February 3, 2006

Health Care Across the Border

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

The San Diego/Tijuana region has a strong co-dependence that often extends from the artistic sector to the financial. Here culture is interchanged, as well as language, jobs and even food. It seems fitting then, that cross border health insurance would also take center stage. And in fact, it has. During the last five years, interest and participation in cross border health insurance has increased in cities such as San Diego and Calex-ico, thus creating a relatively new wave of medical plans.

Under these cross border insurance programs, U.S employees, have the option of seeking health care in Mexican clinics and hospitals. A choice thousands of clients follow gleefully. Since August of 2000, Blue Shield of California has borne witness to this evolution. It was then that “Access Baja,” was launched along with their other insurance plans. In only five years, the programs membership has grown from 500 to 3118, according to insurance providers.

“We created this plan in response to San Diego area employers who have long expressed a need for a cross-border health plan option for their employees,” said Ken Wood, Executive Vice President and COO of Blue Shield.

Health Net of California, another major health care provider, has also seen the fruits of this program. In 2001 it had about 8,000 participants. Today it has close to 19,000.

In all, it is estimated that 150,000 California employees are currently enrolled in some type of cross border insurance program. Even so, the numbers are expected to show a significant increase due to the unprecedented growth of Hispanics in California.

“The eyes of the world are on this program,” said Jim Arriola, Blue Shield’s District Manager for Cross Border Development. “Blue Shield is the first US-based health plan to offer cross-border health services and the first to use Mexican hospital certification as a quality standard requirement for network participation. We hope this starts a quality healthcare revolution and sets an example for others to follow.”

The health plan came about in order to accommodate thousands of Tijuana residents who legally cross the border every day for work purposes. It is estimated that more than 50,000 do so every day. There is no denying, however, that health care providers also benefit. The medical bills are inevitably cut in half, since health care is less expensive south of the border.

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