They are already in Miami sprinkled among supermodels, nostalgic Cubans, celebrity hotels and splashy art galleries buying up everything from Louis Vuitton shoes and authentic Italian risottos. They are wealthy tourists from Latin American and an emerging target market of South Florida's medical tourism industry.
The new owners of Metropolitan Hospital of Miami hope these cash-paying medical tourism patients will stay long enough to plan a procedure or treatment at one of its specialized surgical centers designed specifically to lure more international patients from nearby Latin American countries.
Renamed Miami International Medical Center, the hospital is being sold to a subsidiary of Nueterra Healthcare, a Kansas-based consulting and management firm and member of the Medical Tourism Association.
Nueterra said through a statement that Miami International Medical Center is in the midst of evaluating the current Metropolitan Hospital of Miami facility and the surrounding community and other factors in order to determine needs and the best possible next steps.
Have Cash Will Travel
Amy Leiker, vice president, global marketing, at Nueterra, said Miami International Medical Center draws on the power of the company's extensive experience and global network to connect providers, coordinate services and create an exceptional patient experience that includes expanded consumer access.
Although the sale's status as pending has further limited what we're able to plan, confirm and announce, we'll continue to post updates about the future of Metropolitan Hospital of Miami as the change of ownership process moves forward, said Leiker, who noted the continued support of the Medical Tourism Association is a key part of the equation as we make a significant investment not just in the community, but also in the future of healthcare.
In a statement, Metropolitan Hospital of Miami said that Nueterra has a multifaceted remodel plan and intends to renovate the nearly 50-year-old hospital to create an upscale environment similar to a boutique hotel.
Miami International plans to work with the medical staff to provide more services, more technology, better accessibility and more convenient, streamlined processes, read the statement, which went further to say that the new owners plan to expand the list of specialties and add new services, though those have not yet been released in detail.
Nueterra's licensing application is on file with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, but it is unclear whether the new owners intend to dedicate the facility to its longtime clientele.
The hospital, located near Miami International Airport, was founded in 1963 by Cuban immigrants to serve their community. Hispanics make up a large pool of patients at Metropolitan Hospital of Miami. Many are seniors on Medicare and Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance programs for the elderly, poor and disabled, according to state records.
In its licensing application, which is pending approval from AHCA, Nueterra reports that the facility will remain an acute-care hospital. However, the hospital will not have an emergency department. Nueterra also does not intend to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, the two largest public payers in the U.S. healthcare system.
That would leave privately insured and self-pay patients including international medical tourism consumers, an area of expertise for Nueterra, which operates Latin America and Caribbean regional offices that are headquartered in Miami.
Wealthy foreign patients are a natural for Miami, Sal Barbera, a former hospital executive who teaches healthcare management at Florida International University.
There's a great international following that comes here to South Florida, Barbera told the Miami Herald.
Beyond Hospital Ward
Renée-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association, said medical tourism features a natural integration of hospitality and healthcare, especially for patients who want their experience to go beyond the hospital ward.
From check-in to check-out, hotels and hospitals are strategically connecting to share experiences and provide quality services and accommodations, she said. It's not uncommon for hotels to offer a full staff of service representatives at the beck and call of their patient guests. This could mean hailing a cab for a family member’s shopping venture, notarizing a patient's legal document for a doctor, supplying menus from area restaurants customized to cater to their prescribed diets, or moving a car in a pinch to accommodate an unexpected trip to the hospital in the middle of the night.
Without an emergency room that by law must admit every critical patient and treat them until stabilized and without the government regulations that hospitals accept when participating in Medicaid and Medicare Miami International Medical Center also will not have to deal with South Florida's significant uninsured population.
No emergency room means you don't have to worry about the uninsured, said Barbera. All admissions will be pre-admitted, probably with a down payment.
Abandoning Insurance System
Fed up with declining payments and rising red tape, a growing number of primary care doctors are opting out of the insurance system completely and expecting patients to pony up with cash. Doctors who have taken that route say the enjoy the extra time they can spend providing medical attention and the release from overwhelming paperwork that results in high overhead, forcing them to take on more patients to cover costs. Plus, declining payments from insurance companies don't help matters, creating a vicious cycle instead.
Doctors want to do what they do best practice medicine, said Stephano. Providers don't want to be told what's best for their patients. For the most part, they already know.
Critics, on the other hand, worry that only the wealthy will benefit from a cash-only system.
Formerly called Pan American Hospital, Metropolitan Hospital of Miami changed ownership and names in 2007, after a Puerto Rican hospital chain Sistema de Salud Metropolitano bought the facility out of bankruptcy court for $34 million.