NIB, Australia's only publicly listed health insurance provider, announced plans to enter the lucrative overseas medical tourism market at the annual shareholders meeting in Newcastle on October 29.
Medical tourism involves patients travelling overseas to receive surgery and treatments, often at lower prices than are available in Australia.
Cosmetic surgery is estimated to make up around 80 per cent of Australian medical tourism, with up to 15,000 patients travelling to undergo procedures each year, according to Meredith Jones, Associate Professor in cultural studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Ms Jones has recently published a study – Beauty and the Beach: Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism – which shows that while there are no official statistics on the size of the market, Australians are estimated to spend up to $20,000 on overseas procedures, including the cost of flights and accommodation.
NIB's entry into the tourism market involves a scheme called NIB Options, similar to 'Trip Advisor' or 'Expedia', where clients can search both local and international options for cosmetic surgery.
The overseas options would bundle transport, medical and accommodation services. The key incentive for customers would be a trustworthy and safe option with plenty of choice.
Clients with Australian health insurance will pay a certain amount to cover the overseas procedure and any follow-up treatment that may be needed on their return to Australia.
Arrangements have already been made between NIB and local plastic surgeons in Australia, NIB Chief Executive Mark Fitzgibbon said at the shareholders meeting.
The medical tourism scheme is expected to launch in 2014, exclusively for cosmetic surgery, but with plans to expand into dental and surgical treatment in future years.
Mr Fitzgibbon has said the focus for NIB was "how can we hitch our wagon to the global thematic of people travelling across borders for their health care?"
"The demand's there," NIB Chairman Steve Crane said. Almost 60 per cent of shareholders said they would consider travelling overseas for medical tourism, in a straw poll conducted at the meeting.