St. Maarten featured in US medical tourism debate

POSTED: 01/30/13 2:01 PM

St. Maarten – One of the initiators of the American Clinic here that is expected to expose the island to medical tourism, Dr. Samuel Hess was featured in the American media this week, as he along with other doctors contributed to the discourse on alternatives to Obama Care.

The article written by Jim Epstein explores whether medical tourism can save Americans from Obama care, describing the rise of first rate hospitals in the Caribbean and other parts of the world as a potentially vital lifeline for Americans.

The government has already signaled its intention to continue its course of exploring medical tourism.

“In a terse line in its Governing Program under the heading Improved Wellness and Health Care, “government intends to pursue the development of medical tourism on St.Maarten,” the NA/DP/I-3 coalition states.

A memorandum of understanding has already been signed with the American Clinic under the previous administration. Yet there are other health professionals knocking on the island’s doors to set up shop. The island offers a therapeutic, private and on occasion, less costly environment.

“Outside of the United States, going to another country for medical care can lead to survival and recovery for patients otherwise facing certain death or long waits for treatment at home. Nigeria has no oncological care to speak of, so cancer-stricken citizens are increasingly going abroad for modern care.

If the double whammy of Obama care, which will be fully up and running in 2014, and a rapidly aging population creates pronounced health-care shortages, more and more Americans may soon start looking abroad for fast, affordable, and effective treatments for all sorts of medical problems, Epstein writes.

As a Florida-based orthopedist Sam Hess is part of a group that’s working to open a full-service hospital on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Hess was quoted as saying that, “he’s grown tired of the legal and bureaucratic headaches of practicing medicine in the U.S. “I still love what I do, but the issues I have to deal with that have nothing to do with patient care take a lot of wind out of my sails.”  “We have to assign more and more of our staff to address insurance concerns and approvals. We order tests we don’t need to cover ourselves legally,” he adds.

“Our natural hub assets, such as location and accessibility will be maximally exploited in attracting the regional traveler. These assets also make our island a preferred destination for off-shore educational and medical facilities, attracting a new type of tourism. Diversification and serving up market type tourism (medical, VIP clients, niche markets, ecological and marine tourism) may possibly be a policy recommendation for reinventing the economy as promoted by economic diplomacy in the region,” the Government Programme stated.

“Hess would also like the freedom to offer treatments that aren’t legal yet in the U.S. Medical tourism offers doctors and patients a way around the FDA’s often slow-moving approval process. Consider an orthopedic procedure called Birmingham Hip Resurfacing that gives younger patients an alternative to a total hip replacement. It was invented by a British Surgeon in 1991, but the FDA didn’t approve the technique until 2006. In the interim, patients flocked to Chennai, India, to be treated by star surgeon Vijay Bose.

Most medical tourists traveling out of the U.S. are seeking procedures that traditional health insurance companies don’t cover – such as dental work, plastic surgery, and in vitro fertilization (IVF). But that’s likely to change as health care becomes scarcer. Obama care, which will be fully enacted in 2014, increases the demand for health care without doing much to grow the number of doctors, nurses, and hospital beds necessary to meet that demand. The aging of the baby boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) is already putting a strain on resources. By 2025, there will be 64 million Americans over the age of 65. That’s almost double the number at the start of the century.

Some U.S. patients will follow in the footsteps of the nearly 50,000 Canadians a year who forego their insurance coverage and pay out of pocket for better and immediate treatment abroad. Medical tourism may also flourish within the regulatory confines of Obama care. Southern Methodist University’s Nathan Cortez argues in a soon-to-be published essay that there’s nothing in the Affordable Care Act that specifically prohibits insurance companies from encouraging their clients to use foreign providers. It’s also possible that insurance plans that utilize medical tourism could be offered on the state-based insurance exchanges, although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may choose to interpret the law in ways that makes that difficult,” the article featured on Reason.com states.

 

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