US pushes insurers to tie up with Indian hospitals

By Liz Mathew, IANS

New York : Keen to take advantage of low-cost healthcare in India, the US is pushing its insurance firms to draw up attractive medical tourism packages with Indian hospitals to facilitate travel and treatment for its citizens there.

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A few firms have already started offering 30-40 percent discount on their annual health insurance premium for those going to India for treatment. Some are also adding tourism and shopping to their packages and arranging for friends and relatives to stay at nearby affordable hotels.

Indian officials, who were here last week to participate in a series of trade, investment and cultural events, said an increasing number of American insurance companies were keen to tie up with Indian hospitals.

“Many of them are setting up liaison offices in India so that it is easier for them to send their clients for major surgeries in India,” said an Indian official.

The issue figured prominently during the first meeting of the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) of the US-India Trade Policy Forum held in New York last month.

According to Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, the US side was keen to ask its insurance companies to work with hospitals in India. “It will open up a huge opportunity for our country,” the minister said.

In fact, some US medical insurance companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield have already announced schemes for treatment in India.

Giving a cost comparison, officials said while a coronary bypass urgery in the US costs $60,000, it costs a mere $6,600 in India.A single knee replacement costs at least $22,000 in the US, while it is $6,500 in India. A bone marrow transplant is $250,000 in the US, while Indian hospitals do it for $26,000. Rhinoplasty (nose job) costs $10,000 in the US, and just $2,000 in India.

Even the common dental root canal treatment is a prohibitive $1,000 in the US and just $100 in India. The list goes on.

US insurance companies are offering to arrange for appointments with medical specialists, hospital admissions, pickup and drop-off at airport, additional travel and accommodations in India for the patients.

Many here feel that the move would be a “great relief” for Americans, who find health insurance in their country exorbitant.

“The health premiums are becoming unaffordable. Anything related to medical treatment has become hugely expensive here,” said Catherine Simon, who works in a hospital here.

Around 60 million people in the US do not have medical insurance. Even those who have it cannot afford the expensive surgical procedures.

“It would be a wonderful idea to go for treatment to India because I think we will get better treatment there. Here we have to pay through our noses for nothing. The doctors charge $300 to $500 for an appointment,” an employee of The New York Times told IANS.

“Healthcare costs are skyrocketing in the US and in many western countries.

So, more and more companies, insurance providers and governments will eventually have to think about outsourcing this business, too,” she added.