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A new kind of doctor’s office charges a monthly fee and doesn’t take insurance — and it could be the future of medicine (via Business Insider)

Direct primary care is a new movement of doctors and healthcare providers who don't accept insurance — instead relying on a monthly membership fee.

Dr. Bryan Hill spent his career working as a pediatrician, teaching at a university, and working at a hospital. But in March 2016, he decided he no longer wanted a boss.

He took some time off, then one day he got a call asking if he’d be up for doing a house call for a woman whose son was sick. He agreed, and by the end of that visit, he realized he wanted to treat patients without dealing with any of the insurance requirements.

Then he learned about a totally different way to run a doctor’s office. It’s called direct primary care, and it works like this: Instead of accepting insurance for routine visits and drugs, these practices charge a monthly membership fee that covers most of what the average patient needs, including visits and drugs at much lower prices.

That sounded good to him. In September, Hill opened his direct-primary-care pediatrics practice, Gold Standard Pediatrics, in South Carolina.

Hill is part of a small but fast-growing movement of pediatricians, family-medicine physicians, and internists who are opting for this different model. It’s happening at a time when high-deductible health plans are on the rise — a survey in September found that 51% of workers had a plan that required them to pay up to $1,000 out of pocket for healthcare until insurance picks up most of the rest.

That means consumers have a clearer picture of how much they’re spending on healthcare and are having to pay more. At the same time, primary-care doctors in the traditional system are feeling the pressure under the typical fee-for-service model in which doctors are incentivized to see more patients for less time to maximize profits.

Direct primary care has the potential to simplify basic doctor visits, allowing a doctor to focus solely on the patient. But there are also concerns about the effect that separating insurance from primary care could have on the rest of the healthcare system — that and doctors often have to accept lower pay in exchange for less stress.

How direct primary care works

For Brent Long and his family, paying for healthcare is now like paying a cellphone bill. Since they joined Black Bag Family Healthcare in Johnson City, Tennessee, about two years ago, the family has paid about $150 a month to belong to the practice.

Long joined around the time he was shifting his insurance to a high-deductible health plan. There were two reasons he decided to switch and start paying for all six members of his family to get direct primary care: the cost-effectiveness of not having to deal with copays or urgent-care visits, and the fact that it could easily fit his family’s busy lifestyle that doesn’t jibe with spending hours in waiting rooms.

Included in that monthly fee are basic checkups, same-day or next-day appointments, and — a big boon to patients — the ability to obtain medications and lab tests at or near wholesale prices.

Direct primary care also comes with near-constant access to a doctor — talking via FaceTime while the family is on vacation, or taking an emergency trip to the office to get stitches after a bad fall on a Saturday night. Because direct primary care doesn’t take insurance, there are no copays and no costs beyond the monthly fee.

Read More: Business Insider

In Defense of Direct Primary Care (via Philip Eskew)

Direct primary care will continue to grow because it empowers price transparency, quality, and patient satisfaction.

Philip Eskew, DO, JD, MBA
Fam Pract Manag. 2016 Sep-Oct;23(5):12-14.

Author disclosure: Dr. Eskew discloses that he has an ownership stake in DPC Frontier, a free DPC online resource; is an employee and officer of ProactiveMD, which offers DPC services to employers; and is on the speakers’ bureau for Access Healthcare, where he occasionally speaks at CME events.

Direct primary care (DPC) is a growing movement across the United States involving at least 429 practices in 47 states.1 Family medicine physicians operating DPC practices share several characteristics:2

They charge a periodic (monthly or annual) fee for a defined set of primary care services,
They do not bill any third parties on a fee-for-service basis for the services covered by the periodic fee,
Their per-visit charges are less than the monthly equivalent of the periodic fee.
DPC practices differ considerably from concierge practices in both legal design and practice operation.2 Pure DPC practices do not bill any forms of traditional insurance, and this lowers practice overhead and allows these physicians to spend more time with the patient rather than wasting time on busy work requested by insurance companies. In contrast, concierge practices “double dip” by continuing to bill in a traditional fee-for-service fashion and by charging a membership fee. Overhead in a concierge practice is not reduced, and these physicians must be willing to spend less time with patients who decide not to pay their monthly fees, which are usually much higher than DPC monthly fees. Ignorance of the distinction between DPC and concierge models is often a source of attack against DPC,3 which I have addressed elsewhere.4

This article will address three common misconceptions about and criticisms of the DPC model.

1. Is direct primary care legal?
Yes, DPC is “not insurance” (since there is no risk transfer), and legal DPC contracts can be drafted in every state. As of Aug. 16, 2016, 17 states have passed laws related to direct primary care. (See “Direct primary care laws by state.”) Most of the state legislation is motivated by a desire to define DPC as “not insurance” so that the state insurance commissioner does not feel obligated to prohibit or regulate the practice model. DPC is arguably legal in every state without this legislation, but legislation is often helpful because it clears up legal gray areas and thus removes barriers to physician adoption of the model.

Each of the 17 state laws include a variety of patient protections. They generally require practices to state that the DPC agreement is “not insurance,” to permit patients to end the agreement at any time without owing additional fees, and to describe the scope of services offered so patients understand what is being purchased.

At the national level, the Affordable Care Act defines and encourages DPC as well. It allows insurance companies to develop “wrap around” insurance plans designed to be coupled with DPC and sold in a bundled fashion in state insurance exchanges so that they may be compared to traditional insurance plans in an “apples to apples” fashion.

The DPC model is easily understood and enjoyed by patients, and my research has not discovered a single malpractice claim from a DPC patient. For example, although the Washington State Insurance Commissioner was skeptical of the DPC model when it was established in the state in 2007, his office’s “Direct Practice Annual Report to the Legislature” found no formal or informal patient complaints filed against the 33 practices serving 11,504 patients.5 Unlike traditional insurance, which can feel like an arranged marriage between the patient and physician, the DPC model involves mutual selection by the patient and physician, and the physician is not incentivized to limit care. If the patient perceives a lack of value, he or she may end the relationship at any time.

Read More: Philip Eskew

With Direct Primary Care, It’s Just Doctor and Patient (via WSJ)

Patients pay a monthly fee for a range of basic physician services, eliminating the insurance middleman.

There’s no waiting room at Linnea Meyer’s tiny primary-care practice in downtown Boston. That’s because there’s rarely a wait to see her. She has only 50 patients to date and often interacts with them by text, phone or email. There’s no office staff because Dr. Meyer doesn’t charge for visits or file insurance claims. Patients pay her a monthly fee—$25 to $125, depending on age—which covers all the primary care they need.

“Getting that third-party payer out of the room frees me up to focus on patient care,” says Dr. Meyer, who hopes to expand her year-old practice to 200 patients and is relying on savings until then. “This kind of practice is why I went into medicine, and that feels so good.”

Dr. Meyer is part of a small but growing cadre of doctors practicing “direct primary care,” which bypasses insurance and charges patients a monthly membership fee that covers everything from office visits to basic lab tests.

It’s similar to “concierge medicine” but less costly: The average monthly fee for direct primary care is $25 to $85, according to the Direct Primary Care Journal, a trade publication. That compares with $100 or more a month for concierge practices—which often charge patients, or their insurers, for individual visits as well. Concierge practices, which can run as high as $25,000 a year, often target affluent baby boomers in high-cost urban areas and may include services such as personalized wellness plans and advanced testing.

Direct-primary-care practices run the gamut from small, independent offices like Dr. Meyer’s to multistate networks, with many variations. Some work with employers and insurers, offering unlimited primary care as part of employee-benefit plans. Boston-based Iora Health works with Medicare Advantage plans in Colorado, Arizona and Washington state. Qliance, with six offices in the Seattle area, is working with Medicaid there and is an option on the state health-insurance exchange.

To some, a win-win
Although less than 2% of the nation’s 900,000 licensed physicians are involved in direct primary care to date, proponents say the model could grow as Republicans encourage more free-market alternatives to insurance-based, fee-for-service medicine.

Tom Price, the new Health and Human Services secretary, introduced legislation while he was in Congress that called for replacing the Affordable Care Act with tax-credit-funded health savings accounts. Currently, Internal Revenue Service rules prohibit using HSA funds to pay direct-care membership fees, but bills to lift that prohibition have been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Read More at: WSJ

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