Korea is hoping to show employers and insurers that they can save money on healthcare, by flying a patient to Korea for medical treatment, rather than to pay for a comparable procedure in the United States.
One Korean health insurance provider is piloting a plan for around 350 employees of three American subsidiaries of Korean companies - Woori America Bank, Daewoo Electronics America and Daewoo International America. The Korean insurance package will send American workers to South Korea for medical treatment for serious illnesses, according to the Health Ministry and the Korea Health Industry Development (KHIDI).
Woori America Bank, a wholly owned US subsidiary of Woori Bank, Korea, is a community bank offering financial services to the ethnic Korean community. It employs around 230 people in 18 branches in New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. Daewoo Electronics America is an importer of electronics products made by parent Daewoo Electronics in Korea. It only has a handful of employees in Miami and New Jersey. Daewoo International America is a subsidiary of multi-faceted Daewoo International, and operates in New Jersey, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles.
All three companies combined have some 350 employees in the USA, so the number expected to travel will be very small, if any do. But it is the concept that is being piloted; even taking in to account travel expenses to get to Korea the cost is expected to be half as much U.S. hospital treatment. The pilot hopes to test the concept, and the willingness of American workers, to travel to Korea for serious surgery. Although some of the employees are Korean or of Korean ancestry, it is believed that most of the 350 are American.
It is the first time a health insurance company has offered a package specifically designed to bring foreigners into Korea for treatment. The package covers major medical costs associated with 14 illnesses including cancer, heart disease and spinal deficiencies. The companies will pay about 30 to 40 percent less for the Korean coverage than they would pay to American insurance companies offering coverage for fewer surgeries. The insurer says that upon enrolling in the plan, workers can chose between Korean and local medical treatment; those who pick the Korean option will pay 30 to 40 percent less in monthly premiums. The Korean option covers not just medical costs, but all associated travel expenses. The package is being offered through an American health-insurance agency.
The insurance plan is seen as giving a boost to medical tourism in Korea, which is competing against other Asian nations, including Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, in offering affordable medical care to Americans. In development is a similar health insurance plan from an American insurer that will probably offer Asians temporarily working in the United States the same option of flying to Korea for major medical care.