I can’t resist this graphic as a metaphor for the present health care crisis.
Some time ago, in fact several years ago, I posted a piece on coming changes in health care. I didn’t necessarily recommend this for reform but it was something I saw coming.
Perhaps more than most people, Reitz, a senior HIV?AIDS scientist with the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, appreciated the need to be examined quickly. And thanks to a recent trend to help personalize physician care, he got an appointment the same day — but not because of his professional status.
Reitz, like any patient of Dr. Philip Henjum, can get a same-day appointment because Henjum and his partner, Dr. Robert Fields, practice retainer medicine in their Olney office.
Their patients pay a $1,500 annual retainer fee to see them as soon and as many times as they need to. They also make house calls.
As it turned out, Henjum diagnosed Reitz with Lyme disease, an infection from a tick bite, and prescribed antibiotics. If not diagnosed and treated early, Lyme disease can lead to severe headaches, muscle pain and serious heart problems.
Fields and Henjum are two of about a dozen doctors in Maryland and an estimated 600 nationally who won’t take insurance coverage. Instead, they charge a yearly or monthly retainer. Some work out of comfortable medical office such as Fields and Henjum, next to Montgomery General Hospital.
That was 2009. I added another post on Chicago Boyz in 2010. Here it is.
The reason why I believe this trend is growing rapidly is that some states, like Massachusetts, plan to pass laws requiring doctors to accept Medicare as a condition of licensure. If they were not worried, why write a law about it ? Medicare has a provision that they determine the price and there are no extra charges allowed.
A participating physician agrees that payment for Medicare services based on the fee schedule represents the approved and full charge. This means a physician cannot collect or balance bill an amount in excess of the approved charge listed on the fee schedule for services furnished to Medicare patients.
That, plus the rationing, drives most primary care doctors out of the field or, more recently, out of Medicare. Those who remain, hire Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners to see Medicare patients. That works for a while but PAs and NPs are still expensive.
With the passage of Obamacare, Forrest says he’s seeing more physicians aggressively search for alternatives, as he once did. Over the years, he’s helped a couple of dozen offices open across the country, and he’s started speaking at industry conferences about his practice. But in recent months, he’s been flooded with inquiries from fellow doctors. “Since the health care reform bill passed, you wouldn’t believe the number of doctors who have said they’ve had it and want to operate outside the system,” he says.
Now, Obamacare is here and we are seeing the first glimmerings of the problem coming into focus.
Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.
The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010. At least a few are cancelling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
By all accounts, the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost — especially after the inclusion of federal subsidies for those who qualify. The law requires policies sold in the individual market to cover 10 “essential” benefits, such as prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care. In addition, insurers cannot reject people with medical problems or charge them higher prices. The policies must also cap consumers’ annual expenses at levels lower than many plans sold before the new rules.
But the cancellation notices, which began arriving in August, have shocked many consumers in light of President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their plans if they liked them.
Just for curiosity, I did a search on cash medical practice in Orange County CA.
The results were interesting. Among other things, I found a bunch of family practices for sale.
I also found a long list of practices that accept cash. Quite a few have good Yelp reviews. For example:
regular physician normally does! And I was only charged $75 for the visit! (To put that in perspective, my PPO insurance copay would have been $60 had I waited another week for an appointment.
There are 15 pages of reviews. Children’s Hospital is even listed as taking cash: for his recent cold. Parking is underground $7 they take checks and cash only. Parking distance from emergency entrance is very close. We checked in soon after we were called, minimal wait… No mention of costs here but a good review.
The possible outcome of all this, and I don’t believe that employer health plans will survive, is a new system of cash payment for primary and routine care plus insurance for insurable events. That’s what we had in 1950 and it worked well. Doctors didn’t get rich but they often ran their offices with one person helping, sometimes the wife. I remember an orthopedic surgeon and family friend whose office had one large waiting room and telephone person for about 30 doctors. He was later the team physician for the Chicago White Sox so he was no slouch. He also did the first cup arthroplasties in Chicago. One of them was on my aunt.
The medical world will be changing.