Flywire expands beyond tuition, offering international payments for medical tourism

Currency

Flywire changed its name earlier this year, signaling a move into different types of payment services beyond its core of overseas tuition payments. Now, the Boston startup is revealing what those ambitions look like.

Flywire announced Tuesday that it will start offering payment services for “medical tourism,” the practice of people seeking health care in another country. The startup plans to introduce the offering by providing payment services for people traveling to US-based health care institutions.

Flywire says its medical payments service will allow patients to pay medical bills in their home currency over a website, similar to its existing service for tuition payments. The company makes money by collecting a fee on currency exchanges, but says that it can also offer better conversion rates for consumers because it’s able to bundle payments and negotiate a better deal with financial institutions.

The worldwide market for medical tourism is worth up to $55 billion annually and is growing at 15 to 25 percent a year, according to Patients Beyond Borders, a company that publishes medical travel guides.

Massachusetts’ highly ranked hospitals are among the US institutions that have experienced a rise in medical tourism in recent years. One Chinese medical tourism company, Beijing Saint Lucia Consulting, has referred patients to Massachusetts General Hospital and opened a Boston office in 2013 to serve Chinese patients coming to the city for medical needs.

While there’s no definitive data about where overseas patients go to receive care, “it’s safe to say that Boston easily ranks among the top five medical destinations in the US, in terms of volume of patients and revenue,” Patients Beyond Borders chief executive Josef Woodman said.

Massachusetts General hosts about 8,000 international patients per year, with another 7,000 estimated at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Woodman said. “Most of these patients are high-acuity and self-pay, contributing significant high-margin revenue to these facilities,” he said.

Flywire, which changed its name from peerTransfer in September, raised a $22 million investment round in July led by Bain Capital Ventures. The company has raised a total of about $43 million since its founding.

Flywire chief executive Mike Massaro said the startup thinks its service is needed in part because of international patients who must pay for care out of their own pocket, without an insurer or other third party handling the payments.

“The more efficiently the hospital can confirm payment, the better it is for everyone involved,” he said.