Apollo Hospitals Group, the Rs 550-crore (Rs 5.5 billion) healthcare major, is in talks with US and UK insurers to introduce health insurance schemes for patients travelling to India for treatment.
This, according to the group, is crucial if the flow of health tourists is to rise to significant proportions.
Sangeeta Reddy, director (operations), Apollo Hospitals, said the healthcare industry in the US is worth $1.7 trillion annually and India is emerging as a cost-effective alternative for foreign patients.
"Seven per cent of Apollo's turnover today is from foreign patients. In the last fiscal, the contribution of foreign patients to our turnover was just one per cent," she said. So, a policy that covers treatment in India becomes imperative for the patient too -- for only then can he make a claim for the expenses incurred.
Robert Walter Beeney, a US national, who got himself treated at the Apollo Hospitals, could not get his medical expenses reimbursed despite having an insurance cover.
"The health insurance scheme that I had did not cover treatment charges at hospitals in other countries like India," Beeney said.
"Nevertheless, I opted for India not only for its quality of treatment but also for its cost-effectiveness. This apart, the surface replacement surgery that I required was being done in the US only on an experimental basis," he added.
"The hip surgery, travel expenses and the medication cost him between $10,000 and $12,000. Contrast this with the US, where the surgery alone would have cost him $24,000," Reddy said.
Many Indian insurance firms have their branches abroad. Reddy said they need to cash in on this segment and introduce new schemes so that foreign nationals are attracted to India for healthcare. Reddy says this and many other efforts are needed to facilitate the transformation of India into a global healthcare destination.
"Clearance at airport immigration counters currently takes around two hours. This bottleneck needs to be removed," Reddy said. Apollo has spoken with the state tourism minister, Geetha Reddy in this regard."We have asked her to introduce a special immigration counter for patients who travel to India to avoid procedural delays. She has agreed to look into the matter," she said.