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The big news here is that the Marriott Hotel plans to build a small but elite hospital within two years in a new beachside building on the Atlantic, with resplendent ocean views and sumptuous resort amenities.

The specialty hospital is part of a growing trend by Americans (and others from economically advanced countries) to combine medical treatment with vacation. In 2008, 1.3 million Americans traveled outside the United States, primarily for elective surgery; the number is expected to triple by 2012.

Americans are going to overseas centers for two good reasons – far lower health costs and high quality of care – not to mention the exceptional personal comfort provided at these centers. Some American health insurers are exploring coverage for their clients for the same reasons.

After all, why should a health insurance company, any more than an individual, pay three times as much for a surgical procedure – to repair a hernia, for example – in a stateside local hospital when it could be done just as well in the Caribbean? And patients could recover with hotel services at their fingertips.

A few health insurers already provide medical tourism coverage, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and Georgia-based BasicPlus Insurance Services. Some US employers are looking into it with an eye on cutting employee health costs. In January 2008, Hannaford Bros., a supermarket chain based in Maine, began paying the entire bill for employees to travel to Singapore for hip and knee replacements, including travel for the patient and a companion. Some unions, however, have raised issues of legal liability and potential job losses in the US health care industry if hospital treatment is outsourced. … Read More

Via The Boston Globe
Loretta McLaughlin is a former editor of the Boston Globe editorial pages and is a senior fellow at the Harvard AIDS Initiative.