Obamacare’s exchanges weren’t the only thing in the health care world opening earlier this week on October 1. Little noticed in all the media circus was a direct primary care practice in Lawrence, Kansas with a deal for self-pay patients that probably beats just about anything that might be bought on the exchange.
I’ve discussed direct primary care practices before. The idea is pretty simple – for a relatively low monthly fee (at least when compared to health insurance), usually between $50 and $100 (less for children), patients have nearly unlimited access to a primary care physician. There’s no insurance involved, usually no co-pays, few if any additional costs, just a single fee.
For many people, this makes far more sense than using insurance to pay for primary care. Not only is it generally less expensive, but patients can usually get same-day or next-day appointments and those appointments typically last longer than those with patients using insurance to pay for their visit. Depending on the practice, direct primary care doctors may also offer phone and e-mail consultation, house calls, and meet patients at the emergency room.
For about two years now, Dr. Ryan Neuhofel (apparently known as Dr. Neu) has operated a direct primary care practice in Lawrence, Kansas. He explains his reasons on the web site of his clinic, NeuCare:
I started my medical education with a vision of becoming the 21st century version of an old-fashioned neighborhood doctor. Along the way I recognized that would be extremely difficult to realize without forging a new path. The idea of directly providing my community with personalized and high-tech primary care has been many years in the making. My dream became a reality in December 2011 with the opening of NeuCare. In 2012 we built the foundation of a medical home that provides affordable, quality care to our friends and neighbors…
The monthly fee for joining his direct primary care practice is pretty affordable: if you’re under age 30 the fee is $30 a month, 30 and up is $40 a month. A family membership, two parents and up to 4 children, is $100 per month, another $10 per child above that. All visits to the doctor are free, as are several common procedures and tests including abscess drainage, wellness panels, and pap smears. Other services are available for modest fees, including splinting for $10 – $20, a cast for $20, and a colon cancer screen for $30. House calls during normal office hours are $50.
All in all, a pretty good deal for patients. But it looks like he’s now offering the deal of a lifetime, or at least for a lifetime. From Dr. Neu’s blog:
Starting October 1, 2013, I will be offering a lifetime of primary health care for a one-time payment of $5000.
As I was bootstrapping open my family medicine practice last year, I read about a creative brewery in Minneapolis who raised start-up capital by selling a lifetime of free beer for a $1000 “membership” at their bar…as a budding entrepreneur, I was inspired.
After resigning to not wait for “the system” to provide my patients better or more affordable care, I started a Direct Primary Care practice fresh out of residency. We now provide our friends and neighbors comprehensive primary care for a simple, fixed membership fee of $30 or $40 per month per person — including most routine labs, many procedures, flu shots and more — and without co-pays, 2 hour wait times, worries about deductibles or the need for insurance middlemen.
Our clinic has grown steadily since starting in December 2011. We are now expanding our services to better care for our existing and future members. Being averse to more debt, the strings of venture capital and the anonymity of Kickstarter, I decided to take a cue from a cool brewery.
We are now offering 20 “Lifetime Memberships” in our practice. This… will help pay for a wholesale medication program, diagnostic equipment (e.g. ultrasound machine) and a few other projects — allowing us to provide even more value to our members with free or at-cost services.
As a lover of beer, I understand a lifetime of primary care is not as enticing or refreshing as an ever-flowing pale ale spigot. But, considering $5000 would only fund the average person’s “middle of the road” health insurance premium for the next 15 months (with access to pay $40 co-pays and for $12 band-aids), it’s a bargain. I am hopeful we can find a few folks to support us and our mission.
For literally the amount of a single year’s deductible for most Bronze-level health insurance plans being sold in the Obamacare exchanges, a person could obtain a lifetime of primary medical care. It’s hard to imagine a better deal than this in the self-pay world!