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U.S. workers travel for cheap surgery

Nov. 17, 2012 at 5:52 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- There is a growing movement among U.S. employers to send insured workers on paid trips to get operations at bargain prices, those involved in the trend say.

Chip Burgett, an executive vice president at BridgeHealth Medical Inc. in Denver -- which helps companies, insurers and patients deal with the logistics of shopping for the best prices for surgery and other healthcare -- says employers save money even while paying thousands in travel expenses to other states, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

BridgeHealth has deals worked out with about 45 U.S. hospitals, the newspaper said.

"There is a lot of excess margin in healthcare and plenty of room in the pricing of these hospitals," Burgett said. "Hopefully this drives true competition in healthcare and it's not just based on how many helicopters a hospital has."

Susan Ridgely, a senior policy analyst at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., told the Times the savings come in getting a package deal rather than paying higher amounts for each part of a medical procedure.

"You expect to see the hotel, airfare and car bundled together on Expedia," Ridgely said. "We want to stop paying by the widget in healthcare."

The Times said federal and state officials are catching on as well, with Medicare and some Medicaid programs seeking such all-inclusive prices for common procedures.

Carol Vogel, 64, of Minden, Nev., who recently traveled to Newport Beach, Calif., for her surgery, told the Times it made sense to make the trip to deal with an ailing hip. Besides free airfare and hotel stay and $1,000 in spending money, the surgery was 100 percent covered.

She's going back soon to have her other hip done.

Otherwise, she said, "I would have been out $8,000 or $9,000 easy on my insurance. This is like the honeymoon we never had. Are you kidding me?"

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