Medical Tourism In Alaska Is Gaining Traction

In case you missed it over the last month, a pretty large bomb was dropped in the middle of Alaska health care.The notion of ‘medical tourism’ – the idea that it’s cheaper to fly patients to the lower 48 and put them up in hotels for extended periods than have them receive treatment in Alaska – came out into the open with two stories recently:  one by Annie Fiedt at APRN (“Big Savings Prompt Alaskans To Seek Health Care Elsewhere”), and one by Rosemary Shinohara in the ADN (“Some Alaskans get Outside options for medical care”).

This is an important read for a couple of key reasons.

1.  This brings the debate into the public.  Medical tourism has been something discussed by plans and brokers for some time.  However, given the dominant role of providers in the marketplace, it had not been a battle that plans were willing to pick openly.  While there was a key study done for the Alaska Health Care Commission in 2011 that highlighted cost, apart from some great coverage by NPR, the issue was mostly tracked by insiders.  This article changes that.

2.  Premera is not alone in taking action.  While Jeff Davis, plan president for Premera, is featured in the story, other plans like NEA-Alaska are also highlighted.  Even the state of Alaska and  GCI are taking center stage in the coverage.

3.  Providers generally don’t appear to have a response strategy.  With the notable exception of Providence (I admit, those guys often appear to be ahead of the PR curve), providers are still either unwilling to comment or unable to provide a well reasoned response to the question of ‘Why is your care worth so much extra money than anywhere else?”

4.  This has struck a nerve.  Why do I say that?  As of this writing, the ADN article has generated over 200 comments!  The average for the 5 most recent health care articles:  12 comments.  That is saying something significant.

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