Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Concierge Medicine for the Masses
Call it concierge medicine for the masses. The idea is that routine, mundane primary care should not require expensive insurance and can be cheaper without it.
Ryan Williams,  “Primary Care at $54 a Month,” New York Times, May 21, 2012
May 23. 2012 -  Rain-soaked Seattle is America’s leading innovation center.  Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks started there.    It must be the climate.   When you're inside escaping from the rain,  you have plenty of time to think,  tinker, and weed out the clinkers.

This innovative climate extends to health care as well. Simple Care, a network of primary care practices across the U.S. began there.  So did Qliance, Inc,  founded by Dr. Garrison Bliss, a Seattle internist, who also co-founded the Direct Primary Care Coalition, which lists more than 60 Direct Primary Care Medical Homes in U>S. in 24 states.
What follows are excerpts of an article in the May 21 New York Times describing how Qliance operates.
"On the road 50 hours a week, the drivers who work for Becker Trucking, headquartered in Seattle, have little trouble finding cheap eats at the all-night diners lining the interstates of the Pacific Northwest.

But many drivers were struggling with chronic poor health, and the company’s health costs were rising fast. What his employees really needed, the company president realized, was better access to doctors.

So he turned to a novel solution. Becker pays $54 per employee per month to a primary care provider called Qliance. Employees get unlimited doctor visits, 24-hour e-mail access to the medical staff, and same-day or next-day appointments. There is no insurance involved in their primary care: no expensive premiums, no complicated claims, no mysterious denials.
“Drivers are notorious for not being the best in using health care,” said Frank Riordan, president of Becker Trucking. “But now they can go into the clinic as many times as they want, and participation is high.” Two drivers no longer need blood pressure medication, Mr. Riordan added.

This type of health care model is called direct primary care, and it is getting a closer look not just from businessmen like Mr. Riordan, but also from researchers and government officials who see it as an effective way to lower costs.
“It is a very promising and good model,” said Dr. Arnold Milstein, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and head of the Stanford Clinical Excellence Research Center. “It is speedy and economical, and these practices are making themselves available to working people.”
Direct primary care derives from an unlikely source: the so-called concierge practices that began appearing a decade ago, catering primarily to the affluent. Concierge practices generally do not accept insurance, either; instead, members are charged thousands of dollars annually for unlimited access to their doctors.
The setup often is lucrative for doctors but “less accessible to patients who cannot or choose not to pay a membership fee,” according to a federal report issued in 2005.
“The concierge model carries a lot of baggage in being health care for the wealthy,” said Dr. Erika Bliss, a family physician and Qliance’s chief executive. “We want to grow this and bring the price point down to average Americans.”
But the fee does not cover anything beyond primary care. Typically employers combine direct primary care with high-deductible insurance plans, needed to cover hospitalizations and visits to specialists.
Health insurance is supposed to protect you against risk, like car insurance does,” said Dr. Bliss. “We don’t insure our cars for tire changes and tune-ups.”
Even though Becker pays Qliance for primary care and pays half of each worker’s $5,000 annual deductible for insurance, the company’s costs dropped 11 percent in 2010. Costs had been rising about 14 percent annually, Mr. Riordan said.
Doctors who work for Qliance are salaried, Dr. Bliss said, reducing the financial incentive to order unnecessary tests. Direct primary care practices keep costs low by sidestepping the bureaucracy associated with insurance and reducing unnecessary and expensive trips to the hospital or emergency room, she said.
Direct primary practices are also less likely to refer to a specialist for something they can handle themselves, Dr. Milstein said.
Such practices already operate in 24 states, treating more than 100,000 patients, according to the Direct Primary Care Coalition. Physicians at Qliance, one of the larger practices, will care for more than 10,000 patients this year, double last year’s number. Another provider, MedLion, headquartered in Monterey, Calif., plans to open clinics in Miami, New Mexico and Oregon, according to the company’s chief executive, Dr. Samir Qamar.
Clients tend to be individuals without insurance, small businesses and unions."
Tweet:  Direct primary care practices, like Qliance in Seattle, charge $50 to $60 a month for 24/7 access to  routine primary care.

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