Category Archives: Thailand

Gauze: A Film by Suzanne Garber

Nearly a year ago, while channel surfing, I came across a short film being shown on my local South Florida Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station.

As I missed most of it, I was able to learn the name of the filmmaker from the credits, and saw that she had interviewed some of the leading names in the medical travel space.

One individual I saw listed in the credits was Keith Pollard, with whom I was connected with on LinkedIn, and had communicated over the years since I began blogging about medical travel. I reached out to Keith to ask him to put me in touch with the filmmaker, Suzanne Garber.

I later learned from Keith that before she gave Keith her permission to forward her email address to me, she wanted to know if I was legitimate. Keith vouched for me without hesitation, and I reached out to Suzanne.

Unfortunately, due to ownership of the rights to the film by PBS, it has taken nearly a year for me to get to see it. What follows is my review of her film, “Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare”.

The film is a personal account of Suzanne’s exploration into the difference between US healthcare, with its bureaucracy and lack of transparency regarding cost to patients; plus its affordability, accessibility, and quality — the three characteristics of healthcare, according to Suzanne.

Suzanne had gone through some personal medical issues, and the film begins with her discussing statements she received that were very expensive. At one point, she describes how she was forced to sign a form at a hospital in order to get service that said she was responsible for the full amount if her insurance company refused to pay.

She asked the woman at the desk who gave her the form if she knew what it would cost her, and the woman replied that she did not know, so Suzanne said that she was signing away her right to know how much it could cost her.

Then Suzanne asked some of her friends the following question: where is the best healthcare?

Having been an executive credentialing hospitals for a company she was working for, Suzanne had vast experience visiting hospitals, and had personal experience of being admitted to a hospital in Spain as a child. She decided to go and visit some of the hospitals that cater to medical travel patients.

From 2014- 2015, she visited 24 countries, 174 hospitals, and interviewed over five dozen international healthcare experts. She wanted to know the answer to the following questions: Where to go, and where not to go?

But it was when she had a medical diagnosis of cancer that she traveled thousands of miles, flying from Philadelphia to Chicago, to Tokyo, and then to Bangkok, where she went to Bumrungrad Hospital. By that time, her position had been eliminated, she was unemployed and uninsured, so she took the chance and went.

She traveled to Singapore to get a second opinion with an orthopedist. A doctor there wanted to perform a bone density scan, and even though she brought along all of her MRIs, CAT scans, etc., the doctor had her go downstairs, wait forty-five minutes, and then go back upstairs to see the doctor after the results were entered into the computer.

In all, it cost Suzanne $29 dollars, not the amount she was quoted back in the US. And all this took one day.

As part of her journey, she visited the UK, India, and visited several hospitals in France. And what she found was that there is no one way to improve our healthcare, but it is possible. We need to ask questions, we need to contact our elected representatives, and we need to take responsibility for our healthcare.

A personal note: This film when shown on PBS last year, had a long list of names Suzanne interviewed. In addition to Keith Pollard, one other person, Rajesh Rao of IndUSHealth, was someone I met in 2014 at the ProMed conference in Miami Beach. Some other names in that list were familiar to me, but as of this screening, does not appear. One more comment, I was able to view the film online, but am not able to provide readers with a copy of it in this post.

This is a very important and timely film that should be viewed by both the health care industry and those in the workers’ compensation industry who have panned the idea of medical travel. The mere fact that Suzanne paid only $29 for a bone density scan, when she was told it would be $7,300 in the US, is not only criminal, it is insane to keep insisting that medical travel for workers’ comp is a stupid and ridiculous idea, and a non-starter, as one so-called expert has written.

When are you people in work comp going to wake up? You and your insurance carriers are being ripped off by an expensive medical-industrial complex. But you just go on doing the same things over and over again, and expect different results, or you boast that frequency is going down, yet medical costs are still too high. The choice is yours, but don’t keep making the same mistake.

I want to thank Suzanne for her patience in bearing with my periodic emails regarding my viewing the film, and for being courageous enough to put her personal struggles with health and health care front and center, and comparing it to our so-called health care system. I hope that Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare will be seen by all those interested in better health care for all Americans, workers or not.

 

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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.

S**thole Countries and Medical Travel

The comment yesterday that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue said, is not only revolting, disgusting, sick and racist. It is also a threat to the national security of the United States, and to the economic health of the nation, and of the medical travel industry.

A host on the Fox News network defended what was said Thursday by saying that this is how forgotten men and women talk. If by “forgotten men and women” he means the men and women who lost their jobs because their wealthy bosses sent their jobs overseas or they were lost due to automation, then they only have to blame themselves for voting against their economic interests, and not the immigrants they blame for losing their jobs.

As to what this means for medical travel, think carefully about who travels from the US to other countries like India, Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica, Mexico, and others, and not to mention those countries he did mention as “s**tholes”, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East (a region he did not mention yesterday, but has singled out for a Muslim ban).

And consider also what this means for inbound medical travel from those continents and countries that American hospitals might want to attract. Would you, as a citizen of those countries, travel to the US if that was what the leader of the US thought about you and your country? I don’t think so.

The notion that we should take in people from Norway (not that there is anything wrong with Norwegians, in fact, I am watching a series on early Norwegian history, Vikings on the cable channel History) is proof that he is a racist and a white supremacist.

Comments on social media have even gone so far as to indicate that Norwegians would never consider moving to the US because they have a better standard of living and have free education, health care, and rank higher on all social metrics.

So, those of you in the medical travel industry should be aware that some of the resistance to medical travel from America, and from the very people who would benefit greatly from it, are the forgotten men and women the Fox host mentioned. If so, it will be a tough sell to get them over there.