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You’re probably accustomed to pulling out your insurance card when you visit the doctor. Pretty soon, you may be reaching for your passport. At least that’s what PreviMed, a new Silicon Valley start-up aiming to be a kind of Priceline for medical care, is banking on. "Our idea is to give patients, their insurance companies, ...

You’re probably accustomed to pulling out your insurance card when you visit the doctor. Pretty soon, you may be reaching for your passport.

At least that’s what PreviMed, a new Silicon Valley start-up aiming to be a kind of Priceline for medical care, is banking on. "Our idea is to give patients, their insurance companies, and home doctors a choice," says CEO Atul Salgaonkar. "We want them to be able to say, ‘I can get my procedure done in India for one price or Thailand for another price.’" Beachside Botox clinics this is not: PreviMed will only handle nonelective procedures.

The potential savings from traveling abroad for surgery are huge. An aortic valve replacement that costs $100,000 in the United States would cost $38,000 in Latin America, and only $12,000 in Asia, according to a recent report by consulting firm McKinsey. But because patients find it difficult to learn about foreign hospitals and understand what the risks are, people have been reluctant to travel overseas for medical procedures.

Bridging this information gap is PreviMed’s mission. If you need a particular procedure but can’t afford an insurance payment, the insurance company can submit your medical information to a secure server on PreviMed’s Web site. Prescreened hospitals from around the world can bid for the job by suggesting a course of treatment and price. Ideally, you can then choose from a variety of offers.

Salgaonkar acknowledges the danger that unscrupulous hospitals might try to game the system, or that insurance companies might pressure patients into going overseas for cheaper treatment. For him, the benefits outweigh the risks. "We like to think that by introducing a small level of transparency, we’re making a small change for the better," he says.

So, when hospitals compete, do patients win? We may find out soon enough: PreviMed has already signed agreements with 14 hospitals in Costa Rica, India, Panama, and Thailand.

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