Montclair, New Jersey (PressExposure) April 11, 2011 -- Dan Espeland, Superintendent of Converse County School District #1 in Wyoming, had a pain in the neck. But he refused to be a pain in the neck. Beset with pain and sensory impairment from a twenty-year old injury, Espeland, a 2007 American Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year, sought a cure with the same sensibility and effectiveness with which he attends to his school district. Through courage and diligence, he found his solution in medical tourism - the rapidly growing practice of traveling abroad for medical treatment that is just too expensive to obtain at home. Espeland traveled to India, where he had a successful operation and saved his district and insurance provider tens of thousands of dollars. Through his successful journey, this esteemed educator provides a lesson to be heeded - not by his students - but by employers, healthcare providers, and insurers who wish to provide high levels of care and service while avoiding cripplingly high costs.
Espeland's problems with his spinal cord had already cost him nearly $100,000 for treatment that failed to improve his condition. Based on the opinions of four surgeons, the only option available to him was a three-level fusion. The estimated cost: $125,000. But that was the good news, believe it or not. Espeland's real worry was the risk that this prohibitively expensive procedure would leave him even worse off than he already was. Spinal fusion exposed Espeland to serious side effects, such as loss of motion and flexibility and permanently altered biomechanics. Furthermore, he faced the potential for accelerated degeneration of the discs above and below the fused level, leading to more pain and the need for even more surgery.
Espeland knew of a better way - artificial disc replacement (ADR). ADR is a viable alternative that significantly mitigates the risks of spinal fusion. By inserting an artificial disc instead of performing spinal fusion, ADR reduces the possibility of damage to nearby discs and joints. It allows for quick pain relief and greater motion preservation. Unfortunately, ADR has not been available in the United States until recently and Espeland's insurance provider refused to cover it.
Meanwhile, Espeland learned that in India, not only could he have his much preferred ADR performed by experienced doctors in a state-of-the-art hospital, he could get it done for a fraction of the cost of the dreaded spinal fusion. Well, he did not have to consult one of his math teachers to grasp the cost-benefit. But he was nervous about traveling so far to a developing country for such sophisticated surgery. The idea seemed fraught with other risks that called for a leap of faith as long as the distance from Colorado to India.
His many questions and concerns were patiently addressed by Med Journeys, a medical tourism agency based in New Jersey. "I chose Med Journeys for several important reasons. First, they provided me with the resume of the doctor who would perform my operation." Espeland did his own research on the doctor to verify his credentials. Finding that the doctor was indeed highly qualified, Espeland was strongly encouraged.
Nevertheless, there were other concerns inherent in such a journey. "But from the minute I stepped into the hospital," Espeland states, "I was at ease and was convinced that I made the right decision. The professionalism of the doctors and all the help was incredible. The hospital was beautiful and very, very clean. While in the US, I might see a nurse only once a day, in India the nurses were outside my door and available anytime I needed them. The doctors did a thorough examination of me prior to my surgery, including extensive tests that by themselves would have cost about $10,000 in the US. I felt very good that they knew my condition, my health and everything about me that they needed to know prior to my surgery."
As for his trip and accommodations, Espeland said, "I can't say enough good things about Med Journeys. They arranged the entire trip. Knowing that it would be difficult for me to sit still for such a long flight, they made sure that I had bulkhead seats so I could stand up and stretch my legs. From the moment we arrived in India, the people from Med Journeys met us at the airport, took us to the hospital. Everyday, people from the company checked on us and made sure we were doing fine both physically and emotionally. I think these services were critical, considering how vulnerable one is having surgery in such a foreign place."
As a patient, efficacy of treatment, comfort, and accommodations were clearly major factors for Espeland. But for his insurance provider, the overarching issue was cost. His insurance company was not satisfied that the entire trip, including airfare, all local transportation, accommodations, and all medical expenses would cost $100,000 less than having spinal fusion in the US. Fearing the prospect of theoretically unlimited costs due to complications, Espeland's insurance would only agree to cover his trip if there was a cap on its coverage. Fortunately, "Med Journeys was willing to work with the hospital and me to put a cap on the medical expenses that I was to get over in India." The capped cost through Med Journeys was $25,000. Once Espeland presented the cost savings and the cap, his insurance provider approved coverage for his trip.
Feeling rather circumspect about healthcare in the US in general, Espeland says "I get the feeling that some doctors are just interested in doing surgery for monetary reasons." In India, by contrast, "my doctor advised me based only on what my needs were. I felt that he was always taking my long term health into consideration." For example, "I went to India originally expecting a 3 level artificial disc replacement. But, after reviewing my Cat Scan and MRI, my doctor recommended only 2 levels, since the third level looked like it was operating correctly. That seems to have worked out well for me. I appreciated that." Indeed, it worked out well for Espeland's insurance provider, since the operation his doctor recommended was less costly than what had been expected.
Anyone who manages medical expenses knows that it is truly a rare thing for a medical bill to be less than expected. Perhaps that is why medical tourism is often described as a "phenomenon." Espeland wants it to become less of a phenomenon and more a standard option for employees in his school district.
Under his district's health coverage, insurance only pays for medical expenses in excess of $50,000. The district itself pays for expenses up to $50,000. If Espeland opted for the $125,000 spinal fusion in the US, his district would have had to pay the first $50,000, with the remaining $75,000 paid by insurance. With a capped cost of $25,000 from Med Journeys, however, the insurance company recognized a savings of $50,000. As a result, the company agreed to cover the whole thing, thus saving the school district $50,000 also.
Espeland now roams the halls of his schools with considerably less pain and more agility. Perhaps he wonders how many books and computers $50,000 could purchase. One thing he knows for sure - $50,000 doesn't go far these days. Therefore, in order to realize substantial, tangible benefits for his schools, Espeland is striving to make medical tourism a readily available option for employees throughout his district.
If you have any questions or if you are interested in receiving information about traveling abroad for a procedure, please call us today at 1-888-MED-JRNY (1-888-633-5769) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Med Journeys sends most of its clients to Costa Rica, India, Mexico and Thailand, but has also cemented relationships with state of the art hospitals in other countries, such as Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Poland, Columbia, Belgium, Spain, France, Panama, Germany, Philippines, South Korea and many more.
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