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Jared Polis criticized for "medical tourism" investment

Representative Jared Polis has staged as many if not more healthcare town halls in recent weeks than any of his Colorado congressional colleagues. But the conservative CompleteColorado.com site questions his private investment in another healthcare-related enterprise: BridgeHealth International. The company's approach is typically shorthanded as "medical tourism," a term defined as "the notion of individuals traveling abroad for care and savings" amid a "What We Do" section of its website that goes on to suggest that BridgeHealth offers many more services than this description implies.

In "What Does Polis Believe About Health Care?," author Todd Shepherd argues that Polis' investment in BridgeHealth contradicts his stand for healthcare reform in the U.S. Here's the crux of his argument:

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....

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.

This take is clearly partisan, but that doesn't mean it's wholly lacking in substance. Medical tourism has become popular in part because facilities abroad may offer care options not yet approved in this country -- ones whose potential dangers don't bother folks with plenty of cash and a particularly grim prognosis. However, a number of less moneyed patients have discovered they can actually spend less for procedures by going overseas due to the skyrocketing price of procedures in America. So... is Polis betting that a healthcare measure either won't pass, or that it won't reign in out-of-control costs even if approved? It'd be mighty interesting to find out.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts