When Catherine Carlisle, A bookkeeper for Yukon Electric in Anchorage, Alaska found out that he needed a hip spot in 2012, shocked that his employer was proposing surgery at Arise Austin Medical Center in Texas. The operation, rehab and staying in a two-week hotel won’t cost him anything. This benefit would have to be paid for her daughter to go along and even included $ 1,500 in spending money.
Yukon ranks employers for medical travel within the US as a way to rein in health care costs. Home improvement retailer Lowe in 2010 partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to provide 200,000 employees (as well as their dependents) with free cardiac procedures for travel. Boeing has a similar plan with a clinic for more than 75,000 American employees. PepsiCo sent Johns Hopkins workers to Baltimore for cardiac and complex joint replacement surgery.
Providers chosen for their excellent results offer attractive prices, as they perform large amounts of surgery, and patients avoid costly complications and readmissions. The hospital typically charges a flat amount for a bundle of services instead of billing for each test, pill and specialist. This arrangement saves companies up to 40 percent of normal costs. Little wonder they are forcing employees to cheer for the deal, by throwing in fearless discounts and travel and caregiver expenses.
“It’s a win-win,” says Stephanie McRae, director of network development for Bridgewind Medical, a Denver-based surgery benefit firm that negotiates (and works with Yukon Electric) between providers and companies. “We only contract with the cream of the crop – hospitals that are in the top quartile on performance measures.”
BridgeHealth’s other clients include several national corporate giants; Swedish Medical Center in Seattle offers partnering hospitals such as Calispell Regional Healthcare in Montana and McBride Orthopedic Hospital in Oklahoma City a menu of surgeries from ACL reconstruction to hysterectomy. Last year, the nonprofit Pacific Business Group on Health launched a scheme to staff several large companies, including Walmart and Lowe’s, receiving free joint replacements at one of several hospitals, among them Johnson Mason Medical Center in Seattle and At Johns Hopkins Quick Medical Center Baltimore. According to the program’s associate director, Olivia Ross, more than 700 employees have used the benefit so far.
Employees normally have the option to pay to live closer to home. Getting away from familiar support systems while recovering is a downside, and there are concerns about patients transitioning back to local doctors for follow-up. Sunil Bhoyrul, medical director of bariatric surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, a Bridgehite provider, uses technology to stay connected to his distant patients as they work to lose weight once at home. A mobile app monitors their activity and other health measures and feeds it back to medical practice. “Wherever they are on the planet, we know what they are doing and can give them a message,” Bhoyrul notes.
That said, Bridgehelt says 98 percent of patients who visit say they would recommend an associate’s option. Carlisle was so satisfied that she moved to Texas to get prosthetic knees in 2013 and recently flew from Mesa’s Arizona Spine & Joint Hospital to replace her other hip.
Excerpt from US News’ “Best Hospitals 2016”, the definitive consumer guidebook for American hospitals. Order your copy now.