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Your healthcare — it's just a phone call to India away

July 25, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Health insurers are sending more jobs, including some nursing functions, overseas.
Health insurers are sending more jobs, including some nursing functions,… (Nicholas K. Geranios )

When I was a lad, I suffered from asthma. And on more than one occasion, the doctor in my small town made a trip to our house — usually in the evening — to treat me.

No, really.

Healthcare in the U.S. has come a long way since then — and not necessarily in a good way.

Take Wednesday’s story in The Times: "[S]ome healthcare companies are starting to shift clinical services and decision-making on medical care overseas, primarily to India and the Philippines."

Yikes! I mean, it’s one thing when “Bruce” in Bangalore is diagnosing your misrouted computer router.  It’s quite another when the innards he’s poking around in are your innards.  

Not that we’re there yet, of course. But when you read this — “Some of the jobs being sent abroad include so-called pre-service nursing, where nurses at insurance firms, for example, help assess patient needs and determine treatment methods” — well, let’s just say you can kinda tell which way the scalpel is pointing.

And especially because this isn’t being done by fly-by-night insurance companies. As the story says, “At the forefront of the trend is WellPoint Inc., one of the nation's largest health insurers and owner of Anthem Blue Cross, California's biggest for-profit medical insurer.”

WellPoint is doing very well these days. Its profit last year was $2.65 billion on revenue of $60.7 billion. And how do you get that profitable? “WellPoint's total employment at the end of last year was 37,700, down from 40,500 two years earlier.”

Welcome to 21st century capitalism, American-style.

And who’s getting the ax? It’s not just IT folks and payroll types and the like.

“In one of its recent efforts, WellPoint laid off pre-service nurses in Colorado and Nevada so the work could be done in Manila, according to a Labor Department filing by a WellPoint human resource manager in Denver.”

If you believe what you hear from one of the people WellPoint hasn’t fired yet, spokeswoman Kristin Binns, this is a win-win: “[WellPoint's] sourcing strategies have enabled us to make our services more effective, accessible and affordable to our customers, while allowing us to expand our programs and maintain our service levels," she said.

Yep. And the Earth is flat. And the sky is green. And down is up.

Certainly Binns could get another view from ground level. It's a tale familiar to all-too-many Americans in the last decade or so. “Shannon Cunningham of Columbus, Ohio, who processed medical claims for WellPoint, was laid off last month after a colleague went to the Philippines to train people to do her job. Cunningham, 43, said she received eight weeks of severance pay. She and others working in medical claims earned $30,000 to $40,000 a year with health benefits, she said.”

It may just be me. I may be old fashioned. Certainly I’m old enough to remember doctors making house calls. But when an insurance company that’s making a $2-billion-plus profit can’t afford to employ American workers at $30,000 to $40,000 a year — well, perhaps our healthcare system is sicker than we thought. Forget Ralph Lauren making Team USA Olympic uniforms in China. These are our health needs we’re talking about, not some silly blazers and berets.

OK, maybe we can’t buy American anymore. But can’t we have our own taking care of our own?

I don’t expect the doctor to make house calls today. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that he’s not a continent away.

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