Friday, October 20, 2006

Outsourcing everything?

As if it weren't bad enough that one cannot call Dell for help with his laptop or PDA without the call travelling halfway around the world to India, now we're going to outsource our medicine? From CNN:

Think globalization means little more than call centers in New Delhi? Then you haven't seen what happens when seriously large numbers of Americans, who spend more than $570 billion at U.S. hospitals annually, start taking health-care holidays in far cheaper climes. Nor have you seen how much money there is to be made by helping them get there.

We're about to find out. This year alone, upwards of 500,000 Americans are expected to travel overseas to get their bodies fixed, at prices 30 to 80 percent less than at home. Medical tourism, as the practice is known, is rapidly becoming the top choice for consumers who grapple with hefty medical bills. Adult Americans who are either uninsured or considered "underinsured" number more than 61 million - a figure that's likely to soar in coming years.


While disruptive to U.S.-based hospitals and HMOs, the overseas stampede is
already spawning a brand-new business opportunity: medical tourism agencies. Not
only do these companies act as middlemen between patients and foreign physicians, but they also find hospitals, schedule surgeries, buy airline tickets, reserve hotel rooms, and, yes, even plan sightseeing tours for recovering patients. Most important, they aim to reassure customers that cheap does not equal poor quality


[Many] believes that the big money in medical tourism is in two markets: uninsured retirees ages 50 to 65 for whom Medicare hasn't yet kicked in, and self-insured companies that can no longer afford benefits for workers. He has met with Fortune 100 companies, though "they want to see the market mature first," he admits. If they do sign up, Erickson believes, he's sitting on a $500 million gold mine.

He has reason to be optimistic. Blue Ridge Paper Products, a Canton, N.C., paper manufacturer, may soon allow its 5,500 employees and dependents to go to India for certain company-insured treatments.

In West Virginia, a legislator is pushing a bill that would give incentives to state workers for seeking treatments overseas. "The early adoption has begun," says Arnold Milstein, a Mercer consultant hired by PlanetHospital, a Los Angeles-based medical referral startup, to strike deals to coordinate foreign-based care on behalf of employers and insurers.

No. No. No. No. I saw a little something like this on the ABC show Boston Legal (which consistently gets on my nerves, yet I continue to watch it...). The patient was flown to India to have some sort of heart surgery. Her husband had to stay to work (he couldn't afford the surgery as was, let alone afford the surgery AND miss a week or two of work). She died in flight on the way back.

I didn't give much credence to this sort of thing just seeing it on the show. I thought it was something the writers had made up. Until yesterday. In the State and Local Politics class I'm in, we often have sort of "round table" (really big round tables) discussions about what's going on in WV, as well as what's going on in the states we've been assigned for a project we're working on. Medical tourism--particularly that part above about the WV lawmaker--was brought up in class.

The professor, herself a WV employee, hadn't heard of such thing. One student sitting behind me yelled, "Don't do it. You might go over to have a knee replacement and come back home with a panda-bear leg dangling from your body." Another person suggested, "they'll harvest your parts. You'll come back with three kidneys but only 1/2 a lung."

This led to a rather heated discussion from the area of that class that has come to be so affectionately known as simply, "The Caucus." This group of ultra-leftwing nuts sit together and run their mouths about the evils of Republicans, Bush, Capito and any student who supports them. When the student behind me--who seems to lean to the right, as do all the students who sit around me (possibly because we feel there is strength in numbers?)--made his statement about the kidneys, it was just too much for the Caucus, who fight to defend all who cannot defend themselves. "You're just being a typical American: xenophobic. These doctors have probably been trained in America, but have gone home to work for next to nothing--something Americans never do. " The debate went on until the bell rang and the prof. ushered us out of the class.

Probably has been trained? That ain't good enough for this ole boy. I don't even trust the doctors at the county hospital where I live most of the time. I'll pay the extra money for myself and my (future) family to ensure that we have good--no, great--medical care.

As I alluded to in my opening, I have had my fair share of problems trying to deal with the technical support folks that work for Dell, but live in India. Habib or Karpul or whatever the individual's name is, never speaks clear English. They never understand what I'm telling them. I always end up hanging up the phone in disgust and either A) Googling my problem and trying to fix it myself or B) calling a friend of mine who is certified in most of this junk and having him walk me through the problem the best that he can. I am sure as hell not going to trust Habib with my health if I can't even trust him with my computer.

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