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aBuzz about The Congress


Conventional Thinking? Leave your heart elsewhere! After reviewing the agenda for The First World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress in San Francisco in September 2008, I said to myself, “Self…do you know the way to San Jose (or thereabouts)?”

In a word, this is going to be Outstanding! The venue, the speakers, the agenda…what’s not to like?

The Medical Tourism Association has put forth an exciting invitation to the world for Global Healthcare’s Coming Out Party. Up to a thousand attendees from around the world will fill the seats at the Westin ~ Doctors, Diplomats, Lawyers, Legislators, Providers and Payers…All, probably, would-be Medical Tourists. It’s going to be great, people. And a great show!

Most impressive for a fledgling Association was their skill in attracting a lot of movers and shakers in the insurance industry. In the same room, there will be representatives and speakers from Aetna, Assurant, CIGNA, Great West, Guardian Life and even United Healthcare, for crying out loud.

The last time this many Big Name insurance companies were in the same room together was 1993, when Hillary Clinton was running the country. She was in charge of the Health Care Task Force, (“force” being the operative word), and scared the living bejesus out of the insurance industry, the medical industry, and virtually all industry in the US.
Fortunately, HillaryCare fell apart because, as University of Virginia Professor Martha Derthick said, “In many years of studying American social policy, I have never read an official document that seemed so suffused with coercion and political naiveté…with its drastic prescriptions for controlling the conduct of state governments, employers, drug manufacturers, doctors, hospitals and you and me!” (Ouch!)

Anyway, The Medical Tourism Conference will be a reunion of sorts. Not only will all the Big Carriers be there, but where there’s Big Carriers, there’s always a lot of insurance brokers, agents, consultants and assorted insurance groupies in tow. Among the many, Towers Perrin will not only be there, and they will be presenting from the podium.

And where those birds of a feather flock, you’ll also find an assortment of TPAs, HMOs, PPOs, EPOs and other wannabees including suppliers like Actuarial Consultants, Marketing Consultants, IT Consultants, Legal Consultants and the like.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I used to be part of The Evil Empire. Yes, I was on the “payer” side of the insurance industry for many years, and still consult with a few agencies and provider systems. In 28 years, I’ve been to more Insurance Conventions, Seminars, Trade Shows and Junkets than you can shake a stick at. I’ve been to LIMRA, LOMA, NAHU and ‘WAHOO – and a few YAHOOs along the way, too! For HIAA, I served four years on PR and two years on the Education Committee in DC, and helped stopped Hillary’s takeover of Healthcare in ‘93. Suffice it to say, it’s a sordid tale; a checkered past.

That said, the biggest reason to attend The World Medical Tourism Congress is because of the presence of all the carriers, brokers and insurance hanger-ons like me! First of all, they wouldn’t be in San Francisco en masse if they didn’t believe something big was going on, really big; something they should be a part of.

The insurance industry is anything but stupid. They know how to make money. When they’re lining up at the door and or stacked up behind the podium, you know something’s happening here, or about to be happening very soon.

And that’s been a very dramatic about face for the industry. Two years ago, I was making a sales pitch to a high-placed executive at one of the largest health insurance companies in the world. My company had just completed a study of CEOs and Business Owners about their knowledge and attitudes on Medical Tourism and I was interested in sharing or trading some proprietary data with the executive at the World’s Largest Carrier. (Actually, I was only interested in making a sale and thought my data would be my foot in the door.)

He said, “I’ve never heard of the term “Medical Tourism” and we’re not watching it all.”
(So much for that sales strategy) Anyway, this was just two years ago. Today, they’re on the stage as an industry expert! (I must have been talking to the wrong executive, or it just shows you how quickly the industry can move once it smells the money. Maybe I should go back to the company and retry my pitch? Better yet, I should go to San Francisco and, “work the room.” Work it hard! It’ll be one-stop shopping for insurance networking and, hopefully, sales!

There’s blood in the water in San Francisco Bay, and the sharks are gathering. Besides all the money-making opportunities, the next best reason to attend The First World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress is the “networking.” Back in the old days, we used to call it “partying.”

The insurance industry is famous for partying (should I say infamous?). Conventions; Meetings; Product Kickoffs; Incentive Trips; even CE Classes are an excuse to Party by those of us in the insurance industry.

MORE FULL DISCLOSURE: It’s not fair to say that all carriers are prone to party at the drop of a hat; just some of us were always looking for an excuse. I used to work for two companies where The Party was always on. Honestly, it’s how the agents and brokers got to know us and a major reason why we were able to grow so quickly. They sold us because they loved us, not because we had great rates or great products. Certainly, not all my brothers and sisters in the industry, “partied like a Rock Star,” but we did. We were proud, and loud.

So, if you’re going, to San Francisco, be sure to wear some Flowers in your hair, and be sure to sign up for anything sponsored by or attended by an insurance company, TPA or large brokerage operation ~ the pre-conference workshops, post-conference party, the Gala Dinner and any cocktail receptions…anything. Sign up for it all. If the insurance industry is coming, you know the food will be good and the refreshments flowing.

If any insurance company is holding a smaller, private party in a suite somewhere, get an invitation! Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid ~ they won’t try to sell you any insurance. It’s just an excuse to “network.” I’ve found that the private parties in the Suites are generally more fun, with better quality food, and drink, and higher-level executives to meet. That’s the way we used to do it, anyway.

FINAL, FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m ashamed to admit I attended a medical tourism-type conference a couple years ago in Las Vegas. I was really excited to be there but apparently, no one else was. There were no insurance companies; there were no TPAs; there were no “alphabet” houses. Obviously, it wasn’t the Real Deal! NO insurance companies means NO good parties. Thank God we were in Vegas. What happened there, stayed there.

Don’t get me wrong. I met a lot of nice people in Vegas. A gentleman from the Salvadoran Export Chamber offered to trade homes with me for a week this winter, “I want to see snow,” he said. “You’ll see it alright in Green Bay, Wisconsin,” I said in my best Spanish accent.” “Give me your phone number, Gerardo, I’m booking my flight to El Salvador in January!”

And don’t get me wrong, considering where the market was two years ago, there was also decent information coming out of Vegas. It’s just that the “players” just weren’t there. And word has it that the Vegas event this year, with its same information and faces, disappointed most, as they looked out over empty chairs where “players” should have been.

The good news that the Players will be out in San Francisco. Are you in?

Obviously, the author of this article has a little problem. Fortunately, his friends and colleagues say an intervention is forthcoming (but probably not until after the Congress in San Francisco). In the meantime, Michael Bina will continue as Managing Director of IntellectualMarketing, LLC., ~ staying as close to the ever ~changing insurance industry as he can. Feel free to invite him to your next party (he could just be the life of it)

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