PARTING IRON CURTAIN REVEALS HEALTHY POTENTIAL

PARTING IRON CURTAIN REVEALS HEALTHY POTENTIAL

The parting of the Iron Curtain two years ago could provide a window of opportunity for the health-care industry, including insurers.

The U.S. government has made a five-year, $17.5 million contract, with an option to renew for another two years, with a subsidiary of American Insurance Group to match American health-care industry executives with investment opportunities in Poland and Hungary.Thanks to a $17.5 million grant from the Agency for International Development in Washington, a specially invited group of senior executives in the health- care industry, including insurers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals, will hear how they can invest their dollars during a March 9 conference in New York City.

''It's our objective not to sell pie-in-the-sky in Eastern Europe but to say (whether) this is a good area" for the health-care industry to invest some

dollars and reap the benefits, said Richard Eskow, president of Healthcare Enterprise International of Rockville, Md.

Mr. Eskow was interviewed last Friday before leading an investment group to Hungary to gather information for the conference.

The conference will put health-care industry executives together with these research-gathering executives to discuss investment opportunities in Poland and Hungary. This meeting of the minds will be sponsored by HEI, AID and the American Managed Care and Review Association, a trade group.

According to Mr. Eskow, future trade missions will visit Czechoslovakia and the nations of the former Soviet Union.

HEI, which is slightly less than a year old, is a division of American International Healthcare in Nashville, itself a division of American International Group in New York, Mr. Eskow said.

Mr. Eskow explained that HEI does "a lot of the background work finding out the macrosituation - what's going on in the health-care economy, talking with the policy-makers, working with them on various initiatives to improve the system and to encourage private investment. And we also do some of the research on helping to get an idea where the investment opportunities are."

There is a potential market of about 40 million people in Poland and 10 million in Hungary, both of which are "going to grow extremely rapidly," Mr. Eskow pointed out.

The main incentive for investing in Eastern Europe, despite recent press reports of a deteriorating economic situation in Poland, is that if the United States doesn't, the Germans will.

"The Germans are far and away the leading source of capital in Poland right now," according to Mr. Eskow. "In fact, when I was over there meeting the Polish insurance company that's starting to sell health insurance, he said, 'I wish you could invest here quickly because if you don't, the Germans will take everything.' "

The Eastern bloc is, in effect, "a developing country that is going to become a Westernized country very quickly." The idea is to get in on the ground floor and "develop a substantial presence," he added.

"This is an opportunity for American business to make a healthy, profitable investment," said Mr. Eskow. "By so doing, we develop a very good trade relationship with that country. We're exploiting our technology and our expertise. Regardless of what people say about the problems of our health system, which are real, no one questions that our technology and expertise are the best in the world.

"So, we improve our exports, American business people make business and the health situation in these countries is improved. If any one of those were to fall out, it wouldn't work. If American businesses didn't make money it wouldn't work."