A Healthcare Menu: How Direct Primary Care Offers More Bang for the Buck

 What if you opened the menu and saw “Ingrown toenail $50, Drained abscess $30?” For starters, you probably wouldn’t be very hungry anymore. But you might also be surprised that a growing number of doctors are looking into this kind of medical practice on a menu.

It is called direct primary care, and it is a trend for “physician entrepreneurs all across the country fighting to bring transparent prices and market forces back to healthcare,” explains Reason.com. And as the beginning of Obamacare approaches next January, many patients and doctors are considering direct primary care as an interesting alternative.

Insurance for a Lube and Tune

Car collisions and house fires are damages that we routinely insure with auto policies and homeowners insurance. But we don’t insure ourselves against cutting the lawn and buying gas, said Milton Friedman, a late free-market economist.

However, health insurance is another story entirely. “Health ‘insurance’ is more than just insurance;” writes economist John Cochrane. It has become “a payment plan for routine expenses.” Direct primary care (DPC) believes that healthcare wouldn’t cost so much if hospitals weren’t negotiating for services with insurance providers.

Whereas one insurance company is charged $128 for a bag of IV fluid, a DPC practice can simply waive the $1.50 it costs them directly. Similarly, CNN Money reported that a DPC doctor in Kansas was able to secure a cholesterol test for $3 when an insurance provider would be billed $90. And this is at the crux of Friedman’s and Cochrane’s argument. If our auto insurance policy had to cover every time we got an oil change, prices would skyrocket along with the volume of paperwork and red tape to get anything done.

How DPC Works

Direct primary healthcare works on either a monthly flat rate or a similar annual fee which patients pay directly to the doctor, up front and out of pocket. In exchange, DPC patients receive unlimited access to primary medical care from doctors who can spend over half an hour meeting with them. Since DPC effectively encourages patients to visit their doctors to get the most out of their membership, it presents an improved preventative care model.

And because of the payment method, doctors can also help patients over the phone or online for minor questions. In an insurance situation, a patient would need to make an appointment for even minor questions because this was the only way that the physician could receive payment.

Some of the ways that DPC helps cut costs include:

•Lowering overhead

•Moving away from the pay per visit model

•Cutting out the middleman of insurance

•Catching diseases earlier

There is a provision for DPC plans within Obamacare. But it does require, as most DPC physicians suggest, a supplemental insurance plan with a high-deductible to cover emergencies that your primary physician can’t heal.

With its ability to lower costs for services and supplies while providing a better experience for both the patient and the doctor, direct primary care poses a serious healthcare alternative to think about while you’re deciding what to order.