Amazon uses domestic medical tourism to save money

To control costs, Amazon is paying employees in the USA to travel within the country, to select hospitals and doctors. One of the first ventures is for employees or their families who need cancer treatment. will pay travel costs for those diagnosed with cancer to see doctors at City of Hope, a Los Angeles-area health system. Amazon hopes to curb health spending, but will it work?

Around 380,000 of the Seattle-based company’s employees and families across the USA are eligible for the travel benefit.

Making the offer is the easy part; employees are often reluctant to be away from home when ill or undergoing a procedure, with only one in ten eligible people expected to be prepared to travel.

City of Hope began to contract with employers in 2018. One deal is run by the Pacific Business Group on Health, an employer group, and consultants Health Design Plus, and offers cancer care for an employer with 30,000 US workers. Four other employers have signed up and includes two large regional employers in the Midwest and Southeast who cover travel for spine and joint-replacement surgery.

By paying employees to travel for medical care, Amazon hopes to increase workers’ choices and curb health spending by getting workers to top specialists and reducing the chance of a wrong diagnosis or treatment.

Those who travel to City of Hope meet with specialists who review local doctors’ records and can seek additional information, such as genetic testing, to make treatment recommendations.

Health plan advisors and managers Mercer advise that most companies are still against sending employees long distance for care. Those that do include Walmart, Lowe’s and McKesson. Walmart employees diagnosed with breast, lung or colorectal cancer can travel to the Mayo Clinic for evaluation.

Amazon previously paid for travel only when no treatment was available within 100 miles for life-threatening conditions, such as advanced heart surgery. The new travel benefit can be used for any cancer diagnosis, regardless of local options. Those who choose to remain home can meet with City of Hope doctors by video conference, but only if state regulations allow this.