The MTA…. when will the hype and misinformation stop?

The US based Medical Tourism Association (MTA) claims to represent the interests of the medical tourism industry. But can we believe what they say? And are they actually doing more harm than good?

If you’re thinking of attending, sponsoring or exhibiting at the “World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress” taking place in Florida this month, you might like to fire a few questions at the organisers, the US based Medical Tourism Association.

The MTA presents itself as “the first membership based international non-profit trade association for the medical tourism and global healthcare industry made up of the top international hospitals, healthcare providers, medical travel facilitators, insurance companies, and other affiliated companies”.

You may wish to question how representative this “association” actually is. In my speaking engagements at various medical travel conferences around the world, I can’t say I’ve met many actual members.

The MTA has a fluid membership. An IMTJ analysis of its membership list from 2010 to 2014 shows that its membership numbers amongst hospitals and clinics hovers around the 150 mark. But over those four years, only two stayed the pace (or saw the value?) and had remained as members. i.e. around 140 didn’t renew their membership, but 140 joined as new members.

Is it a “for profit” business or a “non-profit” association?

As a “non-profit association”, you might like to ask where all the profits from the Congress go, and how the trade association benefits. My understanding is that the revenue is funnelled into the WMT&GHC INC, a for profit business run by the MTA’s founders, which invoices delegates, sponsors and exhibitors.

You may want to ask about the involvement of the two founders in the for profit businesses that surround the MTA and their other “non-profit associations”. The MTA business model has been replicated in other areas. Alongside their business interests in the MTA, you’ll find the MTA founders are busy with links to similarly styled “non-profits” such as the Corporate Health & Wellness Association, , the Voluntary Benefits Association, the Self Funding Employer Association, the Global Benefits Association, and most recently the International Luxury Hotel Association. Each of these follows a similar business model… a “non-profit trade association for the XXXXXXX Industry”, a magazine, a conference, a paid for certification program….. If you’re keen on framing certificates and sticking them on your wall, these organisations will enable you to “Become a Self Insurance Certified Professional™, “Become a Medical Tourism Certified Professional™, Become a Certified Voluntary Benefits Professional™, “Become a Certified WellHotel Guest Manager. You’ll need to clear some wall space! Concerns about the “get certified quickly and easily” activities of such organizations have been raised by representatives of respected travel and tourism bodies such as the UK’s Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

Now.. there’s no harm in people making profits. That’s what people run businesses for. That’s probably why the Stephano-Edelheit partnership gave up their law jobs. That’s what we aim to do at Intuition. Where I struggle is when a supposed “non-profit membership association”, promotes a level of hype and misinformation which ultimately  affects the businesses involved in the industry, or the investors attracted to the industry. The MTA leadership is clearly about maximising  revenues from conference registrations, sponsorship fees, exhibitors, advertising, and consultancy work for their commercial operations…. which is fine. But that for-profit motive creates a direct conflict with an association’s responsibilities to deliver a true picture and an honest assessment of the industry to its membership, to the industry as a whole and to the media.

I’ve selected three examples of the MTA approach from the last couple of months.

Example 1… $35 million saving from medical tourism

Here’s a quote from a speaker, used in the MTA promotion of their upcoming congress

“North Carolina Office of State Human Resources integrated medical tourism into their benefits plan sending 243,000 employees overseas for care, saving over $35million to date”

Now… if you are a potential delegate, sponsor or exhibitor, you may read this and think… “I need to get a piece of this action. If US employers are buying into medical tourism to this extent I need to be there.”

But do the Maths. Is this statement anywhere near credible? 243,000 employees sent overseas for care, a saving of over $35million?

Well, … here’s the reality. Here is how Pani Tademeti, the HR manager for the North Carolina Office of State Personnel, was actually quoted in another article.

“Under his leadership, NCFlex, the state’s cafeteria plan and voluntary benefits program, has grown from 727 participants in 1995 to 243,000 in 2012 and reaped more than $35 million in FICA savings”.

No mention of medical tourism. No mention of 243,000 employees sent overseas. The savings of $35 million were generated from the extensive changes that Pani made to the organisation’s benefits plans. (I believe medical tourism was introduced as an option within the new benefits program.)

But hey! Who cares? An employer has offered a medical tourism option in an employee benefits plan.   And the new plan delivers savings of $35 million. Let’s attribute all of that to medical tourism.

Example 2… $310 million to $6 billion of medical tourism revenue in five years

Here’s a quote that was published online last month, and accredited to the MTA:

“Renée-Marie Stephano, JD, President of the Medical Tourism Association says that the medical tourism industry in India is worth an estimated $310 million, the number is predicted to reach $6 billion by 2018”

Do the Maths… what’s the annual growth rate from  $310 million today to $6 billion by 2018 . Err… It’s a big number. It’s a ridiculous number. Doesn’t the MTA know that this is a ridiculous number?

And later in the article:

“Some 1.2 million medical tourists are expected to visit India by the end of this year, and that number is likely to double by 2020.”

So, now we have a different growth number. This time it’s only 100% over 5 years. (If we match the current number of medical tourists with the claimed revenue, that’s a revenue per patient of… $258.) Does the MTA honestly believe these figures?  Or is it keen to gain some Indian delegates, exhibitors and sponsors to its Congress?

Example 3… Only use MTA accredited and certified facilities

One of the big medical tourism stories in recent weeks in the USA, is about a Florida medical tourism agency that is sending patients to Mexico for weight loss surgery. The article reports on “more than a dozen injuries and several deaths”. The MTA were asked to comment…

“make sure the medical facility where you will have your procedure is accredited and certified by the Medical Tourism Association.”

So, the MTA is now in the hospital accreditation business.  Perhaps, if you’re a prospective medical tourist, your only safe option is visit a facility where the people have undergone the extensive training programme (online or at a seminar) required to become a “Certified Medical Tourism™ Professional” or a “Certified Medical Tourism Specialist™”.

I’m not sure what JCI and other national and international bodies that accredit hospitals and certify medical professionals would say about this. Perhaps someone should ask….

Let’s have your view

Have you had dealings with the MTA? What’s your story? I have yet to meet a hospital, clinic, facilitator or destination who has sung their praises. And if the industry does need a truly representative membership association, how can we make that happen?