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Raging Inflation, High Healthcare Costs, and the Medical Travel Gap


Recent reports have confirmed that inflation has had a significant impact this year, causing consumers to lose the value of their hard-earned money and making healthcare less affordable.  

According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), healthcare insurance rates have seen the largest increase since 2011, with family plans rising by 7% to nearly $24,000. In comparison, workers' wages only increased by 5.2% this year, while inflation grew by 5.8%, eating away at workers' income and making healthcare costs more burdensome.  

The 2023 Employer Health Benefits Survey by KFF shed light on the substantial impact of inflation on healthcare costs this year and provided insight into the future given the current economic trend. The survey revealed that average annual health insurance premiums have risen by 22% since 2018 and 47% since 2013 due to rising inflation.  

For single coverage, annual premiums have increased from $7,911 in 2022 to $8,435 per year in 2023. The average premium is even higher at small firms ($8,722) compared to large firms ($8,321), and the overall value varies depending on the type of plans the workers have. One positive note for workers is that employers have not yet raised deductibles despite the ongoing inflation. However, it remains uncertain how long this will continue.  

As a result of the rising cost of healthcare, as well as other basic expenses like food, housing, and clothing, many consumers are beginning to avoid or delay medical treatment and tests in order to save money for essential expenses.  

According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly four out of ten Americans stated that they or a member of their family have postponed medical care due to cost. The polling organization reported that nearly 40% of Americans deferred healthcare due to cost in 2022, the highest number in over 20 years.  

This aligns with the 2022 annual KFF survey, which revealed that four in ten adults reported having debt due to medical or dental bills, including debts owed to credit card companies, collection agencies, family and friends, and banks.  

These findings have highlighted the need for employers to take decisive actions to reconsider health plans for their employees and explore ways to reduce costs while achieving optimal health outcomes for their workers. One potential solution is to consider medical travel options to decrease costs while maintaining high-quality care.  

Medical tourism offers a wide range of options that combine tourist and wellness opportunities with treatment plans. Some medical tourism destinations, such as Korea, Thailand, and Costa Rica, provide advanced procedures like orthopedic and complex cardiac surgeries at a fraction of the cost compared to the United States, resulting in significant savings.  

A large employer that has successfully utilized medical travel offerings to provide care for its employees is Hickory Springs Manufacturing (HSM) based in North Carolina. HSM initiated a direct contracting program over a decade ago, establishing connections with medical centers and clinics in various parts of the world, including India and Costa Rica.  

Some of these hospitals are affiliated with global centers of excellence in the United States and other advanced countries. These hospitals, according to Tim Eisenhower, former Director of Benefits at the company, were among the best in their respective countries while offering quality treatment comparable to that provided in the U.S. at a fraction of the cost.  

Over time, the program also started offering second-opinion packages to employees who had sought treatment in the U.S. and required consultation with other specialists. Many times, spine and orthopedic surgeons in Costa Rica would assess the employees, review their imaging reports, and recommend simple physical therapy instead of the high-end back surgery recommended by U.S. surgeons.  

HSM data showed that physical therapy was successful for most employees, saving millions of dollars in unnecessary treatment costs. In the initial years of the program, the company recorded savings of over $11 million.  

Employees embraced the program as they realized the benefits and discovered that they might not need surgery at all or that a different surgery could restore their health instead of the one initially recommended by U.S. doctors. Furthermore, these programs did not incur any costs for employees compared to paying up to $5,000 out-of-pocket for the same procedure in the U.S.  

More medical tourism destinations are emerging worldwide as destinations and medical institutions expand their offerings through global collaborations. These destinations in Europe, Asia, and parts of the Middle East provide high-quality healthcare at affordable prices.  

In Korea, hospitals such as Asan Medical Center boast cutting-edge treatments, with many firsts recorded in different fields, including transplant surgery and cardiology.  

For instance, Asan Medical Center’s Liver Transplantation Institute has recorded tremendous feat over the last two decades, being the first center to perform an adult living donor liver transplantation using a modified right lobe in 1999 and dual living donor liver transplantation from two donors in 2000. In 2019, the center was ranked number 1 in the number of liver transplant surgeries done, with a record 505 liver transplants done that year.

The Center’s Heart Institute also ranks high globally in advanced cardiac procedures. The center pioneered the first stenting for the left main coronary artery in the world and the first success for Transcatheter Mitral and Aortic Valve Repairs in Korea.

There are many more world class hospitals and medical travel destinations emerging across Europe, Asia, and parts of the Middle East that offer top-quality healthcare at affordable prices.

Accreditation plays a crucial role in ensuring stakeholders adhere to international standards and best practices, guaranteeing that healthcare delivery aligns with global safety and quality standards.  

Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), the leading global healthcare accreditor with a focus on the patient experience in medical travel, provides valuable resources and tools to guide prospective buyers in making informed healthcare tourism decisions. GHA offers high-level accreditation and training to assist medical providers in demonstrating their capacity to deliver safe and quality healthcare for international patients.  

Cost should no longer hinder health consumers and patients from achieving their full health potential when there are untapped resources in medical travel. For those seeking medical care abroad, we highly recommend hospitals and clinics who have been accredited by Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA).  

With a strong emphasis on exceptional patient experience, GHA accredited facilities are attuned to your cultural, linguistic, and individual needs, ensuring you feel understood and cared for. They adhere to the highest standards, putting patient safety and satisfaction at the forefront. Explore the world's top GHA-accredited facilities here. Trust us, your health journey deserves the best.

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