By Michael McGrady
As lawmakers bemoan the complexity of expanding access to affordable health care, doctors and patients have found a surprisingly simple solution.
Direct primary care (DPC) physicians enroll patients in a membership plan and provide them health care services without the need for insurance or any other third-party payment. Similar to memberships at Sam’s Club, Costco, or even a local gym, DPC memberships enable the delivery of quality health care services at discounted prices.
With prices ranging from $25 to $200 per month, each membership grants a patient virtually unlimited access to a physician for primary care and certain labs and tests, which amount to roughly 80 percent of most patients’ medical needs.
Dr. Chad Savage operates YourChoice Direct Care, a DPC family practice in Brighton, Michigan. Savage says the beauty of the DPC payment model is its simplicity, predictability, and affordability.
“The most unique aspect of the experience of payment in our practice is its simplicity,” Savage said. “Instead of going through a labyrinth of complex payment schemes, as is the norm with an insurance-based practice, we are a membership model offering a low-cost monthly membership that is affordable, predictable, and budgetable.”
DPC makes paying for health care as easy as paying for the gym, Savage says.
“There is no complexity or confusion,” Savage said. “It can even be scheduled to charge out to a credit card like a gym membership.”
‘Efficient and Ethical’
Part of DPC’s simplicity is its price transparency. YourChoice Direct Care lists its prices online.
Savage charges $39.99 per month per person for patients under the age of 39. His rates increase with each age group, but he offers special discounts that include reduced costs for spouses and family members. Savage’s memberships include basic preventive health procedures, like flu or strep tests, at no additional cost.
DPC’s price transparency is not just convenient—it’s right, Savage says.
“I think DPC is incredible,” Savage said. “I think it is the most effective, efficient, and ethical payment model for primary care.”
Beyond Primary Care
Savage says the principles enabling the DPC model’s success apply to medical specialties, not just primary care.
“Generally, the pricing is still very simple for a specialist—direct low-cost fee for service,” Savage said during a presentation at a conference in Orlando, Florida, hosted by the Docs 4 Patient Care Foundation in November 2018. “Unless someone was in a chronic disease state that required consistent follow-up, like rheumatoid arthritis, most specialists would likely benefit from a direct fee for service instead of [a] membership arrangement.”
DPC physicians and specialists with direct-pay models are teaming up.
“I have a cardiologist who works with me now, and she uses low-cost direct fee for service and charges cash rates on inexpensive cardiac testing and diagnostics,” Savage said.
The innovation that led to DPC could lead to greater innovations for doctors and patients down the road.
“DPC is the best model out now,” Savage said. “However, that doesn’t mean something better could not come up later. And if it does, we should all be allowed to transition to that easily.”
By contrast, Savage says, the insurance-based system dominant in the United States stifles innovation.
“The current insurance-based, third-party payment scheme actually restricts the transition between effective payment models,” Savage said. “This limits innovation.”
Savage will likely speak at the next annual DPC conference hosted by the Docs 4 Patient Care Foundation, scheduled for November 14-16 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida.
Register for the conference today.
Michael McGrady (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a free-market health care journalist. McGrady’s work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Examiner, Newsday, The Hill, Patient Daily, The Heartland Institute’s Health Care News, and others internationally.