Expanding Consumer Choice

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , June 10, 2008

In what I expect to be a sign of things to come, BasicPlus Health Insurance of Roswell, GA, is now offering those enrolled in two of its limited benefit plans the option of traveling to global destination hospitals for care.

"To our knowledge, we're the first fully insured, limited plan to offer a global healthcare benefit," says BasicPlus CEO Chuck Green. "It allows [plan members] to get greater value without increasing premiums."

I'm told by a former health plan executive that OptiMed Health/United Group Programs was the first carrier to offer medical travel as an option for its members, but regardless BasicPlus made this benefit possible through an agreement with Companion Global Healthcare, the Columbia, SC, company that provides clients access to JCI-accredited hospitals.

"We think this is a pretty big step, as employer-sponsored limited plans continue to grow across the country," says David Boucher, president of Companion Global Healthcare.

Green told me BasicPlus has been selling these products—FlexMed (for employers) and Basic Plus (for individuals)—for about two-and-a-half years, and he considers the new global benefit as a way to entice employers that have more than 100 employees but cannot afford comprehensive plans. This is a group Green expects to increase over time, given the complaints he hears from employers about the escalating cost of healthcare.

"What we've learned is the larger the employer, the more they want to talk about that 10% population that wouldn't be covered by the limited plan," says Green. And the global option is a way of stretching the benefits to cover certain surgeries and other services that can be provided by Companion's network. "Generally, the available benefit would cover the cost of travel," adds Green.

I asked Green how much employers really know about medical travel, since his company's deal with Companion is based on the assumption that the new benefit will drive an increase of employer clients. He told me I'd be surprised how many employers are not only aware of medical travel as an option, but also open to the concept.

By 2009, Boucher anticipates a steady stream of insured patients leaving the U.S. for care. For sure, the caps on limited insurance plans make them a good vehicle to promote medical travel. With BasicPlus' steps toward offering this benefit, we will see if consumers are ready to make that move.

Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.
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