CROSS-BORDER CARE: Mexican Guest Workers Want Health Coverage
Most Mexican nationals working in the United States have a "strong" interest in "affordable, comprehensive cross-border" health insurance, a new study reveals. To explore options for the seven million such Mexican nationals, an expert two-nation Mexico-USA Cross-Borders Health Insurance Initiative research team conducted interviews with legal Mexican-national workers who have a single job in urban U.S. areas. Researchers also performed economic analyses to determine the financial feasibility of a cross-border health insurance plan. According to the study, 93% of those interviewed have immediate family members living in Mexico, and 89% said they are interested in cross-border health coverage. Jonathan Lewis, president of the Academy for International Health Studies, said, "We were particularly aware of the need for health insurance that crosses international boundaries with the same ease that workers and products cross borders -- but we wanted to examine the market viability." Researchers also found that cost is "critical" to workers, since 73% of Mexican nationals interviewed earn under $25,000 each year. "Now that the dialogue is broadening, it's time for private health insurers and private employers to take the next steps. Employers ... can take the lead by requesting that private health insurers develop an insurance product that crosses the Rio Grande," James Walbridge, health care management consultant for Milliman & Robertson, said. The initiative was funded by the California HealthCare Foundation, with cooperation from the Mexican Health Foundation (Academy for International Health Studies release, 6/23).
Expanding Cross-Border Care
Since California approved cross-border health coverage earlier this year, two employer-funded HMOs have taken the plunge, offering plans that cover both Mexican and U.S. health care systems, the Wall Street Journal reports. Tijuana- based Servicios Medicos Nacionales SA received its charter in February, and San Francisco-based Blue Shield of California will launch Access Baja HMO in August. A third health plan, Blue Cross/Blue Shield de Mexico, will likely offer cross-border plans in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico sometime this year. In San Diego and Imperial counties, the plans could help 50,000 workers and their families, who were ineligible for coverage in Mexico's social security system but barred from U.S. HMOs. The plans' executives are already looking to extend coverage beyond cross-border workers to the general public, specifically Americans traveling to Mexico for low-cost prescription drugs and bargains on medical services. One survey, by researchers at the San Diego Dialogue, found that U.S. citizens make as many as 250,000 border crossings each month in search of cheaper prescription drugs and medical care. In addition, Blue Shield expects to switch some U.S. policyholders to the Access Baja plan, as co-payments and other fees will be lower for cross-border coverage. Blue Shield Director of Cross-Border Development Jim Arriola said, "The employer becomes our traffic director. If the guy in the kitchen likes the plan his co-worker from Mexico is getting, he can ask to switch" (Millman, 6/27).