I was listening to Marketplace Takeout this morning on the way into work and heard something interesting. You know how the conventional wisdom is that in-person services like surgeries are shielded from global competition? According to this story, that’s all changing.
This month, eight Americans are scheduled for stomach stapling surgery here at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital. That complicated procedure is only going to cost them $5,000 in India, compared to at least $20,000 to get it done at home. There’s a simple reason why medical care is so much cheaper here — the cost of labor is that much lower in India.
Apollo lures foreign patients with “five-star wellness packages” that are more like vacations than medical treatments. It starts off in a deluxe hospital suite on the top floor of the facility, where the nurses have been trained to pamper foreign patients.
Sweet deal, huh? You get quality medical care at 25% the cost, and you get to stay in a luxury suite while you do it. I don’t need a stomach stapling, but if I did, I’d be all over the idea of getting an international vacation out of the deal.
According to a related story, companies are all over the idea too.
Carl Garrett is 60. He’s worked as a technician at the same paper mill in North Carolina for 40 years. When I first spoke to him he was a week away from having his gall bladder removed and a rotator cuff mended at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi.
GARRETT: “I’m not nervous. Matter of fact, I’m just excited and anxious to get going.”
His employer, Blue Ridge Paper, can save tens of thousands of dollars if an employee has an operation in India rather than North Carolina. But their nascent healthcare option saves Garrett money too. The luxury package to India is completely covered by the company: he’ll even get a portion of their savings. To have both operations done at home, he says, he’d fork out up to $10,000 in deductibles and out-of-plan costs.
Win-win, right? Garrett is excited about the trip, gets needed medical care, and saves money. Blue Ridge Paper saves money on providing the treatment and gets a healthy employee. What could possibly be the problem? Garrett’s union, that’s what.
But a few days after we spoke events took an unexpected turn. Local leaders at United Steelworkers, Garrett’s union, voiced loud objections to the trip. At the last minute, Blue Ridge Paper told him it was off. Union representative Stan Johnson:
STAN JOHNSON: “It’s deplorable that the right to safe and secure healthcare in somebody’s own country should be surrendered for any reason, much less bartered for a tour of the Taj Mahal or five-star accommodations.”
“Deplorable” that Mr. Garrett should have the freedom to barter with his employer “for a tour of the Taj Mahal or five-star accommodations.” Personally, I think it’s deplorable that Mr. Garrett’s union would force him to delay his surgery and go into debt for it. And so does he:
CARL GARRETT: I’m still in a, kind of a state of disbelief. It’s a crying shame that, uh, I don’t have that option, simply because of a union that I have supported for 40 years. And as far as I’m concerned they have taken money out of my pocket.” The irony, he says, is that the other union members he works with couldn’t wait for him to get back, to decide whether to sign up for an overseas operation themselves.