Prepaid health care helps patients control costs

March 16, 2010 12:16:37 PM PDT
(03/16/10) -- The new alternative to insurance coverage may come from a surprising source - doctors. HealthFirst reporter Leslie Toldo explains flat-fee health care.

A growing number of doctors and group practices are grabbing on to this idea. Patients who lose or can't afford health insurance, pay their doctors a monthly fee to get the care they need.

it looks like any old doctor's office, but Dr. H. Lee Adkins runs a unique family practice.

"About three years ago, I found out there was an increase in missed appointments, and when I talked to the patients, I found out many of them had lost their insurance."

Instead of turning his back, Adkins set up a flat-fee system where patients pay $75 a month for a year. "It's a very easy way to perform in the office."

Patients get 15 visits a year and access to all services, including blood tests, EKGs and pap smears.

Adkins says 30 percent of his patients are on the self-pay system. It's helped his bottom line. "Last month, we were up 30 percent over last year."

While it's difficult to track, one estimate reveals several hundred primary care physicians have begun to offer prepaid plans for their patients. Critics say some doctors who use flat-fee services are operating like insurance companies, but without proper licensing.

Adkins says he's just offering a service that benefits patients. "If the doctors don't get active and do something, we'll have less-qualified people making our decisions for us."

Mike Scott lost his insurance when he lost his job. A diabetic, he found an affordable doctor in Adkins.

"It offered an opportunity to recheck for my diabetes, to keep it in control, and that's what I wanted to be able to do."

Like so many Americans, Kim Turano used to have insurance. When she lost it, her health took a back seat. "What this program allows is for me to get the care that I had been ignoring in the past," she said.

It also affords peace of mind, knowing that her health is again a priority.

Adkins says the flat-fee approach saves him money by eliminating administrative costs that come from dealing with insurance companies.

He also offers an a la carte system for patients who don't want to or can't pay $75 a month.

These patients come in and pay per visit, per blood test or per service needed.

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On the Web:

http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Uninsured/
http://pnhp.org/excessdeaths/health-insurance-and-mortality-in-US-adults.pdf

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