| September 9, 2013

Oklahoma-Bound Medical Tourists are Voting With Their Feet

In a recent hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Congressman James Lankford (R-Okla.) lauded the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, a multispecialty facility in Oklahoma City which posts its prices online, as a place where “competition has driven up quality and driven down price.”

The Surgery Center is not alone. As Ali Meyer recently reported on KFOR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, several other medical facilities in Oklahoma City have embraced price transparency. Among them: McBride Orthopedic Hospital, Oklahoma Heart Hospital, Digestive Disease Center, Cancer Specialists of Oklahoma, Breast Imaging of Oklahoma, and Comprehensive Diagnostic Imaging. Several facilities are posting their prices on the website of The Kempton Group, a third-party administrator of self-funded employee-benefit plans.

As a result, Oklahoma City is becoming somewhat of a medical tourist destination, with patients coming from as far away as Canada and California.

It’s encouraging to see Oklahoma become a leader in healthcare honesty and transparency, and to receive widespread recognition. As Tina Rosenberg wrote in a recent New York Times commentary:

What makes [the Surgery Center] different from every other such facility in America is this: If you need an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, you will know beforehand—because it’s on their Web site—that it costs $6,990 if you self-pay in advance. If you need a tonsillectomy, that’s $3,600. Repair of a simple closed nasal fracture: $1,900. These prices are all-inclusive.

Keith Smith, the co-founder of the center, said that it had been posting prices for the last four of its 16 years. He knew something was happening, he said, when people started coming from Canada. “They could pay $3,740 for arthroscopic surgery of the knee and not have to wait for three years,” he said. Then he began getting patients from elsewhere in the United States and began to find out— “I get 8 or 10 e-mails a week”—that he was having an effect on prices far away. “Patients are holding plane tickets to Oklahoma City and printing out our prices, and leveraging better deals in their local markets.”

The Surgery Center of Oklahoma is probably just the beginning. “You’re looking at one example of something that’s going to become really, really important,” said John C. Goodman, a highly influential conservative health policy analyst. “Once one hospital in a city starts doing it, everyone has to do it.”

At a time when President Obama has hired hospital lobbyist Chris Jennings as a “health policy coordinator and strategist” in an attempt to save Obamacare—and while hospital lobbyists in Oklahoma are trying furiously to save Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion—a countervailing force is picking up steam: freedom. And as the Canadians who come to Oklahoma City for medical care can tell you, freedom works.

Oklahoma policymakers and chambers of commerce should take every opportunity to encourage out-of-state patients, as well as out-of-state businesses that want affordable health care for their employees, to vote with their feet.

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