.

How else will the American worker learn about the real world beyond his borders if not this way? Certainly not from Fox News.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad / Roughing It

 

The Road to Recovery: Post-Acute Care in Workers Compensation

The following is directed towards all those engaged in medical travel and have been following my blog for some time. Sorry I haven’t been writing in a while. I either did not see anything to write about, or just wasn’t in the mood.

But the article below should be of extreme interest to all of you who deal with post-acute care and after care, even though you are not involved as of yet in workers’ comp.

As the original focus of the blog was transforming workers’ comp, this should be read by those of you who have followed my ideas on the subject. Let me know what you think.

NCCI, for those of you not familiar with them, is the organization responsible for collecting and distributing data about the American workers’ comp industry, what is driving the costs of comp, and of claims, and other financial data relevant to the industry’s function.

Here is the link to their article:

Source: The Road to Recovery: Post-Acute Care in Workers Compensation

An Old Story Resurfaces

My loyal readers may recall that in two separate occasions, I discussed a company in North Carolina called HSM that chose to send its employees to India and Costa Rica for medical care under their self-insured health care plan.

The two previous articles, US Companies Look to ‘Medical Tourism’ To Cut Costs and Self-Insured Employers and Medical Travel: One Company’s Experience came out of an interview in Business Insurance.com that was conducted by the author and the Director of Benefits for HSM, Tim Isenhower.

This morning, my good friend Laura Carabello of US Domestic Medical Travel.com published another interview with Tim, adding two more locations to their medical travel portfolio, Cancun and the Cayman Islands.

The interview is reproduced verbatim below, and pay attention to one point Tim makes about his company’s workers’ comp costs, a point I mentioned previously and cite as a basis for considering implementing medical travel into workers’ comp.

Here is the interview:

SPOTLIGHT: Tim Isenhower, Director of Benefits, HSM
Spotlight U.S. Domestic by Editor – March 20, 2018

About Tim Isenhower

Tim Isenhower, Director of Benefits – has worked with HSM and their self-insured health insurance for the past 25 years. Managing a self-insured health plan through the 90’s to today has provided him the opportunity to think out of the box for reduced healthcare cost programs including direct contracting, on site clinics, chronic disease management, and medical tourism. With IndUShealth, Tim and HSM were pioneers in self-insured companies offering medical tourism, as was presented on ABC News and Nightline.

About HSM

HSM is a privately-owned holding company based in Hickory, North Carolina, that specializes through its subsidiaries, in the manufacture of components for the furniture, bedding, transportation, packaging and healthcare industries, and the design and construction of automated production machinery for the bedding, apparel, aerospace and other industries.

Medical Travel Today (MTT): As a pioneer in the medical travel phenomenon, your story and your company’s role is so intriguing.

Tim Isenhower (TI): We are a manufacturing company and have had facilities coast to coast, as well as technologies in small towns and big cities. We were negotiating discount rates with hospitals across the country, where prices varied based on location.

I went to a human resource seminar in Raleigh in 2007 and Rajesh Rao’s company, Indus Health, was presenting medical travel to India as an option for employers. I went to India with Raj and his team, and got a physical exam which took less than six hours. In the U.S., this type of physical would have taken a month, from schedule to results.

So, we began offering medical travel to India for our employees during our annual enrollment process. We told them that if they chose to have a medical procedure done in India we would pay 100 percent, including travel with a companion.

We got no takers in the beginning. But at one of our final meetings, a fork lift driver from one our plants volunteered to have a knee replacement done in India – he simply couldn’t afford to have it done in the U.S.

He had never even been inside an airport, so I went with him and his travel companion. I was a little nervous because he had no experience traveling. But we got to India, and he actually did very well. He was impressed by the level of treatment he received.

When he returned home, he wrote a testimonial for our company newsletter. After that, more of our employees started traveling to India.

Soon word-of-mouth inspired more of them to get their surgeries in India because they saw what a positive experience it was.

MTT: So why did you shift your destination away from India?

TI: The cultural differences and distance resulted in many of our employees becoming homesick.

So, we started looking closer to home for medical care options. We have a large Hispanic population and Costa Rica had a history of high quality healthcare. We chose that area as the new medical travel destination.

Mostly, we send people for gastric procedures, joint replacements, back surgeries, hernia surgeries – a wide gamut of procedures.

Positive word-of-mouth has kept up the level of interest, and we also visit every location each year to promote the medical travel offering so more employees can understand its benefits.

MTT: And now you have expanded to Cancun. Do you find that there are other opportunities?

TI: We have. We had a patient go to Cancun just a couple of months ago. She did very well and that was a little different concept because it was an American doctor who flew down to Cancun to do her hip replacement. She was very happy with the services, pricing and results. We also send people to the Cayman Islands for various surgeries.

MTT: What has this experience meant to you, as an employer, beyond the cost savings?

TI: It’s really benefitted employee morale, to have a chance to travel to a place like Costa Rica, Cancun or the Cayman Islands. They come back and tell everyone about what a positive experience it was.

We’ve also been able to use our medical travel option as a recruitment tool.

What’s more, we saw our worker’s comp costs decline. [Emphasis mine]

I get thank-you notes from our medical travelers all the time, and we publicize these positive experiences within the company.

There’s no charge to the employee, and we give them a bonus when they return of 20 percent of what they saved the company.

MTT: Wow! That’s very generous.

TI: Up to $10,000. We are just trying to be a good employer, and this is just one way of doing that.

MTT: Do you know how many of your employees travel for surgery every year?

TI: I have lost count. We have roughly 2,500 employees now, and we’ve probably sent about 500 of them during the period of time that we have been doing this.

MTT: Did you ever have any unexpected outcomes?

TI: We’ve had people who had issues with back surgery, and they weren’t allowed to come home until the issue was resolved. But it was resolved.

They got better, came home and are doing very well.

That doesn’t always happen in a U.S. hospital. Here if a patient has issues down the road, they are on their own.

MTT: No legal issues?

TI: Fortunately, no. And the program is growing.

We’ve had everybody from executives to line workers utilize the program. Not everyone qualifies. A few have been eliminated because they have comorbidities that makes traveling for surgery unsafe, so these few were turned away.

MTT: And if you had to improve the program in any way, what would you suggest?

TI: I don’t know how I’d improve it.

Everybody that comes back is ecstatic about the program. The folks at Indus Health make it work. I know other administrators who couldn’t make it work. But Indus Health’s nurse case managers and screening process make it a no-brainer.

Rajesh Rao: We work very hard to make sure our patients are happy with our services. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver.

We work hard with our destinations to make sure we can provide assistance and high quality outcomes because that is what sells the program.

Jim Polsfut: I would like to add that it is a pleasure to work with Indus Health for all the reasons that Tim mentions. Their expertise and thoroughness have worked out very well with us.
We focus on three main objectives.

First, the quality outcomes.

Second, the satisfaction that we get from helping patients save money. In the U.S., it is so expensive to receive medical care even when you have a health plan. In that regard, the patient benefits in a significant way.

Finally, the cost benefit to the employer. For self-insured employers, this is important because of the hyperinflation of medical costs in the U.S. It’s difficult for employers to avoid the impact of healthcare expenses.

All of these factors motivate us, and give us a lot of satisfaction to provide a quality medical travel option.

Here is the link to the original: http://medicaltraveltoday.com/spotlight-tim-isenhower-director-of-benefits-hsm/

Medical Travel for Americans is Alive and Well

Many of you have probably thought that going abroad for medical care after passage of ACA was a thing of the past, or that the idea that workers injured on the job would go abroad was a “stupid, ridiculous idea and a non-starter”, have forgotten that medical care in the US is the most expensive in the world.

But the simple, undeniable fact is that we spend too much on medical care and get very poor results and outcomes, while other countries spend far less and get better outcomes.

Why are we so stubborn? And why hasn’t the workers’ comp world realized that they are fighting an uphill battle to lower costs every time they come out with some new strategy or cost containment measure that never lives up to its promise industry-wide?

Sure, there are individual cases where these companies save money for a particular client, but overall, the cost of medical care for workers’ comp still rises, even if that rise is slow at times, or appears to have shrunk, only to rise once again the next year, as seen in the NCCI State of the Line reports.

An article yesterday in Salon.com said that traveling abroad for medical care simply makes more sense — even regular teeth cleaning is four times more expensive in the US than it is in Mexico.

One of the first procedures mentioned in the article involves a Minnesota couple who went out of the country for an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. On her fourth trip to the Czech Republic, it finally worked, and she got pregnant. The procedure in the US would have cost them between $12,000 and $15,000.

While IVF is not something that workers’ comp would cover, the fact remains that procedures cost far too much in the US, and in the case of IVF, only have a 29% success rate, according to a CNBC report cited in the article.

An estimated 1.7 million Americans traveled abroad for care in 2017, according the Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, and author of the same titled book. In my seven years of studying medical travel, Josef Woodman’s name has figured prominently in many articles and forums of discussion on the subject.

The article goes on to say that that is 10 times more than the 2008 estimate from Time magazine.

Some of the top destinations for medical care are: India, Israel (always go to a Jewish doctor first), Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea (unless that little twerp up north gets an itchy trigger finger), and Turkey.

However, there are other, more accessible destinations closer to home like Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, etc.

Typical operations are orthopedic or spine surgery (are you listening work comp world?), reproductive operations, cardiovascular and eye surgery.

For example, a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) in the US costs an estimated $92,000 (you could buy a couple of nice cars for that amount), whereas in India, the same operation would cost $9,800.

A total knee replacement (are you still listening ,workers’ compsters?) cost around $31,000 in the good ole US of A, but in Thailand, costs around $13,000. Tell me how you can save that much on a knee replacement using any of your so-called cost saving schemes?

These same operations in Costa Rica would cost 45 to 65% less than in the US, and would not require such long flights from most parts of the US. What are you waiting for? Save some money, I guarantee your insureds will love you for it.

Malaysia would be 60 to 80% less, but why go there when you can go to Costa Rica?

According to Woodman, medical tourism (travel) is a Band-Aid for the country’s dysfunctional health care system.

Woodman told Salon, “I don’t think you can penetrate this with philanthropy. It’s gonna be baby steps all the way. But in the meantime, medical tourism is a really important option.”

Woodman also said he did not like the term “medical tourism” because it is not a vacation. You may have noticed that I use the term “medical travel” instead. It is travel for medical purposes, and if there is tourism component to it, it is incidental to the reason for going in the first place.

Patients who cannot afford dental work, IVF or orthopedic surgery in the US, Woodman said, should consider travelling abroad. If their operation or treatment is expected to cost them $6,000 out of pocket, they will save money — even with the plane ticket.

Oh, by the way, that Minnesota couple spent, get this, only $235 for the IVF, not including flights. With such reasonable cost savings, it would be a no-brainer for workers’ comp to do the same.

But some people are stupid, ridiculous, and non-starters in my book.

CMS Greenlights Outpatient Total Knee Replacement: What it Could Mean for Medical Travel

According to an article in MedCityNews.com, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) removed total knee arthroplasty (TKA) from the Inpatient-only list in November.

This will effectively allow eligible Medicare patients to have the surgery in outpatient departments of local hospitals beginning this month.

The article also mentioned that CMS did not add TKA’s to its list of payable procedures at ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs).

This will give hospitals an important head start on a growing outpatient competitor lobbying hard for the agency’s blessing, the article stated.

CMS will continue to review ASCs safety and feasibility of total joint replacement, which is a signal that change is coming. If it does so, it will pose a threat to hospital revenue.

What this may mean for medical travel is that if the cost savings are significant from allowing outpatient, and eventually ASC total knee replacement, then outbound medical travel facilities catering to such clients will see a drop in patients choosing to go abroad for such surgeries.

To that end, the industry must monitor CMS’ position on ASCs and knee replacement, as well as determine if domestic hospitals are drawing away customers because the procedure can be done on an outpatient basis.

Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 2

As promised last month, here is the Spotlight article from Medical Travel Today.com about Ashley Furniture’s foray into Medical Travel for their employees.

In case you missed it, here is the link to part 1 of the article.