How did you get started in the assistance industry?
In 1985, on the eve of a major universal exhibition in Vancouver, Canada – EXPO ’86 – a large assistance company became aware of the future importance of this region and solicited my services as a correspondent for the North American Pacific Northwest. I was up to the challenge, recognised the nobility of the endeavour and immediately agreed to become an assistance correspondent. Hence, Mega Assistance was born.
It was clear that I could not cope on my own in providing a good service across my territory, however, so I called upon a brilliant associate, Robert Louvat, a graduate of Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Paris (1949) who became my mentor. Mr Louvat, who is no longer with us, was the first president of Mega Assistance and his impact on our company continues to be felt.
Mega Assistance recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. How did it feel to reach such a milestone?
Pride, of course, but not a ‘singular’ pride: Mega Assistance owes its success to a passionate group of employees whose dedication and common philosophy over the years has brought Mega to this point and will carry Mega to many more milestones in the future. Then, there are our network providers without whom we could never assist travellers round the clock, every day. I also have special thoughts of gratitude for the company’s principals who have remained with Mega for years. Our pride could not be complete without the gratitude of thousands of individuals that we have assisted over the years. I know of nothing better than to assist a fellow human being struck by illness or disaster.
Your company promotes the merits of a ‘personalised’ approach – how do you go about ensuring you maintain this approach?
We have created technology that combines philosophy and tools to deliver authentic customer care centered on personalised service. Besides, we are in the business of helping people and we do not hesitate to go the extra distance to offer and achieve complete support. Often, we are the only contact capable of solving an issue in the proximity. The reality of assistance is to bring resolutions, one person at a time, 24/7. Satisfied clients mean loyal clients, which makes us happy.
With a strong focus on cost containment, how can today’s global assistance providers ensure they meet customers’ needs while protecting payers’ bottom line?
Cost containment is not simply ‘get a discount’ on the medical bills. Cost containment applies to all costs. Our mandate is to engage providers who will guarantee the best service at the best possible price. Managed care avoids unnecessary medical costs, which is achieved by the thorough knowledge of the case. These savings do not show, of course, on the ‘cost containment’ reports, but they exist and can be substantial. We have always advocated that assistance and cost containment cannot be separated.
All medical bills in the US and other jurisdictions must always be vetted carefully and controlled rigorously for veracity and best rates. Mega, with its teams of experts both in house and sub-contractors of the best kind, benefits from extensive experience and valuable historical data. The result is the fair pricing of all medical bills.
You also provide medical travel services via your subsidiary MediTravel International – what drove the decision to branch out into this area?
Healthcare in the richer countries of the world has become out of reach for a large segment of their population, and insurance – like governments in countries with a universal healthcare programme – has a hard time coping with the escalating costs. This impacts the quality of healthcare delivery in many ways. In Canada, where private medicine is against the law, waiting lists for surgery have reached a critical level.
Medical tourism to countries where medicine is excellent and delivered at an affordable cost is seen as a solution to fulfil a need. In our very fabric at Mega Assistance, we are motivated in bringing assistance and safe solutions to patients.
At MediTravel International, we see medical tourism as a long-term solution, and are aware that it must be approached with care and full medical expertise – something we can bring, thanks to our experience.
You also have experience of managing assistance operations during disasters – what is the most challenging operation you’ve ever managed, and in what way was it challenging?
We have managed several assistance operations during large-scale disasters, including earthquakes, terrorist acts and airplane accidents. The most memorable, perhaps, was when an airliner crashed in a Canadian city in 2005. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. However, we immediately created an office near the airport to assist more than half the passengers who were away from home, many of whom were minors travelling alone to Canada for language exchange programmes. At that time, together with our principals, we were the only assistance company on the ground at the scene.
The biggest challenge was to respond promptly to patients in various degrees of physical or mental pain and trauma, especially the children. Our local physician promptly arrived at our location. He was able to provide an initial assessment, write prescriptions and refer the more serious cases to specialists and hospitals within the vicinity. Our physician made himself available for several days to adjust the prescriptions, and so forth, until the passengers could be repatriated by the airline.
Mega did not seek to be paid for dealing with the 160 patients in need, including a pilot who had lost all his papers in the burning plane and who was hospitalised pending his repatriation. His own assistance company was unable to help.
How has the assistance industry changed in the last three decades?
I would like to answer this question using anecdotes. In 1988, we were instructed to assist a patient from Europe who had been hospitalised with serious injuries after a bear attack in a Canadian park. Her husband, an artist with a large following and known to the media in his native country, was killed in front of her by the bear. The media, anxious for a story, were at the door of the hospital. The patient had a sister in another Canadian city where she could stay until fit for repatriation. Mega Assistance was instructed to move the patient by private plane, incognito, to her sister’s city and to arrange her admission at a suitable hospital in the care of a plastic surgeon. This was done to the satisfaction of all parties.
Twenty years later, we came across a young university student from Europe studying in Canada who had this story: she developed extreme stomach pains and called the same assistance company as in the example above. She was instructed to find a doctor and seek ‘primary care’ by herself, pay for the visit out of pocket and claim the expenses upon her return. Her English was poor, so she asked her assistance company for help and she was faxed a copy of an Internet page with a list of doctors in her city. Uninformed and in pain, she chose the first physician that she was able to locate in her broken English. She was made to pay expensive fees prior to seeing the doctor and sent home with a prescription but without a medical report. As instructed by her assistance company, she mailed her receipts for refund. The cost of her visit was partially declined since ‘she had paid too much for her visit’ and she would be refunded according to ‘usual and customary’ charges in her Canadian city of residence.
Well, has assistance changed?
What does a typical day in your role as president and CEO entail?
In assistance, there is no typical day. Like most business leaders, my role is to lead the company to the next day. Perhaps I could tell you what I like best: finding solutions for real assistance problems in co-operation with our team, with passion and sincerity.
What are your proudest achievements, both professionally and personally?
I would say that my family, my wife, my children and now my grandchildren come first. Mega Assistance itself is my proudest professional achievement.
I am a happy man and as I grow in wisdom, with age, I realise that all the bashing, all the negatives that come at you, do not stick if you hold on to your values. I could list my continued contributions to business, to my community, to music where I live, but I do not like to talk about myself.