One of the biggest stories out of Nepal over the past couple of years was the revelation of an ongoing travel insurance scam that was costing companies millions of dollars. In a nutshell, the scam was cooked up by trekking companies, helicopter rescue services, and local clinics, which all worked together to bilk money out of the insurance companies. Essentially, when a trekker would tell their guide that they weren’t feeling well—most likely due to mild altitude sickness—the guide would then tell them that they shouldn’t risk their health and that they should be checked out by a doctor. A helicopter would then be called in to airlift them to a medical clinic, where a battery of unnecessary tests would be run, with all of the expenses being paid for by the trekker’s travel insurance company. The elaborate scheme has been going on for years, with all the parties involved splitting the cash. Now, it seems that those scams are having a deeper impact elsewhere that could continue the cycle and potential impact the health of trekkers and local Nepalis alike.
According to the Nepali Times, two local clinics located in the Khumbu Valley region have been shut down due to the introduction of a new clinic to the region. That alone doesn’t sound too ominous, but apparently the newly opened clinic has been siphoning off patients from the existing medical centers by working with a helicopter rescue company that delivers the patients directly to them. Starting to sound familiar? To make matters worse, the new clinic also reportedly sends half of its clients back to Kathmandu for treatment, likely perpetuating the insurance fraud scheme.
To make matters worse, the two clinics that are closing were run in conjunction with International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) and Community Action Nepal (CAN) with support of the Mountain Medicine Society of Nepal (MMSN). The two institutions provided free healthcare for the local porters and villagers, which was funded by the fees paid by trekkers who visited the clinics on their way through. Now, with the closure of the two sites, those medical services will no longer be available and local Nepalis will have to travel much further to see aid.
As the Nepali Times points out, when these scale of the insurance scam was revealed last year, the Nepali government promised to bring those involved to justice and implement new policies to protect travelers and their insurance companies. Those rules were drafted, but were never implemented or enforced. Furthermore, those who were named in the report haven’t really faced any prosecution for their actions either. Thus, the illegal activity continues, now with far-reaching consequences for the Nepali people.
Typical for Nepal, there is plenty of corruption and greed to go around. If these trends continue, we could see more local clinics close, potentially leading to some serious issues down the line.
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