Superior Considering Medical Tourism Option to Save on Healthcare Costs

City looking to contain costs that reached nearly $6 million in 2018

SUPERIOR, Wis. – Healthcare cost the City of Superior nearly $6 million in 2018.

Now, the city is looking at some new ways to contain those costs, including adding a medical tourism option to their employee health plan.

Superior City Councilor Craig Sutherland traveled to Mexico last month for a stem cell procedure to treat his MS.

“It was great, service was top notch and the price was cheaper than anywhere around,” said Sutherland.

It wasn’t covered by his health insurance and he paid about $60,000 for the treatment with the help of community donations. Sutherland says if he got the same procedure in the United States it would cost between $150,000-300,000.

“When it’s your life at stake, you find a way to make it work,” said Sutherland.

Now, the City of Superior is considering a similar tactic to save on employee healthcare costs.

“Maybe it’s a place in Minneapolis that can do the service at $800. They may be willing to drive to Minneapolis to spend $800 versus a different facility that might cost $1,500 or maybe even $2,000,” explained Superior finance director, Jean Vito.

Under the proposal, employees couldn’t travel to Mexico like Sutherland did, but they could shop around at local and regional facilities to find the best deal.

Employees could keep more money in their health savings accounts and the city could keep more in their healthcare fund.

“If they give the employee the opportunity to save some money and maybe give them an incentive, I think it would save everybody,” said Sutherland. “Everyone would win from that situation.”

If approved, the medical tourism plan would be a voluntary pilot project including only certain kinds of procedures. But switching providers on jut the sixteen orthopedic procedures employees had in 2018 could bring a lot of savings.

“If they had all gone to those high value providers, we would have saved over $200,000,” said Vito.

City officials say medical tourism is only part of how they plan to keep health care costs contained. They may also negotiate with local providers.

“Perhaps we directly meet with them and we say how can we work together to lower these costs,” said Vito.

Just as Craig Sutherland did to save money, city employees wouldn’t be limited to the few options available in the Northland.

“Just because we have a health care system in the Twin Ports, we don’t have to stay in this system, we can go somewhere else,” said Sutherland.

Changes to the healthcare plan would have to be approved by the finance committee, health insurance committee, and the full city council before it could become a reality.

If the pilot project moves forward, it would be voluntary for employees to enter.

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