September 17, 2009|
(NOTE: A call was placed on Tuesday, Sept. 15 to Representative Polis' press secretary. As of publication, that call has not been returned.)
by Todd Shepherd
Few things tell us more about a person than how that individual spends or invests his or her money. It's why the phrase “put your money where your mouth is,” has been used in the American vernacular to the point that it has become a cliché.
So what does it tell us that Representative Jared Polis has made a huge financial bet on deregulated health care markets like India, China, and Mexico?
According to his congressional financial disclosure (pg. 8) as well as from other reports, Polis owns a stake in a “medical tourism” company called “BridgeHealth.” Valued at somewhere between one and five million dollars, it ranks among the larger investments in his portfolio. Furthermore, BridgeHealth is not a public company, so we are left to assume Polis is an investor by invitation of some kind.
It's tough to know when the term “medical tourism” was coined, but at its core it means nothing more than traveling internationally to obtain health care. While it's certainly not a new practice, recently the term has taken on a more literal application. As Americans have traveled to India to obtain medical services, the total “package” sold typically includes visits to the various sites, such as the Taj Mahal. In Mexico, the “tourism” application should be self-evident: after the surgery, you recover on the beach.
But here's the rub: Jared Polis has made a long-term bet on the worldwide success of health care markets that have less regulation rather than more. Draw any conclusion you like, but there is no escaping the fact that BridgeHealth does not send patients to the United Kingdom or Canada to receive their health services. In fact, assuming those two countries have a mechanism to verify the citizenship of people applying for health services, non-citizens couldn't possibly go to either country for medical tourism. Yet at the same time, it would be incorrect to conclude that Polis' company is sending patients to places like India and Mexico by default.
As the left has persistently argued for health care reform dating back to Hillarycare and even further beyond, they've held up Canada and Britain as examples of how a more socialized model of health care could be successfully imported here to America. However, Mr. Polis' money suggests that instead, we ought to examine what makes emerging health markets like India and Costa Rica so valuable. I'd suggest starting by examining whether these emerging markets have 1) a tort system that drives up costs, 2) a system of geographic boundaries that restrict where and when a provider or insurer can operate and sell their product, and 3) a tax structure that encourages portability and decision-making by the end consumer.
What will happen to “medical tourism” if a public option succeeds? Some say medical tourism will decline, assuming that when more people are “covered” by a government program, these are the very customers who will not need to travel abroad for care that is supposed to be cheaper than it is now. Others say medical tourism will skyrocket, because as the theory goes, wait times will increase, and people with cash will opt for immediate care.
Call it a conflict of interest if you like. At the very least, its a compelling revelation by one of Colorado's most savvy investors about the future of worldwide health care.
CLICK HERE to listen to CompleteColorado.com editor Todd Shepherd discuss the story on the Mike Rosen Show, 850 KOA.