Employees might be going to India for surgery

Wellpoint is testing a program that allows patients the option of going to India for elective surgery, according to The New York Times.1 There are no out-of-pocket medical costs, and travel is free for the patient and a companion, according to the article

The program is being tested at Serigraph, a printing company in Wisconsin where managers are looking to address increasing health care costs, said Razia Hashmi, MD, chief medical officer for national accounts for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is affiliated with Wellpoint.

Hashmi said that the insurer will monitor the project to ensure positive clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a consulting firm, predicts that by the year 2010, more than 6 million Americans annually will be seeking medical treatment abroad, says the Times article, which points to potential cost savings. Knee surgery that costs $70,000 to $80,000 in the United States can be performed in India for $8,000 to $10,000, including follow-up care and rehabilitation, the article quoted Hashmi as saying. Similar savings could be achieved for other procedures including hip replacements and spine surgery, the article says.

If other insurers follow Wellpoint, Hashmi said, U.S. hospitals might feel pressured to be more competitive in their pricing. The program potentially could pull the healthiest and most profitable patients away from a local hospital, said Howard Berliner, ScD, professor of health policy and management at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

The program would appeal primarily to people who have traveled abroad, Hashmi predicted in the article. Many employees of Serigraph, which has offices in India, are familiar with the country. Hashimi said the quality of care is comparable in the two countries. All the physicians speak English, the article said. Patients can share their medical records and consult with a surgeon in India before going, Hashimi said.

The pilot program arranges for patients to be picked up at the airport, and it provides special meals to prevent foodborne illnesses. The program complies with the American Medical Association guidelines on medical tourism and uses hospitals accredited by Joint Commission International.

However, medical tourism would be of limited appeal to Americans with private health insurance, predicted Berliner, who said one terrible outcome would squash excitement about such a program.


  1. Rabin RC. Insurer offers option for surgery in India. The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2008. Accessed at www.nytimes.com/2008.