Americans want to save time and money and still keep their families healthy which has allowed the compartmentalized sector of concierge healthcare to expand. Some physicians in solo practice, frustrated by long hours and less time with patients, opt for concierge medicine structures. Critics say it could reduce access to quality care. But there’s a new breed of concierge care that is malleable to both patient affordability, tiered access and the financial needs of doctors who are bucking the more common than not 7-15 minute, “hand on the door” appointment models. Simply put, patients, including middle-class families- have more options now than ever to select a workable healthcare strategy for their needs.
The Los Angeles Times previously reported how the Affordable Care Act is increasingly prompting working and middle class families to subscribe to so-called “blue collar concierge medicine.” Now interesting turns of events have prompted the #3 player in the concierge medicine industry, Los Angeles-based SignatureMD, to press hard legally against the #1 player MDVIP (based in Florida) for monopolistic practices. SignatureMD’s allegation is that MDVIP has engaged in unenforceable non-compete clauses, sham litigation, and threats of legal action against doctors, even after the expiration of their contracts, in violation of several Federal and State laws. The outcome of the litigation, which today was revealed to be moving forward, will likely determine whether concierge medicine will be allowed to blossom unfettered in the health care marketplace.
According to articles published in 2014 by the Boston Globe and DailyBusinessReview.com and more recently a press release, a motion to dismiss a lawsuit “charging monopolistic business practices in the concierge medicine industry” was rejected on Tuesday by the United States District Court (Central District Court of California) in Los Angeles. Judge Dolly M. Gee reportedly denied the motion by MDVIP attorneys, setting the stage for a court trial that could help determine the future of the industry.
MDVIP’s contention that SignatureMD had failed to demonstrate “predatory or anti-competitive conduct aimed at accomplishing [monopoly power]” was rejected by the court with Judge Gee ruling that “to the extent that MDVIP contends that SignatureMD’s monopoly allegations are facially flawed, this Court disagrees.
Concierge medicine is an alternative to conventional employer-provided, fee-based healthcare under which physicians offer patients greater availability, longer appointments and more personalized service. Patients pay a yearly fee to be part of this practice. Fees typically range from $1,500 to $2,000 per patient per year. MDVIP operates the largest concierge medicine membership program in the United States. SignatureMD is the third largest such company. One of the defining hallmarks of SignatureMD is their stress on wellness and preventative care, and their vibrant blog that is distributed via newsletter to all subscribers and clients.
According to SignatureMD’s Complaint, it has found it difficult and at times even impossible to sign on new doctors to its program because of the restrictive contracts that MDVIP requires its doctors to sign. MDVIP has systematically locked competitors out of the concierge medicine membership program market by entering into unduly restrictive and lengthy exclusive agreements with physicians that prohibit them from speaking with or joining a competitor’s concierge medicine program, even after their contract with MDVIP ends. The contracts are described as “evergreen agreements” that bind physicians to MDVIP until retirement, even if physicians desire to affiliate with a competing company.
“Judge Gee’s ruling demonstrates the merit of our case; we look forward to moving the case to trial and opening the market to all competitors,” said Matt Jacobson, CEO, SignatureMD in the release.