Medical Tourism: Could Medical Tourism Save Your Life?

April 27, 2009

A growing number of people worldwide are seriously considering a new phenomenon called “Medical Tourism” as an answer to high cost and/or unavailable health care. Others who have already used medical tourism are praising it as a terrific solution to an ongoing problem.

If you don’t live in the US, you may still have some interest in medical tourism–perhaps your health care provider doesn’t cover a procedure you want, or maybe the wait for the procedure is too long. For those people worldwide without health insurance, and with limited access to the health care system, going to another country for a medical procedure could literally save your life.

The cost of medical care here in the United States is high and going higher. However, the World Health Organization ranks the US healthcare system as #37 in the world. We are behind nearly all Europeans nations, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica.

So, you might survive your medical condition and treatment. But will you survive financially when the medical bills arrive at your door?

For a growing list of reasons, Medical Tourism is an idea whose time has come.

There are two prominent resources for Medical Tourism listed below:

PlanetHospital.com

PlanetHospital began in 2002 as a coordinator of overseas healthcare for the uninsured desiring to travel abroad because they could not obtain or could not afford healthcare in the US or their respective country. Over time, as news of medical tourism spread, carriers, employers and self-insured groups began to ask PlanetHospital to explore ways that would allow PlanetHospital to solve their skyrocketing healthcare cost problem. Consequently, while maintaining their commitment to individual self payers, they expanded into healthcare solutions. As a result, over the past two years, PlanetHospital has developed several products for the marketplace. Most of their products center around four critical needs:

1. Self insured companies and their related partners (such as Stop Loss agencies, TPAs, and MGUs)
2. Uninsured and underinsured individuals
3. Healthcare plans that need to control expenses
4. Immigrants and guest workers who need affordable healthcare while working in the US.

I strongly urge you to spend some time touring their website at: http://www.planethospital.com

HealthCare Tourism International

HealthCare Trip, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit service of HealthCare Tourism International, was started on April 1, 2006 as a portal and service that connects all people interested in healthcare abroad with safe and effective information and accreditation. In addition, they do not have any financial partnerships or arrangements with for-profit healthcare tourism operators, hospitals, or providers, so that they may maintain a non-partisan approach to safe healthcare services abroad. HCTI is the world’s first 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization specifically for health travel safety.

Visit their website at: http://www.healthcaretrip.org

Medical Tourism includes many of the following specialties in Medicine.

Alternative Medicine

There are many treatment procedures with long histories of success that are not approved and available in the US. For example, German cancer specialists have alternative treatments that are much more successful than traditional American procedures. Other alternative medicine is found in heart disease, for example.

Nursing Home/Long Term Care

In order for Medicare to pay for nursing home care, one must be basically broke (under $2500 in assets). If you do not have Long Term Care insurance, the monthly costs can easily run between $3,000 and $5,000. In other countries, high quality nursing care can be found for less than $50 a day.

Dental

Some of the most popular and widely-used medical procedures are dental procedures. With only half the US population covered by dental insurance, Americans are streaming overseas for high quality, low cost dental care. Medicare does not cover dental work, and elderly people have elderly teeth that require more care than the young.

In certain areas of Prague, Budapest, Bangkok and Tijuana, streets are lined with dental clinics. The savings the patients realize can more than compensate for their travel costs. Teeth caps that range from $750 to $1,000 in the U.S. cost $150 in Mexico. In Budapest, a top-quality crown costs $780, compared with $1,200 to $2,000 in the United States. In Great Britain the average cost of an implant is $3,500, but in Budapest you can get it done for $1,000.

What about the quality of the work? According to the non-profit group Healthcare Tourism International, their surveys of patients found high levels of satisfaction. But that should come as no surprise. A spokesman from the New York University College of Dentistry states that they bring in over 100 dentists a year from 33 countries, train them in advanced procedures, and send them home.

In March 2008, FOX News reporter Lori Lundin blogged about her husband’s dental excursion to El Salvador. The quote they got in the US for the dental work he need was $60,000. They had the work done in a world-class Salvadoran facility for about $19,000. He had the procedures done and experienced no pain, plus they had a tropical vacation while they were there. Lundin figured that the total cost including travel expenses and lodging was $30,000.

Cosmetic Surgery

Tummy tuck, Breast Augmentation/Reduction, facial, liposuction, butt/thigh lifts and other cosmetic procedures can be done through Medical Tourism.

Conventional Treatment

Medical procedures include:

• Fertility
• Orthopedic Surgery
• Heart Surgery
• Bariatric
• Cancer/Radiation
• Eye and vision
• Gynecological
• Lung procedures
• …and many others

Pharmaceutical purchases

Pharmaceuticals outside the US cost a small fraction of US prices. For the most part, the manufacturer is the same as you would find in an American pharmacy. Countries like India, Brazil and Thailand have huge generic pharmaceutical industries, and many of their companies are importing product into the US. Patients can save hundreds per year by buying drugs outside the US.

Travel benefits

One of the other benefits to medical tourism is that, depending on how long you stay for your medical procedures, you may be able to take in the sights while you are being treated. Imagine yourself on a Costa Rican beach while you wait for your dental work to be completed! Picture yourself attending the Prague Symphony while you are in the city for your medical treatment. Wonderful!

Caveat Emptor

As with any major purchase, you should do extensive research before you spend your money. Do not trust ANYONE just because the letters “MD” are tacked onto his name, or because he’s wearing a white lab coat. Spend the time necessary to thoroughly investigate any medical provider. Then, make an informed decision.

Medical Tourism can be a tremendous money saver for you, and can provide you with world class medical treatment and a memorable vacation. Good luck and good health!


America’s “Tea Parties”: Fantastic Or Futile?

April 25, 2009

During the week of April 15th, in over 800 cities across America, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to give voice to their opposition to out-of-control spending at all levels of government. These protests sprung from a true “grassroots” movement, as people from all walks of life met at state capitols, city squares, parks and street corners to protest intrusive government.

Now, it’s been about ten days since the events. I’ve had opportunity to watch, read and think about the events and their meaning.

First I want to address the Constitutional issues. The Declaration of Independence speaks of the right of the people to peaceably assemble to seek a redress of their grievances. The First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech.

The dictionary defines “sedition” as any action promoting discontent or rebellion against a government. The Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights have their bedrock in sedition. Sedition is the oxygen they breathe, so to speak. Without that element of sedition, I dare say that the Revolution of 1776 would not have occurred.

So in cities across America, citizens peaceably yet seditiously assembled. But in many cities, organizers first went humbly to their masters and filed for permits. Permits!! I dare say that the Founders and the patriots of that age did not commit acts of sedition against King George only after they got a permit.

Since when do people protesting an unconstitutional usurpation of power and outright criminal behavior go get permits to gather and speak? Kind of redefines the idea of civil disobedience, doesn’t it?

Second come the visual images. I saw people in the most quaint outfits…tri-cornered hats, men in Colonial outfits riding horses like Paul Revere, American flag garments, face painting, and every kind of poster message imaginable. The video clips of the protests were more like a street party than a serious protest. Even if the visual images were edited in a slanted way to make the protestors look ridiculous, you must admit that the editors had plenty of funny looking characters to work with.

Third come the celebrities. Guys like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and opportunistic politicians were key speakers at various locations. The keyword here is “opportunistic.” These guys found a parade and jumped out in front of it so it looked like they were leaders.

Fourth, let’s talk about the timing of the events. The protests took place on Tax Day, April 15th. Income taxes have been a ruinous, confiscatory theft for decades. Tax day 2009 is a good day to protest. But, where were the protests during the last 25 years? Are the 2009 protests a partisan backlash against the Barack Administration and the now Democratically-controlled Congress? Why didn’t these protestors take to the streets when George Bush was in office during the last eight years? How many billions of dollars must a government waste before the citizens take to the streets? Obviously Bush could waste nearly a trillion dollars and not incur the wrath of the populace.

The reasons for the protests are entirely valid. The Federal Government and many state governments are wasting tax dollars at breathtaking levels. They are passing legislation that trashes natural law and rushes America toward totalitarianism. The American economy is in the tank and we are facing years of depression and hyperinflation. It’s going to get real ugly real soon.

Here is my final analysis. I do not believe that the politicians at the state and Federal level found any level of threat to their power. People wearing funny clothes and carrying signs are no threat to power. Contrary to recently leaked Homeland Security memos, there’s no real threat to Washington…not yet.

When hundreds of thousands of people show up in camouflage, carrying rifles instead of bottled water…Washington will take it seriously. Tyrants fear armed citizens.

When hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously stop paying their income taxes…that will be a protest that gets Washington’s attention.

These protests were not fantastic, they were futile.


Auto Insurance: Is “Pay-As-You-Drive” The Next Big Thing?

April 24, 2009

Do you own a car and drive very little? Perhaps your situation is like this:

• You are elderly and only drive to and from the market.
• You live and work in a small town, or work close to your home.
• You travel a lot, and your car is parked at home for days or weeks at a time.
• You are in the military, and deployed outside the US for many months at a time.
• You own a pickup truck that you only use on weekends to run errands. (that’s me)

“Pay-As-You-Drive” (PAYD) is the concept of linking the amount you pay for auto insurance to the number of miles you drive each year. The more you drive, the more you pay. The less you drive, the less you would pay.

Drivers would gain the most savings from Liability and Collision coverage. If a person carried Comprehensive insurance (fire, theft, glass breakage, etc.) on their vehicle, that likely would not change much. A car doesn’t have to be moving for there to be damages under Comprehensive coverage.

There are various ways that insurers would verify mileage under a PAYD program. Some would use GPS tracking systems that automatically tabulate and report mileage. Some use odometer checks or maintenance records.

The concept is becoming more popular in many states. Some insurers are already offering PAYD discount programs in most states. For example, Progressive Insurance and GMAC Insurance presently offer PAYD policies. Progressive ties mileage verification to GPS, and GMAC uses the OnStar system built into many GM automobiles.

PAYD has gained a strong foothold in Europe, with insurers from the UK to Italy offering the program.

Giving people a financial reward for driving less is good ecological and social policy. As with any new program, the devil is in the details, but it is very clear that the “pros” far outweigh the “cons.”

Issues relating to the “Pay-As-You-Drive” concept include:
1. Insurers must give appropriate discounts
2. Discounts must be high enough to motivate people to drive less
3. Miles driven must be monitored without violating people’s privacy

The Brookings Institute issued a report in July 2008 that estimates that the universal adoption of pay-as-you-drive plans would lead to a savings of $270 per vehicle for two-thirds of American households.

Would an annual savings of $270 be a sufficient incentive for the average American to switch to PAYD insurance? Time will tell.

Check with your insurance company to see if they presently offer PAYD coverage. Or, check with your insurance agent to see if he writes PAYD coverage. You could save some bucks!


Texas Windstorm Insurance: Insanity in the Texas Legislature

April 22, 2009

Representative John Smithee, (R) Amarillo, has introduced HB911, which would, if passed and signed by the governor, cause the price of windstorm insurance – required of all coastal property owners – to soar by as much as 60 percent. Additionally, it wouldn’t cover nearly as much and for certain properties, it would not be available at all.

Smithee is the Chairman of the House Committee on Insurance. He cites a need to replenish the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the state risk pool, after the onslaught of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Ike in 2008. The Association became the only insurer available for millions of coastal Texans after many insurers pulled out of windstorm coverage after the hurricanes.

The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association currently carries 215,537 policies totaling $58.6 billion in exposure. According to a December 2008 Texas Windstorm Insurance Association status statement, 43,079 of those policies are in Nueces County, with a total exposure of $11.4 billion.

House Bill 911 would, among other things:*
• Assess windstorm insurance rates based on geographical location, meaning coastal residents would pay more than inland residents. Rates could go up 60 percent for current coastal policy holders.
• Require coastal homeowners to purchase federal flood coverage.
• Cap windstorm insurance coverage at $250,000 per residence (homestead), well below the current $1.7 million cap, leaving thousands of homes uninsurable to their current value.
• Exclude coverage for rent houses, second homes, condominiums, apartments or other multi-family units.
• Decrease the maximum coverage for commercial buildings from $4.1 million to $1 million.
• Decrease the maximum coverage for government structures, such as schools and courthouses, from $4.1 million to $2.1 million, meaning those entities would have to use tax dollars to purchase more expensive, private insurance, if it’s available, to make up the difference.
• Create a 60-day waiting period before losses could be sought, as opposed to current policy, which prevents new coverage once a hurricane is in the Gulf of Mexico.
*Source: House Bill 911 and an analysis from the Galveston Windstorm Action Committee Inc.

I have no problem with higher premiums for coastal policyholders. That is simply accurate underwriting. Happens in all types of insurance. But don’t be fooled. If rates go up at the coastal states, they will rise state-wide. Texas is a windy state.

But that’s where my agreements end. The rest of this bill is trash.

Here are the elements of the bill I oppose:

Caps on windstorm coverage – Don’t cap coverage, charge the proper premium amount for the risk.

Requiring coastal property owners to buy Federal Flood insurance – it’s tyranny to force a property owner to insure for flood. If the owners want to remain uninsured, it is their right. That doesn’t mean a lienholder could not require flood insurance as a requirement for a mortgage. But that is a collateral protection issue. The federal government does not have a security position in a homeowner’s property without some mortgage in place (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, VA loans, etc.) To require flood insurance is a violation of property rights.

Excluding coverage for non-homestead dwellings, rental homes, apartments and condos – what kind of idiocy is this? There are millions of second homes, rental houses, condos and apartment buildings in the 14 coastal Texas counties. How would making them uninsurable help the situation?

The 60-day “deductible.” Texas law now states that, once a hurricane or named storm enters the Gulf of Mexico, new coverage cannot be purchased. But those storms usually make landfall, if at all, within a few days. In addition, in the peak of the hurricane season, storms are seldom 60 days apart. Look at Katrina and Rita, about 30 days apart. This proposal hurts Texans.

Smithee is from Amarillo, a city over 650 miles from the Texas Gulf Coast. That’s a distance equal to the distance from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. I know that’s somewhat obscure, but this nut case is a long way from the water. It illustrates just how far out of touch with reality he is.

So, if a bunch of insurers have stopped writing windstorm coverage in Texas, and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association is the insurer of last resort for many Texans, where are they supposed to go to get insured to value?

This kind of legislative nonsense could bring the Coastal economies to a screeching halt. Lenders would stop lending on properties that could not be insured to value. Insureds with losses could lose everything.

Texans, both inland and coastal, need to bombard their elected representatives with their opinions on this very bad bill and demand that it be rejected.

In the film industry, there is the widely known name of Alan Smithee. It is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project because they were so disgusted with the final product. I can only hope that someone paints the name “Alan Smithee” on this horrid bill.


Universal Health Insurance: Another Reason It Won’t Work

April 22, 2009

President Obama has a single-payer government health care system as one of his highest priorities in his administration. And with the burgeoning number of Americans without health insurance, the Obama administration will have the political cover to get universal health care enacted in America.

But there is a complication in the system that won’t go away.

In today’s world, a doctor can still refuse to accept insurance payments, and require patients to pay cash.

Thousands of doctors have dropped out of big medical insurance provider networks, like Aetna, Cigna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and United Health. Most common among doctor complaints are diminished reimbursements and the growing delay in payments.

Doctors have seen their real incomes plummet due to the stranglehold that the HMOs, government programs, and big provider networks have on their practices. I know many physicians who have one or more employees whose job is solely dedicated to fighting with the insurance providers over coverage and payment. Doctors are finding that it’s not worth the money they have to spend to file the paperwork to get paid a substantially reduced fee for services rendered.

Doctors are also refusing to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients because of the same diminished reimbursements and the growing delay in payments. A 2005 Community Tracking Physician survey found that only 50% of physicians accept Medicaid.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission reported in 2008 that 28% of Medicare patients looking for a primary care physician had trouble finding one, up from 24% the year before. A 2008 survey by the Texas Medical Association, for example, found that only 38% of primary-care doctors in Texas took new Medicare patients. The statistics are similar in New York.

HMOs are problematic as well. Recent surveys from New York show a 10% yearly doctor dropout rate from the state’s largest HMO, the Health Insurance Plan of New York, and a 14% dropout rate from Health Net of New York, another big HMO. Those statistics are common across America.

None of the present-day insurance networks or government programs offer patients the care they need. Combine that with care that is ever more expensive and requires pre-qualification for most procedures that can degenerate into a fight between patient, insurer and doctor.

Naturally, Obama’s people say that in a single payer system, these problems won’t exist. But, in my opinion, they will only get worse. As more and more doctors opt out of participation, there will be fewer and fewer who remain in the system. Demand will skyrocket, as the supply of doctors in the government system shrinks. When demand outstrips supply, you can usually expect prices to rise. But Washington will place price controls on medical care. So expect long waits for medical procedures. You might die before your medical condition can get treatment.

The next question about universal health care’s dropout rate is obvious: Will the Federal Government require all doctors practicing medicine to accept patients with insurance coverage? When that happens, you will witness the largest flight from medicine ever seen, as doctors retire or change careers to escape government control of their lives. More doctors leave the profession, fewer doctors enter the profession, and the prescription is disaster.

The final question expands upon the last one: Would Washington make it illegal for a patient to seek medical treatment outside of the universal health care system?

Think about it, folks. It’s Washington. It’s the Federal government. With the naked power grabs we’ve witnessed in the last ten years, nothing is impossible.

I hope I am never a patient with a medical problem under universal health care.


UK Vehicle Breakdown Coverage: Europeans Have The Advantage

April 20, 2009

You’re all familiar with insurance policies on your auto or commercial vehicle. Those policies exclude mechanical breakdown.

You’re all familiar with Road Service memberships, or Towing and Car Rental Endorsements that you place on your auto policies.

Well, European insurers have bridged the gap between those coverages with a product called “Breakdown Cover.” Breakdown Cover is a full Europe-wide rescue and recovery service for both breakdown and accident.

Imagine going out for the day with the family to spend time together and your car breaks down on the way. This will ruin your plans and leave you by the road for hours until you can get the car fixed, not to mention costing a fortune. By adding Breakdown Cover to your auto policy, you can ensure that if your vehicle breaks down, you will be back on the road in the shortest amount of time. If your car cannot be fixed at the side of the road, you will be taken back home or to the garage where it will be fixed while you wait.

With Breakdown Cover, no matter what happens, help is less than an hour away.

If your vehicle is immobilized as a result of mechanical breakdown, fire, theft or attempted theft, Breakdown Cover will arrange and pay for:

• roadside repair (including one hour of labor) or recovery to a suitable repairer or your home
• up to one hour of assistance to try to repair the vehicle
• if the vehicle cannot be repaired at the scene, to arrange for it to be taken, with the driver and passengers, to a suitable garage for repair at your cost
• if the vehicle cannot be repaired the same day, it will arrange for:
– the vehicle, transport of the driver and up to six passengers to be taken home or to your destination and, at your request, the vehicle will be taken to a garage of your choice within 15 miles, or alternatively;
– we can provide one nights hotel accommodation for the driver and passengers, or
– a replacement hire vehicle for up to 24 hours
• chauffeur to your home if the sole driver is injured or ill and is unable to drive
• a message service, informing up to two people of your breakdown
• repatriation of driver, car and up to six passengers to your country, following an accident abroad, where the car cannot be repaired in time for your return home.

Don’t Be Misled! This Is More Than Towing Coverage

The main reason people do not add this inexpensive coverage to their Auto policy is that they think it’s just roadside assistance or towing service. But you can see here that Breakdown Cover is much more than towing coverage.

Strategy for Breakdown Cover

1. Call your insurance agent and add this valuable cover to your auto policy.

2. Go to any insurance quote service online and you’ll likely find Breakdown Cover. Simply fill out the online form to get a quote. Once you find the combination of best coverage and best price, purchase the Cover.

3. Once you receive your Breakdown Cover policy, take the time to read it carefully. It’s always best to know your coverage before you need to use it.


The American Economy: It’s The Family, Stupid

April 19, 2009

In order for us to understand where we are going, we must understand where we’ve been. Ideas have consequences. Actions based upon those ideas have even greater consequences.

This article is an effort to show how our present economic crises have their foundations not just in the government, but also in the structure of the American family.

All of the plans, stimulus packages and machinations of the state and Federal governments cannot change the decisions that families have made and continue to make about their family structures and the homes they live in. And those decisions have occurred over the last 50 years. It is the “blowback”…the unintended consequences of the individual choices that accumulated into domestic policy and became the dominant culture.

Occam’s Razor is a principle that says that the explanation of any phenomenon is best found in the simplest explanation. So, forget all of the deeply technical explanations you’ve read about monetary policy, Federal Reserve actions, Treasury edicts and TARP legislation. It’s really about the family, stupid!

There is a circle of life. Young folks start families and businesses, and need to borrow money for those efforts. Old people need to earn money on their savings, and need the young to take care of them when they are elderly. So the circle of life is the investment we make in every new generation so they will take care of the old.

The two-parent family with children has always been the societal building block. According to the Census Bureau, American population grew from 200 million in the ‘70s to 300 million today. In the 70s, America had about 25 million two-parent families with children. Today, we have about the same number of two-parent families with children as America had in the ‘70s.

What does that tell you? Over the last 30 years, America has decided that the two-parent family with children is only one of many acceptable options for a nuclear family. America has had an explosion of one-parent families. In some segments of the population, two-thirds of babies are born out of wedlock. Single parent families with children have lower incomes, and many are below the poverty line.

Two-parent families usually have the highest income of all family units. That makes them the group with the most buying power. And because single-parent families with children tend to have lower incomes, they have the least buying power. So, much of the population growth in the last 30 years can’t afford to buy a house, no matter what subprime mortgages are offered, and no matter how much of a housing glut may exist.

Yet, government policy didn’t take this into account.

America also made another decision about families…abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, states that the number of abortions performed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is about 49.5 million abortions. Those people aborted in 1973 would be 36 years old now. That would place them in the prime ages of life wherein children are reared. It also would place them in the ages of life wherein they would be buying housing.

But they do not exist. They were never born.

Forty nine million people. That is equal to the population of Myanmar, or South Africa, or South Korea, and a few million more than Spain. Think about the economic impact of any of those nations, and what it would mean to America if that number of people lived here.

Would we be in this recession today if that cultural decision had not been made? Remember that neither Congress, nor the Supreme Court, nor any President made these family planning decisions. The American people decided themselves.

Human life consists of one generation procreating and rearing the next generation. But in America, the last generation could not be bothered to raise the very generation that would care for them in their dotage.

Europe and Asia have it even worse. They have been below population replacement for two generations. So, it’s not like we as a nation could invest in the young families overseas. They’ve got worse problems than we do.

Can America fix its economic problems? Not likely, and certainly not likely with the quality of solutions and leadership coming from Washington.

One of the few ways to fix the housing crisis would be to “import” millions of people. But not just warm bodies. America needs skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants, not maids and landscapers. America needs millions of additional young people to begin earning, starting families, borrowing for housing and creating wealth. At this point, that would require a massive change in immigration policy in Washington. Some lame tax break would not be enough. Congress would have to enact law that would be so irresistible to highly skilled young people in other countries that they would relocate to the USA.

One irresistible idea to right the capsized American economy and recruit immigrants would be the repudiation of the Federal tax collecting system. Repealing the Income Tax and the IRS tax code, which rewards certain behavior and penalizes other, would be a good place to start. Replace the tax code with nothing, not a new tax.

Thanks for the credit and housing bubbles go to government policies, jointly shared by Republicans and Democrats, that increased the money supply, kept interest rates artificially low, and fostered a regulatory atmosphere in which sub-prime mortgages could be turned into securities and sold around the world.

So, as comic strip character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”