Where did it all originate? Following the second annual membership meeting of the Medical Tourism Association held in Los Angeles in October, the MTA Board of Directors felt it appropriate to take a moment to reflect over the past two and a half years since the inception of the MTA; how it all began and views towards the future.
Back to the Beginning
According to a number of management consulting firms and think tanks, the rapid and evolving industry niche of medical tourism has emerged as one of the ten most significant trends of our times in healthcare and medical services. At the epicenter of this growth, is the Medical Tourism Association, a trade association whose three-prong mission is to communicate relevant industry information, provide educational tools, and facilitate industry development through conferencing, workshops, networking and other membership activities. Co-leading the MTA in its roles as the global go-to association for all things medical tourism is Jonathan Edelheit, CEO and Co- Founder of the organization.
By way of background, upon graduating with his law degree, Jonathan planned on starting a business venture in forensic computing, however, when he was offered a position by his father, Robert Edelheit, with United Group Programs, a Third Party Administrator (TPA), which administered fully insured and self-funded health insurance plans for both the private and public sectors, he graciously accepted the challenge. A TPA provides the same services as an insurance company in that it pays medical and dental claims, provides customer service ID cards, and handles medical billing and other related health plan services.
Inside the Box? Never.
Being entrepreneurial by nature, Jonathan’s position at United Group Programs offered him an opportunity to not only learn the business, but to constantly explore new and creative ways to package healthcare benefits and offer more affordable health insurance to Americans at-large. Simply put, he discovered his passion and was ‘hooked’ on the challenges of healthcare’s access, financing and delivery of care.
While at UGP, Jonathan helped create and effectuate a nationally affordable plan product; that of a mini-medical or limited medical health plan, defined as a low cost healthcare plan starting at under $50 a month for Americans who could not afford comprehensive major medical coverage. It was an instant hit and a tremendous success. Within a couple of years, Jonathan had turned this mini-medical plan into a “national brand” and was working with thousands of agents, consultants, brokers, employers and insurance companies throughout the United States.
Additionally, Jonathan was also developing self funded health plans, where employers take on the risk of their health plan medical costs and self insure rather than work with a fully insured carrier. He also began implementing corporate wellness initiatives and programs that focused on health and wellness, prevention, disease management as healthcare cost-containment strategies. These all served to reduce the overall expenditures by employers for healthcare providing creative alternatives to increase employee retention and decrease turnover.
While he thrived at being on the cutting-edge of healthcare innovation, interestingly enough, in 2005, when a novel idea was suggested to Jonathan that he take a look at medical tourism for UGP’s mini-medical plans and self funded employer groups, he was extremely skeptical.
His risk reward mindset typical of entrepreneurs led him to seriously question in essence, “Why would Americans travel overseas for healthcare when the U.S. has the best healthcare in the world?” In researching medical tourism, Jonathan’s global awareness and corresponding belief system grew about the comparable, high quality of healthcare and modern first class hospitals around the world.
He then proceeded to pilot medical tourism as an option to employers and even implemented it with some of their groups. Through Jonathan’s efforts, UGP became the first U.S. insurance agency to implement medical tourism into health insurance plans and employer groups.
An article in the International Herald Tribune that mentioned medical tourism and insurance in the media, referred to Jonathan’s company and Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand, as holding a distinction as the first hospital United Group Programs approached and discussed the implementation of a product plan. This was based upon UGP’s learning about the hospital’s existing quality of care and value proposition of medical tourism.
Genesis of an Idea ~ Founding The Medical Tourism Association
In May 2007, the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) was founded as a 501(c)6 non-profit trade association. Such a trade association is designed to develop industry initiatives and promote the interests of its membership. There are no investors, no shareholders and no owners of the MTA. It is currently comprised of six Directors of the Board who meet by teleconference on a monthly basis and annually at the MTA’s annual congress event.
The four current Officers (Jonathan Edelheit, Renée-Marie Stephano, Brad Cook and Jim McCormick) were elected by the membership in 2008 and will serve a two year term. Advisory Board members are approved as requested by the Board of Directors and this Advisory Board meets by teleconference bimonthly. Renée- Marie Stephano, Esquire, an attorney and executive in her own right, as well as Jonathan’s wife, is Co-Founder and President of the Association.
The MTA was created as a mechanism for the best performing hospitals, health clinics and medical tourism facilitators to convene, set transparency and quality standards, establish ongoing relevant communication while focusing on industry-wide educational needs in order to achieve the highest industry development standards as healthcare continued to globalize and commoditize.
Today, the MTA, considered the medical tourism industry’s leading trade association of choice, continues to serve as the pivotal conduit in a critical role of protecting the credibility of and fostering the development of medical tourism providers. This is inclusive of a myriad of reputable hospitals, clinics, health and wellness providers, facilitators and other key industry stakeholders involved in providing quality healthcare services.
After founding the MTA, in 2007 Jonathan also created a limited liability corporation, Free Health LLC. Free Health LLC’s initial goal was to develop a Free Health Card accessible to the 50 million eligible U.S. citizens who do not have health insurance, with the aim of giving them access and significant discounts to healthcare services and prescriptions in the U.S.
In 2008 Jonathan realized that many health insurance companies, employers, health insurance agents were interested in medical tourism, but were not committed enough to attend a conference. Particularly when travel budgets have been cut due to economic recessions, the efforts to bring insurance companies to the MTA’s annual conference were draining.
Jonathan then realized that through leveraging his relationships with insurance companies, employers and health insurance agents, if he created a healthcare conference to coincide with the MTA annual event, the groups could be more easily brought together for medical tourism.
The steadily growing company thereafter evolved into a multimedia company focused on several niche employer healthcare solutions including corporate wellness, voluntary benefits and self-funded insurance. These initiatives are carried out through three online publications and annual conferences to bring members in each industry together with the employers seeking improvement of their existing healthcare programs through new and innovative solutions brought to light through these multimedia outlets.
Despite the time constraints created through running Free Health, LLC, for the past two and a half years, Jonathan has focused his daily efforts on developing the MTA and its missions, inclusive of injecting personal funding into the MTA’s development needs. He has not and currently does not receive any compensation as CEO of the MTA.
Setting New Standards and Catalyzing Industry Development
You heard it here, if you have not heard it before. The Medical Tourism Association never planned on organizing its own conferences. MTA began by partnering with several international healthcare conferences, which proved to leave significant gaps in quality, content management, and a poor array of speakers.
There was limited to no opportunity for networking; attendance was overstated or misrepresented; all of which reinforced the very real perception that a gold standard, quality event was regrettably not available, reflecting negatively on the medical tourism industry as a whole.
With advice, encouragement and support from MTA’s membership base, Jonathan and Renée-Marie, supported by the unanimous vote by the MTA’s Board of Directors, organized a top of the line conference on issues relevant to the medical tourism industry as a whole.
The first World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress launched in September, 2008 through personal funding underwritten by the Co-Founders. This was organized in a separate conference company WMT&GHC, Inc., created by Renée-Marie, with the assistance of several new employees hired with event planning skills dedicated to the success of what became a first-ever blockbuster event in San Francisco comprised of 850+ delegates.
Having just completed its 2nd year, where the WMT&GHC was host to 1,500+ delegates from 60 countries; 200+ speakers, and 150+ exhibitors; the MTA continues to push the envelope on providing the highest level of value-added benefits to its membership base while fostering medical tourism’s niche industry growth.
Additionally, MTA receives a large flat rate fee for the Congress’ use of the MTA brand and the Congress covers all of MTA’s costs for printing, shipping, travel and lodging of MTA Staff associated with the Congress, including all of the production costs for the post-Congress issue of the Medical Tourism Magazine.
Both of MTA’s Co-Founders, Jonathan and Renée-Marie continue to maintain their non-compensated roles at the MTA while assuming all overarching strategic and daily management responsibilities for guiding MTA’s development such that it best serves the membership interests and that of health travelers engaged in medical tourism indirectly.
MTA Infrastructure Mirrors Medical Tourism Industry Growth
Just a short three years ago, medical tourism was rarely covered in the media. Today, it is covered multiple times daily on a worldwide basis. Medical tourism as a whole as well as The Medical Tourism Association have been featured in thousands of media publications, news releases, internet blogs, radio shows and commentaries.
We believe this is just some of the evidence that medical tourism has continued to strengthen as an industry niche. Together, the mission-focused MTA with its member’s leadership have furthered the medical tourism industry’s credibility while working daily to uphold the guiding principles of transparency in quality, patient safety and continuity of care.
To date, the MTA and its members have launched a number of important initiatives, and accomplished some significant milestones, in its efforts to inform, educate and facilitate growth of the medical tourism industry.
The MTA has organized and led medical tourism “familiarization trips” into all four regions of the world, created the bi-monthly Medical Tourism Magazine and the Health Tourism Magazine, initiated a Quality Indicator/Quality of Care Project, established an ongoing member Committee structure to address industry challenges, launched a Medical Tourism Facilitator Certification Program, directed the recently premiered Angels Overseas Medical Tourism Documentary, and facilitated numerous cross-border health and healthcare cluster development efforts in all regions of the world.
For those of you who attended the MTA Annual Membership Meeting at this year’s WMT&GHC in Los Angeles, you were provided with the key officers reports along with a snapshot of MTA’s developing initiatives in all regions around the world. MTA’s development of regional offices worldwide facilitates its ability to better develop medical tourism in those regions and effectuates its goals through its Strategic Development Officers.
We are grateful and appreciative of the leadership provided by many individuals collectively. To name a few, starting with our esteemed Board of Advisors; Dr. Prem Jagyasi our Chief Marketing Officer; and Ms. Vivian Ho, our Chief Development Officer, with their respective efforts in the Middle East and Asia Pacific; our Strategic Development Officers: Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez Prieto (Argentina), Mr. Emin Cakmak (Turkey), Brad Cook (Latin America), Mr. Moshe Steiner (Israel); Kyungwon Jang (Korea); our Representative Office designees: Michael Quiros (Costa Rica), Nathalie Steiner (Israel), James Bae (South Korea); our Committee Chairpersons: Scott Edelstein (Legal), Mary Ann Keough Hoss (Quality Indicator), Jean Forbes (Aftercare); our tireless MTA key home office management staff: Jessica Johnson (Operations Director), Gabriella Vicuña (Membership Director), Stephanie Falcone (Membership Coordinator & Social Media); and last but not least: our active members. All of you are the fabric that constitutes the MTA for which we would not be able to accomplish all that we have, and all that is yet to come without each and everyone’s efforts in shaping the medical tourism industry.
Leadership in Action and a New Call to Action
At the end of the day, for any individual, a hospital provider, a physician and caregiver, a trade association and an industry niche especially such as that of medical tourism, which is a relationship predicated on trust; it all comes down to credibility and reputation.
We believe one of the key challenges in the medical tourism industry today in its nascent stage of development is that of separating chaff from wheat ~ the good from the bad, quality and transparency from not, patient safety and clinical outcomes from not, industry drivers and facilitators from inhibitors, and visionary leaders from not. We, the MTA in its collective have stepped up to the leadership plate, and are committed to continuing to do so for many years to come.
We are guided by these principles of transparency, quality and patient safety, and are committed to the medical tourism industry’s development in this direction. In so doing, our MTA Co-Founders have been subject to personal and professional attacks, verbal and written attacks, trademark infringements and copycat violations of fair trade. Simply put, they have been the subject of questioning, scrutinizing and defamation over their personal motives and MTA operations as the leading trade association in medical tourism.
While we clearly understand that professional jealousies and the employment of guerilla warfare tactics are at the root of others self-interests and their monetary payouts v. the broader overarching objectives of patient safety and transparency for the medical tourism industry as a whole, we do not condone it.
It is not our modus operandi to attack, or launch an attack; however, when attacked, we believe it is our responsibility to set the record straight. In doing so here, we invite you to stand with us as a key stakeholder in adopting, proclaiming and upholding these commitments such that the industry as a whole thrives in its development for the good of all ~ patients, health and wellness traveler, service provider, clinic and hospital, and healthcare cluster.
All Hands on Deck …. Stay Tuned
In 2009, Jonathan launched the Voluntary Benefits and Limited Medical Conference, and the national Corporate Wellness Conference which were conducted in tandem from October 25-28th, 2009 and parallel to the WMT&GHC 2009. Additionally, two healthcare magazines, Voluntary Benefits Magazine and Corporate Wellness Magazine were launched this year to support the information and education needs of these two sectors within the healthcare industry.
In conjunction, Free Health LLC launched a third magazine, Self Funding Magazine, and is also planning to host a national Self Funding Employers Healthcare Conference next year in 2010. This third two-day conference will be held in conjunction with the Voluntary Benefits and Corporate Wellness Conferences.
Together, the three events are being identified and marketed as the Employer Healthcare Congress. All three conferences will be held in the same venue as the World Medical Tourism & Global Health Congress 2010 on September 22-24th, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
In summary, we would like to take this opportunity to inform you that Jonathan Edelheit is now serving as CEO of the MTA with a broader focus, inclusive of bridging collaboration with international insurance companies and employers on medical tourism through his work in Free Health, LLC.
Renée-Marie Stephano serves as President of the MTA and is tasked with both the strategic direction as well as the ongoing management functions of all MTA employees, global representative offices in soon to be 11 countries, strategic development officers, MTA membership network and all MTA initiatives.
We thank you, our members for your ongoing leadership, commitment to medical tourism and your many contributions globally and industry-wide. We invite you to continue in the many regional and country collaborations, MTA partnerships and member-driven innovative initiatives that are forming industry wide around the world. And more so, we are pleased to share with you in the successful development of the medical tourism industry in 2009 and we look forward to an even greater leap forward in 2010.
Jonathan Edelheit is CEO of the Medical Tourism Association with a long history in the healthcare industry, providing third partyadministration services for fully insured, self-funded and mini-medicalplans to large employers groups.