How Would Obama and McCain’s Healthcare Proposals Impact Medical Travel?

American Healthcare & Medical Travel

Today, more than 48 million Americans are uninsured, while millions more learn they are underinsured when they become sick. America spends more than $2.3 trillion, or 16% of GDP, annually on healthcare costs. By the year 2016, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services forecasts that health spending will be $4.3 trillion or 20% of GDP.

Though America spends more than any other country on healthcare, it is ranked 37th in overall quality among the world’s healthcare systems by the World Health Organization. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, healthcare spending accounted for 10.9% of the GDP in Switzerland, 9.7% in Canada and 9.5% in France, all countries ranked higher than the U.S.

A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC Survey reported that the cost of healthcare is Americans’ number one economic concern. Growing numbers of underserved patients are turning to healthcare delivery alternatives such as traveling to foreign hospitals for necessary treatment. While the medical travel phenomenon started with cosmetic surgery, successes have emboldened patients who need joint replacements, cardiac surgery, spinal fusions and bariatric surgery to reach beyond America’s borders for alternatives. At the same time, health insurers and employers are noticing the opportunities for cost savings by outsourcing and the ability to reach new markets with tailored healthcare products.

Republicans and Democrats agree that current trends in healthcare are not sustainable. Not surprisingly, both presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have proposed equally radical remedies for America’s broken healthcare system. Though neither candidate addresses medical travel specifically, their healthcare plans suggest the likely impact on the medical travel market.

McCain’s Healthcare Plan

Sen. McCain would ask Americans to take on greater personal responsibility for their healthcare choices and rely on market forces to meet today’s healthcare challenges. According to Sen. McCain, increased competition and less government involvement will improve the quality of health insurance with greater diversity among plans, lower prices and portability.

Specifically, Sen. McCain would seek to make insurance more available by increasing variety and affordability of private plans. The Senator’s revolutionary idea is to eliminate the tax break that workers receive from employer-sponsored health plans, treating the benefit as taxable income, offset by a new tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families. If the tax credit is more than the amount a person spends on healthcare premiums, the excess can be placed in a health savings account.

Sen. McCain believes that people who are covered by employer health benefits consume more healthcare services than is necessary. Presumably at least some of those excess services that can be redirected to the uninsured population. Putting patients in control their health spending will encourage competition among providers and insurers, reduce costs and improve the quality and portability of coverage.

Sen. McCain has proposed several policy initiatives to lower healthcare costs. These include: (1) greater competition in the pharmaceutical market; (2) improved systems for chronic disease prevention and management; (3) coordinated care among providers to render better outcomes at lower cost; (4) improved access through walk-in clinics in retail outlets; (5) use of information technology; (6) reforming the Medicaid and Medicare payment systems to pay for diagnosis and prevention but not treatment made necessary by preventable medical errors or mismanagement; (7) anti-smoking programs; (8) state spending flexibility; (9) tort reform to reduce frivolous lawsuits; and (10) improved transparency with better public information on treatment options, doctor records, outcomes, quality of care, costs and prices.