NIB looks overseas

ADA President Dr Karin Alexander
ADA President Dr Karin Alexander

This week health insurer NIB launched its nibOptions service, a travel service offering overseas treatment packages for dental services with guaranteed 12 months after care. The service includes a guarantee whereby if patients suffer a complication they can have it assessed and dealt with at no extra expense—once that has been approved by a medical advisory committee.

President of the Australian Dental Association, Dr Karin Alexander observed, “It strikes the ADA as very odd that a private health insurer that boasts it provides excellent value for money for its ancillary cover would advocate to Australians the ability to go overseas to receive treatment, instead of having the work done here where the insurer provides them with health cover. Could this merely be a ploy to avoid liability to pay rebates for treatment and to improve the insurer’s profitability?”

With a private health insurer announcing its plan to sell offshore surgical packages to Australians who are looking for cheaper prices for treatment or wanting to obtain a “free holiday” with their offshore medical visit, the Australian Dental Association would like those contemplating doing this to consider:

 Australian dentists and medical practitioners provide a level of quality of service not matched in many parts of the world. They do this in a tight regulatory environment which covers the practitioners, the practice surgery, the methodology of treatment delivered and the environment in which it is delivered, such as infection control etc. and the use of quality assured materials and equipment. There are few countries in the world that match this level of safety and quality.

 The health tourism provider is unable to guarantee this same level of expertise, safety and quality.

 How rigorous has the evaluation of the provider been by the health fund? How can you be satisfied that assurances given by the provider as to safety and quality of the service will be maintained for your treatment?

 If you are contemplating going overseas for treatment at a cheaper cost then you need to remember that complex or detailed procedures carry a risk. Having the work done overseas by practitioners that you are not familiar with, in an environment where you do not know the quality of education and training of the practitioner, the regulatory measures in place to guarantee safety and quality of treatment nor the quality of equipment or products to be used on your treatment only escalates that risk. The materials used (e.g. implant components) may not be available in Australia as they have not passed through the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulations and so cannot be repaired here.

 Complications from complex treatments can take years to surface. Remedial work can be complex and expensive. Make sure your provider does not limit any guarantees to problems that arise within only 6-12 months from original treatment.

 If problems arise there is no guarantee that the provider will remedy the situation. Would you wish to return to that practitioner anyway?

 Any remedial work is unlikely to be covered by any Australian health cover.

 Complex treatment is usually done in stages in Australia to allow for adequate healing. Fitting this treatment into a holiday visit may not align with best practice.

The insurer is keen to stress that the package is available to everyone, not just NIB customers, and can include consultation, treatment and post-operative care, with the option of adding airfares, transfers and luxury accommodation for overseas packages.

The ADA has set up a website providing information about dental tourism, which can be found here.

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