How UnitedHealthcare supports Americans' travel - MedCity News

Found a top healthcare professional in Boston, Miami, Seattle or Los Angeles? The associated travel costs may no longer bother you.

Starting this year, many Americans who receive health insurance from their employers will benefit from coverage for health-related travel expenses for the first time. This benefit will especially help those with rare and chronic diseases who often have to travel outside their home countries to access specialists. All employers should follow this trend of travel coverage, not only because it helps their most vulnerable employees, but because it can help improve their bottom line.

The catalyst for this new coverage was the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overrule Roe v. Wade and turn abortion law over to state governments. After this decision, some countrieslike Texas, Tennessee, and Missouri, have enacted new abortion restrictions.

Recently research of WTW estimates that the number of companies offering abortion travel benefits will increase by approximately 50% in 2023, rising from about a third of businesses nationwide to about half. Even more companies are considering increasing these benefits in future plan years. Yet these travel benefits are not limited to abortion. The survey found that almost 90% of employers align their abortion travel benefits with those related to the broader health needs of employees.

This development is rare good health news for patients, who now face one less financial barrier to care. While many people can get all the care they need in their hometowns, patients with rare and chronic diseases often have to travel long distances to receive treatment at specialized clinics, often called centers of excellence. Given the severity and complexity of many rare conditions, telehealth is usually not an option.

Consider the story of Becky, a Washington, D.C.-area mother of two sons who have a rare genetic disorder that limits their movement. After much searching, Becky found a pediatric neurologist who could treat her sons condition and was covered by her health plan. Unfortunately, that doctor was based at Boston Children’s Hospital, several hundred miles away.

Hotels in Boston aren’t cheap, and the trip costs Becky over $1,000 each time. For families with children with disabilities, such costs can be prohibitive. According to the Urban Institute study, nearly a third of families with children with disabilities face extreme financial difficulties. Becky’s family was forced to cut other essentials in their budget to pay for these trips.

These travel-related expenses amount to rounding errors for a company health plan, but they can take a significant toll on patients’ pocketbooks. Families with employer-sponsored health insurance now pay directly 6100 dollars in average annual health care premiums, as well as several thousand dollars in deductibles, coinsurance and co-pays. The least employers can do is eliminate health-related travel expenses.

Covering travel expenses is not an act of altruism for employers. It is in their financial interest that their workforce has access to the specialized care they need to feel better, rather than sending them to their local hospital for inadequate care. In today’s ongoing war for talent, solid health insurance can also help businesses attract the best workers.

Given the vast price differences in the American health care system, employers may find it cheaper to send their employees out of state for high-value care even after accounting for travel costs. For example, the Oklahoma Surgery Center did titles to offer procedures at much lower prices than major local hospitals. When travel expenses are covered, employers suddenly have a vastly expanded market to identify better value alternatives that can save money for the company health plan.

Travel cover is the right move for employees and employers. Expect even more companies to offer it in the coming years as success becomes evident, opening up promising specialty care options for even more patients in all corners of the country.

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