HomeHealth Care NewsDirect-Pay Health Care Rescues a Rural Michigan Community

Direct-Pay Health Care Rescues a Rural Michigan Community

Patients in a rural Michigan community now have access to two direct primary care (DPC) centers.

Christian Healthcare Centers (CHC)—a non-profit, faith-based health care organization—has opened a second facility in Newaygo County, Michigan, allowing residents to get basic care without hours of travel.

Newaygo is a remote area outside Grand Rapids. CHC had no plans to expand, but was asked to do so by community leaders, says Mark Blocher, president, and CEO of CHC.

“The doctor to patient ratio in Newaygo County was 3,000 patients per doctor which is three times more than ideal for doctors to be able to provide the kind of care that patients need at the primary level,” said Blocher. “There are a total of 21 doctors in the entire county and not all of them are in primary care so what happens is people in the county end up having to travel significant distances in order to get basic care.”

Newaygo City Mayor Ed Fedell says there has been a critical need for a new model of health care.  “There are a lot of people who cannot afford insurance and to go to the other health care providers, said Ed Fedell, the mayor of the City of Newaygo. “If they can’t afford the costs, then they have the tendency to not get the care they really need. A lot of time, they go straight to the emergency room.”

‘Affordable, Convenient, and Personalized’

CHC opened the first dedicated facility for DPC practice in the Grand Rapids, Michigan market in 2017.

CHC does not accept insurance. Instead, patients pay a monthly membership fee, which is often less than $100 a month, and receive unlimited primary care, often with a physician, within 24 hours. Members also get free routine lab work and low-cost prescription drugs and imaging—with no co-pays or deductibles. Patients are not excluded because of pre-existing conditions, says Blocher.

“Our only enrollment criterion is the patient has a pulse,” says Blocher. “We provide concierge-level care for the cost of a cell phone bill. It’s like staying at a five-star hotel for the price of a two-star motel. We prioritize being affordable, convenient, and personalized in the care we provide.”

‘Eliminating Doctor Burnout’

The City of Newaygo donated land for the new facility and private investors built the 8,150 square foot building CHC now leases.

CHC had no trouble attracting staff, discovering physicians, nurses, and health professionals living in the area who wanted to practice there. The direct-pay model interests health care professionals because it gives them independence from corporate medicine, says Blocher.

“Doctors are not under the pressure to see so many patients a day, or perform so many procedures, to cover the overhead of a very large and expensive health care system,” said Blocher. “So, I do see this as improving doctor satisfaction, and eliminating doctor burnout and also a way to provide better patient care, because it’s more personalized and not such a pursuit of payment, which we see more and more, where the patient gets lost in the process.”

 

Surgical Fees ‘All-inclusive’

Response to the Newaygo location was so strong CHC decided to offer surgical procedures for pre-determined prices paid directly by patients, says Blocher.

“We publish the fees on our website and those fees are what we call bundled fees unlike when you go to the hospital, you get 7 or 8 bills,” said Blocher. “Our patients know before they schedule a surgery what the cost of that procedure is going to cost and it will be all-inclusive, so it will include the cost of anesthesia and products in that bundled fee.”

Patients will be able to get surgical procedures that don’t require conscious sedation, like endoscopies, colonoscopies, carpal tunnel release, and orthopedic repair.

‘Pushback the Medical Cartel’

The pioneer in “direct-pay” surgery is the Surgery Center of Oklahoma. CHC is on to something big, SCO Medical Director Kevin Smith, M.D. told Health Care News.

“This Gandhi quote applies to the experience and efforts aimed at promoting medical price transparency: ‘First they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, then we win,’ said Smith.  “Congratulations to CHC for enduring all the pushback the medical cartel has had to offer.  Newaygo residents may now transition from victims of the system to beneficiaries of affordable, high-quality care.”

 

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.

Photos are courtesy of Christian Healthcare Centers.

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.

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