Comment: A passport to success? Only time will tell...

International PMI

The big question is whether this will work – or follow other PMI 'innovations' into the rusty sidings

Although it should happen more often, it is not everyday this column is acknowledged as the inspiration for a break-through product.

Last summer, I wrote about medical tourism and the “get your diagnosis in the UK and treatment Eastern Europe” model. London's Evening Standard carries adverts for similar dental, cosmetic and other services most days.

One time Bupa executive Frank Levene (no relation!) said it confirmed an idea he was working on. Why not, he thought, combine medical tourism with insurance, offering lower premiums plus a good hospital experience. So he came up with his newly launched Passport2Health plan. This offers healthcare overseas with initial diagnostics here. And it includes travel and hotel facilities for the patient and also a companion.

It is innovation – at a time when the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries (AMII) admits the industry needs something new. A recent AMII panel said the market was shrinking, and that cost, often out of control,  was a massive barrier. The meeting also considered sending people abroad for quicker treatment as an additional choice.

With Levene's Passport2Health, this is the only option as cost is as important to his target market as speed. Levene is far from an identikit health insurer. The son and grandson of East End market stall holders, he failed his 11plus exams but got to university, the first in his family. Now at an age at which most executives at policy providers are enjoying considerable final salary pensions, he has masterminded this new venture.

With a CV longer than most people's arms – no one can accuse him of being a company clone – he started out in soap sales for Proctor & Gamble, then worked for Diners Club, Standard Chartered Bank, in general insurance with Allianz and medical insurance with Bupa and American mutual  Blue Cross.  He has lived in Africa, India, South East Asia, the US, and the UK.

It's been a “very commercial life” as he puts it, including marketing, strategy, start-ups and public policy. He has always wanted to be “his own person”. Backed by European insurer Sirius International and a Lloyd's of London underwriting syndicate, with the claims administration handled by Advent, Levene's new venture is lean and mean with just six full time direct employees.

Currently, there are some 80,000 UK medical tourists, mostly cosmetic and dentistry, with the majority in the 30 to 45 age group. There could – should – be more but the fear of dealing with a distant doctor, the logistics involved and the need for a visitor for any procedure more than daycare, are just some obstacles.

By offering an insured option, Passport2Health hopes to attract customers with a mix of “generously paid” private consultants in the UK, followed by “concierge” door to door travel and treatment in leading facilities.  The initial list of 25 hospitals in ten countries – and Levene has tried them all although not as a patient – reads like a Cook's Tour including Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul, Las Palmas, Lille, Paris, Porto and Tel Aviv.

The big question is whether this will work – or follow other “innovations” such as cancer-only or budget plans into the rusty sidings that lead nowhere.

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