How Vumi plans to Uberize healthcare in Canada

by Leo Almazora27 Nov 2019

To many Americans, Canada is a country to be envious of, particularly for its national healthcare system that covers a wide variety of medically necessary treatments and procedures. But as the Vice President of Vumi Canada points out, the US medical system has its advantages.

“In Canada, the aging population is seen as a big problem that’s putting increasing strain on the healthcare system,” Gino Stirpe told Life and Health Professional. “You’re seeing more and more people heading south of the border to get treatments. It started with MRIs, and now it’s expanded to different types of procedures.”

The problem boils down to one word: access. Waiting times have become a burden for Canadian patients, who may face weeks or months of delays before their medical concern is addressed. Stirpe shared the story of a personal friend who had a prostate issue; he got an MRI and waited five weeks to get the results to his doctor, who told him to wait another six weeks for an appointment to assess the situation and book a surgery. Rather than wait any longer, he spent US$45,000 to get surgery in the US and got back home in three days.

Research conducted by the Fraser Institute paints a similarly bleak picture. In its most recent study on wait times for healthcare in Canada, the median wait time for medically necessary treatment during 2018 was 19.8 weeks, including the time between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment. Wait times varied among specialties, with the longest reported for orthopaedic surgery (39 weeks) and the shortest for medical oncology procedures (3.8 weeks).

“That gives you an idea of what relying solely on the public healthcare system in Canada is like,” Stirpe said.

He likened the Canadian public healthcare system to public transportation; rather than provide door-to-door service, it requires people to go to the nearest bus stop or terminal, share a vehicle with other commuters who get picked up and dropped off along the way, then get off at a stop that’s closest to their destination and walk from there. But with Vumi Canada’s latest offering, Canadian patients can have a more Uber Black-like option that promises VIP service and exclusivity.

“You have an insurance product that can pay if you elect to go abroad for treatment,” Stirpe said. “You can call us, explain what you’ve been diagnosed with, and where you want to go for treatment. From there, we can start a process of pre-arranging and pre-booking your treatment; you can travel there, get treated, and come back home within five days at most. We pay the claim, and the claimant can get back to their daily life quickly.”

Vumi Canada offers three health insurance solutions: Prestige VIP Individual, Prestige VIP Corporate for corporate group clients, and Prestige VIP TPA. The individual plan comes with deductible options starting at $250 and a maximum coverage of $5 million per policy year, per person up to age 75. For third-party administrators (TPAs), the plan offers coverage up to $1 million, and coverage for corporate groups will range from $1 million to $5 million.

Aside from cutting their wait times for medically necessary procedures, claimants can potentially access new medical technologies that are not yet available in Canada. New drugs approved in the US, Stirpe noted, can take three to five years before they’re approved in Canada. Some cancer drugs and biologic treatments are already being used in the US, but face funding and resource issues that block their availability in the Canadian market. Certain high-precision procedures, such as immunotherapeutic drugs and molecular drug profiling, are also available only through American health providers.

“Our products also cover elective surgeries like hip replacements or knee replacements, so you don’t have to wait for up to a year to get those done,” Stirpe said.

The type of product the company offers is traditionally sold to C-suite, executive-class persons as an add-on to their group insurance. Because of the value they bring to their companies, they cannot afford to take weeks or months off work. That segment of high-income earners is what Vumi Canada has initially set its sights on, though the plans may also appeal to other groups of workers — including professionals, entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals — for whom a months-long holdup of operations would be much too costly.

The Vumi Group, Vumi Canada’s parent company, is headquartered in Dallas, Texas in the US. Underwriting Vumi’s Prestige VIP insurance products in Canada is Humania Assurance, whose exposure in Quebec — a province that embraces private healthcare coverage — makes it a valuable partner.

“We’ve had a soft launch this month, during which we talked to key brokers, suppliers, and different MGAs in the industry,” Stirpe said. “We’re expecting our initial sales to trickle in throughout December as Canadians across the country will be able to reach out to their local brokers and MGAs, as well as visit our website to learn more about our offerings.”