Category Archives: Knee Replacement

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/

Advertisements

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.

Top 10 Orthopedic Hospitals by Procedure

Last year, Christmas Eve, to be exact, I wrote a short post about the top ten hospitals for total knee replacement under $50,000.

This year, I’d like to expand on that and discuss the top ten orthopedic hospitals outside of the US for such procedures as Arthroscopy (knee or shoulder), Disc Replacement, and Rotator Cuff Repair.

The website I linked to in my post last year, Archimedicx.com, is the same website I used now to illustrate the difference between costs in the US and elsewhere in the world.

This website is by no means the definitive source of such information. There are other websites that provide similar prices and are only ballpark figures, not actual quotes, or firm prices. Archimedicx’s website will give you a quote once you have chosen from among a list of hospitals you searched for, depending on what procedure you want to have.

I have limited the discussion here to only the three I mentioned above, as arthroscopic procedures for both knees and shoulders, resulted in the same hospitals being displayed.

The price range column indicates those hospitals who charge the amount stated or less, as the website allows an individual to choose the price range they want.

In the table below, the quality score is the ranking algorithm that generates a unique quality score for each procedure in each analyzed hospital (on a scale of 1 to 5). For the sake of clarification, a certain hospital can have different quality scores, depending on the procedure or treatment in question.

 

Table – Top Ten Orthopedic Hospitals by Procedure

top-ten-ortho-hosp

For each procedure examined, there were at least a few hundred other hospitals that one could look at, but I only wanted the top ten, as you see, ranked by quality scores. There are no doubt other hospitals on the website that may score better on other websites, or can provide these procedures for far less than they do.

The idea here is to point out that the US is more expensive than others, and as the following chart shows, we are dead last in terms of care.

nhs-best-system

But it is sad that Americans do not realize this and do what the other countries in that chart have done, provide health care to all.

It is also sad that our system for treating on the job injuries also does not allow people to seek medical care outside of their states or the country. Only two states do that, Washington, and Oregon, but as I’ve said before, there have been exceptions.

Now with a new administration seeking to destroy the social safety net and the ACA, we may see more case shifting and more crowded ER’s and not enough medical personnel to treat them.

And for what?  The commodification of health care for those who can afford it, and for the profit of those who pay for it.

Tug-of-War Over Ailing American Knees: What the Medical Tourism Industry Should Know

Total knee replacements in the US is growing, according to an article today in Kaiser Health News.

660,000 are performed each year, and will likely grow to two million annually by 2030, as reported by Christina Jewett. Knee surgeries are one of surgery’s biggest potential growth markets, and one that the medical tourism industry needs to be aware of.

Ms. Jewett described how an orthopedic surgeon from the Bronx, underwent his own knee surgery in a Seattle-area surgery center performed by a friend of his. The surgery began at 8 am, and by lunch, the doctor was resting in his friend’s home with no pain and a new knee.

Medicare is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee surgeries outside of hospitals, either in free-standing centers or outpatient facilities. Several billions of dollars are spent every year by Medicare for knee replacements, so what may be a bold experiment, may soon be more standard.

However, this issue is dividing the medical world, and the issue of money is just as important as the issue of medicine, according to Ms. Jewett.

Some physicians are concerned that moving surgeries out of hospitals will land vulnerable patients in the emergency room, but proponents say it will give patients more choice and better care. In addition, they contend that it will save Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars.

An “overwhelming majority” of commenters, Ms. Jewett states, said they want to allow the surgeries out of hospitals, as specified in recent rule-making documents.

Even if a policy change is made, according to the article, Medicare would still pay for patients to get traditional inpatient surgery. There would be a huge shift in money, the article reports, out of hospitals and into surgery centers.

Medicare could save hundreds of millions of dollars if it no longer paid for multiple-day stays in a hospital, and investors at outpatient centers could profit greatly, as well as some surgeons, especially those who have an ownership stake in the facility.

An open question remains as to whether this shift is beneficial for patients. Patients on Medicare tend to spend nearly three days in a hospital, and forty percent also spend time in a rehabilitation facility for further recovery.

Data from 2014 suggests that Medicare patients are taking advantage of the post-operation support at hospitals and aftercare centers. However, it is unclear what the percentage of eligible patients would choose outpatient care.

Of equal concern to patients are the financial consequences, and here is where the medical tourism needs to pay attention, because even though less care is given, outpatient procedures require higher out-of-pocket costs.

Medicare covers inpatient procedures 100%, with no co-payment, but outpatient procedures require a 20% co-payment, which could easily add up to thousands of dollars for knee surgeries.

One surgery center in California advertises a knee replacement surgery for $17,0300, and those who support the change in policy believe that a strict criteria should be used by doctors to choose which patients are good candidates for outpatient surgery.

All this began in 2012, Ms. Jewett states, when Medicare first considered removing the surgeries from its “inpatient only: list. At that time, many doctors and hospitals protested, calling the proposal “ludicrous” and “dangerous”, and Medicare abandoned the idea.

Another objection cited research that showed that patients who received such surgeries as outpatients were twice as likely to die, and that even one-day stays were twice as likely to need follow-up surgery.

A panel recommended that Medicare remove the procedure from the “inpatient only” list in August, but if they make a change, it will not go into effect for a year or so later.

It is quite obvious to this writer what you in the medical travel industry need to do, but then again, when did you ever listen to what I say?

“Florida, We Have a Problem”

Tuesday, Judge David Langham, Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims and Division of Administrative Hearings, wrote a rather lengthy post about the differences between cost-shifting and case-shifting in workers’ comp.

Much of what the Judge wrote were subjects that I already discussed in a number of previous posts about cost-shifting and case-shifting, so I won’t go into it here. I am only focusing on the parts that relate to Florida workers’ comp. You can read the entire article yourselves.

But what caught my attention was what he said about Florida and what the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) reported in some of their studies on these issues.

As Judge Langham wrote this week, he wrote a post two years ago that asked the question “Why Does Surgery Cost Double in Workers’ Compensation?”

Judge Langham noted in that post that Florida employers have been documented paying almost double for shoulder or knee surgery that is paid for under workers’ compensation, compared to group health costs.

The implication of case-shifting in Florida, he says, could arguably be a doubling of cost.

He cited a WCRI report released earlier this year that suggests however that case-shifting is perhaps not as likely in Florida.

According to the report, Judge Langham continues, “as of July 2011, six states had workers’ comp medical fee schedules with rates within 15% of Medicare rates. They were California, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Hawaii.”

However, Judge Langham pointed out that the WCRI concluded that case-shifting is more likely in states where the workers’ compensation fee schedule is 20% or more above the group health rates, and not in Florida.

Judge Langham stated that this analysis of workers’ compensation fee schedules does not appear to include analysis of the reimbursement rates for hospitals, and that It also seems contradictory to the assertions that Florida workers’ compensation costs for various surgeries have been documented as roughly double the group health rates (100% higher, not 15% higher).

Injured workers who missed work in the Florida workers’ compensation system could be compensated in 2016 at a rate as high as $862.51 per week, the “maximum compensation rate.”

So, if recovery from such a “soft-tissue” injury required ten weeks off-work, he wrote, the case-shifting to workers’ compensation might add another four to nine thousand dollars to the already doubled cost of surgical repair under workers’ compensation.

This could be directly borne by the employer if the employer is self-insured for workers’ compensation; or, if the employer has purchased workers’ compensation insurance, the effect on the employer would be indirect in the form of potentially increased premium costs for workers’ compensation following such events and payments, Judge Langham states.

According to WCRI, the Judge quotes, “policymakers have always focused on the impact (workers’ compensation) fee schedules have on access to care as well as utilization of services.

This has been a two-part analysis, he says:

First, fee schedules have to be sufficient such that physicians are willing to provide care in the workers’ compensation system; and second, the reimbursement cannot be too high, or perhaps overutilization is encouraged.

Lastly, Judge Langham points out that the disparity between costs has also been noted in discussions of “medical tourism.”

The last question he posits is this, “might medical decision makers direct care to more efficient providers, across town, across state lines?”

What about national borders?


I am willing to work with any broker, carrier, or employer interested in saving money on expensive surgeries, and to provide the best care for their injured workers or their client’s employees.

Ask me any questions you may have on how to save money on expensive surgeries under workers’ comp.

I am also looking for a partner who shares my vision of global health care for injured workers.

I am also willing to work with any health care provider, medical tourism facilitator or facility to help you take advantage of a market segment treating workers injured on the job. Workers’ compensation is going through dramatic changes, and may one day be folded into general health care. Injured workers needing surgery for compensable injuries will need to seek alternatives that provide quality medical care at lower cost to their employers. Caribbean and Latin America region preferred.

Call me for more information, next steps, or connection strategies at (561) 738-0458 or (561) 603-1685, cell. Email me at: richard_krasner@hotmail.com.

Will accept invitations to speak or attend conferences.

Connect with me on LinkedIn, check out my website, FutureComp Consulting, and follow my blog at: richardkrasner.wordpress.com.

Transforming Workers’ Blog is now viewed all over the world in 250 countries and political entities. I have published nearly 300 articles, many of them re-published in newsletters and other blogs.

Share this article, or leave a comment below.