By Leigh Held
January 16, 2014 | NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The Affordable Care Act began its ripple effect two weeks ago, and health insurance shoppers are quietly adjusting to their new benefits. Yet one unexpected side effect has been the boost to concierge care, typically thought of as a service for the wealthy alone.
Concierge medicine has stepped down from its aristocratic pedestal and become a more affordable way for patients to receive treatment.
“Concierge medicine is a health care program that allows a patient to guarantee the timely services of an experienced primary care physician,” said Matt Jacobson, CEO and founder of SignatureMD. “Concierge medicine doctors receive patient retainers. These retainers afford doctors to see fewer patients and devote more time to preventative medicine.”
The U.S. is about to witness a doctor shortage that will also affect all of us. “Experts say that the U.S. will be short 65,000 physicians by this time next year,” Jacobson said. “The problem is especially acute among primary care physicians.” This is because primary care physicians and internists are making a fraction of what specialists bring home. The average patient retainer with SignatureMD is about $135 per month.
There are concierge practices in most major areas throughout the United States. In New York City, One Medical Group provides these services to patients, charging an annual fee of $199 per year. One Medical Group accepts health insurance and even has online scheduling.
However, other companies providing these services are selling them directly to employers. David Seligman is the Chairman and CEO of Best Doctors, a global health company serving over 30 million members worldwide. Best Doctors works with physicians from its database of the best 5% of physicians, audited and certified by Gallup, to help people get the right diagnosis and treatment. Many companies are using services like Best Doctors to cut healthcare costs by diagnostic accuracy.
Another company selling services directly to employers (or the very wealthy) is World Clinic. World Clinic is a telemedicine practice. It is a full scope full-service medicine practice for people who are either too busy or too far from conventional medical care. Daniel Carlin of World Clinic spoke frankly about why this is even a pertinent topic at all.
“In the short term there are going to be people waiting in line for doctors,” he said. “Medicare has been punishing primary care physicians through reimbursement. This is very much a political process. We have created a system that punishes preventative care and rewards crisis care.”
Ceci Connolly, managing director in PwC’s Health Research Institute also had revealing conclusions.
“Purchasers, including families, employers and government, are demanding more for their healthcare dollar,” Connolly said. “This means opportunity for businesses that make it easy for consumers to compare and shop for insurance, doctors, hospitals and a wide range of medical services and products. As the financial risk shifts in healthcare, we are also seeing greater interest in population health and prevention and wellness.”
She also spoke about the new necessities that are springing up within the sector.
“The cost will vary, and many services will be “tiered” offerings with options at different price points,” Connolly said. “Necessity is a funny concept. Who knew we needed cellphones or dishwashers until they came along and changed our lives? At PwC, we do believe healthcare needs to do a much better job of rapidly analyzing data and getting valuable insights to caregivers.”
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As the primary shortage begins to take hold, knowing what we now know about healthcare consumers some of these services may move from being a luxury to a necessity. The way the Affordable Care Act is going to enter into the lives of each American household is just beginning to unfold, and this is just one fraction of the story.