Armando Polanco, of Texas Benefit, was interviewed by Sarah Martin, the Global Communications Director of the Medical Tourism Association. Texas Benefit is an 18 year full service insurance brokerage firm with disciplines in Employee Benefits, Risk Management and Retirement Planning. As an added service, Texas Benefit is also able to offer an Administrative Services Organization to any employer group which would provide for payroll, safety consulting, human resources, staffing and recruitment as well. The passion of Texas Benefit incorporates medical tourism alongside self-funded plans to help control cost and provide access to suitable care worldwide. Armando speaks about medical tourism, his involvement in the MTA as well as his predications on the future of Healthcare Reform.
Q. Please tell us about yourself and what Texas Benefit does.
Texas Benefit is a full service brokerage firm with three departments, Employee Benefits, Property and Casualty and Retirement Planning. We have been around for 18 years and have two locations in Texas. The healthcare industry is changing and with the new Healthcare Reform, we are working on transforming our business model to meet the challenges of the future. Our venue will be more global in nature and we will even be changing our name to fit the new strategy.
Q. Tell us a little about the medical tourism industry and why you think US employers and insurers will implement Medical Tourism in the future.
I first approached a few employers about the concept of medical tourism almost 3 years ago and felt a cool reception on the idea of implementing this to their firm. Discussions were based more on curiosity rather than being a viable healthcare strategy within their health insurance plans. Fast forward to the present, these same employers are now asking the right questions and showing sincere interest of integrating medical tourism within their benefits.
Those early discussions were driven on the premise of high quality with low cost of care. Today we have introduced the fact that with 32 million more to be added to the health insurance roster and a graying population of 78 million starting to retire this year we now have the inevitable problem of Access to Care. Medical Tourism provides for no long waiting periods for necessary treatment within the global market.
The self-insured model is still the main driving force within the initial implementation of having international providers in their network. Eventually, the fully insured carriers will follow suit as the market develops and liability issues are settled to a comfortable process. The Defined Benefit Plans, also known as Mini-Meds or Mid Level Plans will still have a place in the market and some already have international providers within their benefit design.
Q. You have been involved with FAM trips with the MTA in the past. Can you tell us about your experience on the FAM trips? What do you think of the international hospitals and how do they compare to American hospitals?
I have been extremely fortunate to have participated in FAM trips with the MTA and that alone has made me much more credible to those employer groups I mentioned earlier. It has made our discussions and intentions of implementing Medical Tourism a much more tangible strategy.
The international hospitals are exceedingly capable of treating any patient whether from the US or other nations. The hospital staffs are warm and very attentive with almost everyone throughout the facilities able to speak English. With the standard questions of hospital algorithms such as outcome data, infection rates, mortality rates and others, I found international hospitals to be highly comparable to US hospitals and often times better in certain quality indicators.
The hospital facilities were complimented with the latest equipment and technology and operated by highly competent professionals within their fields. Patient rooms often looked more like high end hotels and the nurse to patient ratio assured the quality of attention needed during recovery.
As a retired Navy Healthcare Administrator and having worked for many years in military hospitals, I can attest of the excellent standards of international hospitals and will personally welcome the choice to have surgery internationally if needed.
Q. Do you think Healthcare Reform will increase insurance costs in the US and be positive for Medical Tourism?
Insurance cost will go up without a doubt. There was no clear language on how the reform would decrease cost but rather it has instilled measures that would only increase costs even quicker. The US population will meet future costs shouldered by employers and employees primarily and there will be a segment choosing to go bare, while paying necessary fines and penalties, because financially it will be more economical.
The last ten years has seen a growing trend for large employers to implement a self insured health plan and I see that trend continuing to grow mostly because of the greater flexibility in designing what works best for them. Medical Tourism can easily fit in with those plans and our industry just needs to continue to educate them as to the viable integration of a global network.
Q. What are your thoughts on the MTA as an organization and what we are doing for the industry?
Although the general patient migration to other countries has been occurring for centuries it is now that a more formal setting of understanding is accomplished. The MTA provides the organized vehicle of shared knowledge and promotes activities to educate the global community. It allows experience through FAM tours and sets the standards for international cooperation. The MTA is a hub of intellects and opportunities and anyone interested in the global evolution of healthcare would be remiss if they were not a member.