UnitedHealth studying medical tourism; also: Starbucks baristas walk off job, and could auto bailout help St. Paul’s Ford plant?

UnitedHealth Group is studying the idea of offering a medical tourism program, the Associated Press reports. At least two other major health insurers are already experimenting with medical tourism, the concept of flying patients to foreign countries where medical procedures are less expensive than in the United States. The trend could save insurers thousands of dollars and give them new clout when bargaining with U.S. doctor networks.

Starbucks baristas at a Minneapolis shop are protesting the company’s refusal to hire a security guard at the location. The IWW Starbucks Workers Union says more than 500 customers and community members signed a petition demanding the coffee chain hire a security guard for the store, which is at Franklin and Nicollet. Employees say they’ve been threatened and frequently have to clean up feces, urine, blood and vomit from drunken customers. They walked off the floor Wednesday to present the petition to management and have scheduled a press conference for this morning.

I spoke with St. Paul officials Wednesday about whether the congressional Democrats proposed automaker bailout might have any implications for the St. Paul Ford plant, which is shutting down for all of December. It sounds like it’s too early to say, but logic suggests that it can’t hurt the situation. “They have not informed us of any plans to retool the Ford plant here,” Cecile Bedor, the city’s director of planning and economic development, told me. “Our hope is if this bailout happens, it might stabilize the company enough so they can re-look at that site.”

The St. Paul assembly factory is one of nine plants affected by the temporary shutdown, Bloomberg reports. That’s about 900 local workers out of a job — and a paycheck — for the holidays. It’s the longest of the shutdowns as the company responds to a sharp drop in U.S. sales this fall. Demand fell 30 percent last month and 35 percent in September. The St. Paul plant is slated to close permanently in 2011.

U.S. Bank expects to receive its $6.6 billion investment from the federal government by the end of this week, Bloomberg reports. And it just might go on a shopping spree to celebrate. The bank’s CEO Richard Davis said Wednesday that it is more likely to consider mergers or acquisitions as a result of the government infusion. Wait a minute — wasn’t this massive government bailout meant to spur more lending, not more mergers?

And finally, for those of you following the ongoing audibles in the federal government’s financial/economy response, here’s a great one-liner from the world of Twitter. Local tech guru @garrickvanburen tweets: “‘The nature of the crisis has changed’ Henry Paulson on using the bailout $$ to open a chain of Play-it-Again Sports stores.” (By the way, you can follow me @dhaugen612)

Do you have an inside scoop or news tip about a Minnesota company? Spotted something interesting in your RSS reader? Drop Business Agenda a note at dhaugen [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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