Is all health care local? I used to think that this was as true as Tip O’Neill’s mantra regarding politics, but I am not so sure anymore. With people across the world being more connected than ever before, it’s no wonder that some are starting to look outside of their neighborhoods for health care options. The term “medical tourism” may conjure up images of wealthy foreigners flying to New York or Los Angeles for state-of-the-art treatment, but the fact is that 1.4 million Americans traveled overseas in 2016 seeking medical care. For at least some of them, price was a motivating factor. But for others, it’s a desire to be treated by doctors – no matter where they are located – who can provide innovative, cutting-edge and potentially life-saving treatment.
While we know from firsthand experience that hospitals and other providers all along the spectrum are working hard every day to bend the cost curve and enhance access while still delivering high quality care, we may need to start thinking more creatively – and globally – about where and how some Americans get their care.
With “solutions” that were once considered a long-shot at best – such as Medicare for All and Single Payer Health Care – becoming part of the mainstream discussion, providers should prepare for policymakers to consider other out-of-the-box ideas like medical tourism as part of the ongoing effort to reform our nation’s health care system. Of course, elected officials would have to consider how to address a host of challenges before putting a system in place. For example: How can patients ensure they are receiving safe, high quality treatment? How do insurers account for medical tourism? Does the U.S. government have a role in regulating? How much money could be saved by this practice? And what would this mean for doctors?
This is admittedly an idea that has just begun to percolate in Washington. We would enjoy hearing your perspective on these questions and any others that we may have forgotten. Send us a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, we will continue to keep you updated on any other ideas that policymakers share with us for helping American families save on health care costs.