Low-Cost ‘Cross-Border’ Health Plans Promoted as Means to Reduce Number of Uninsured
The Los Angeles Times today reports on "cross-border" health plans, which offer coverage to Latinos who travel from the United States to Mexico for health care. The plans, under which U.S. insurers contract with Mexican doctors or medical networks, can provide primary care in Mexico and emergency care in the United States. The Times reports that California officials hope the low cost of the plans will help decrease the number of uninsured. Lisa Kalustian, a spokesperson for Health Net, which offers cross-border policies, said the insurer's cross-border policy costs about $303 per month for a family of four, compared to about $600 per month for a regular HMO plan. Gov. Gray Davis (D) recently directed the Department of Managed Health Care to encourage health insurers to enter the cross-border market. Under state law, employers that offer cross-border insurance must also offer at least one U.S.-based plan. In addition, cross-border plans are legally responsible for patients who are denied care in Mexico. "Even if they are going to a place in Mexico, they have the same rights as if they went to a doctor in California," Joy Higa, deputy director of DMHC, said. In California, Health Net and Blue Shield offer cross-border policies, which cover an estimated 25,000 people.
Patients who go to Mexico for medical visits say they prefer care there because of its "cultural empathy, speed and low cost," the Times reports. However, some doctors "fear that people will be forced by employers and the lower cost [of cross-border plans] to get treatment hundreds of miles from home -- and that the care is both inferior and poorly regulated." Richard Corlin, past president of the American Medical Association, said patients with cross-border policies "are taking a risk not having the access to the kind of technology that we consider minimal in the United States." But Dr. Ramiro Lopez, who is certified as a physician in the United States and Mexico, said that primary care in Tijuana "is the same as in California," adding, "For the Latino community, the communication is better in Tijuana." While Health Net and Blue Cross do not evaluate the doctors in their cross-border plans, they do inspect their offices, review medical licenses and verify education credentials (Mena, Los Angeles Times, 7/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.