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Could alternative billing be the future of health insurance?

There are 78,000 Idahoans that have no insurance, and many will wait until a health problem requires emergency treatment before going to the doctor. The state and federal governments seem unable to come up with a solution, so local doctors in Idaho Falls are creating their own alternative billing practices. It’s new, and seems to be working.

Dr. Flint Packer runs a traditional family practice, with patients on Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. For those that don’t have any type of insurance, Dr. Packer and his partner have started a program called Direct Primary Care. It’s the first such practice in this part of the state, but it is popping up in markets across the country.

“It’s a model where a doctor directly bills the patient. A monthly fee that’s taken out of a bank account automatically. Allows the patient to be seen for no extra charges as often as they want at a fairly reduced price,” says Dr. Packer. “For someone who has no insurance, it’ a good option.”

Here’s how it works. The first family member would pay $100 per month. Each family member after that pays $50 a month until you hit a limit of $300. That’s the cap. No family, no matter how many members, pays more than $300 per month.

“If you have a family of 8, it’s still only $300,” says Dr. Packer. “And they can come in as often as they want.”

He does recommend patients have catastrophic insurance also, for a bad car accident or heart attack, but a high deductible with a low monthly payment.

“It’s like car insurance. You use it for the big wreck,” explains Dr. Packer. “You don’t use it for an oil change. Same with health care. Now we use insurance to cover every little thing. It’s no wonder the premiums are so high.”

Dr. Jim Brook has created another billing model. He won’t take any kind of insurance of any kind, ever. He charges his patients by the minute. Five minutes will cost you $19. Sixty minutes will cost you
$167 dollars. You pay cash when you leave. His average patient bill in 2015 was $58. He’ll also make house calls. Is there a downside to this billing practice?

“Downside is, I’ve been getting too busy. We probably turned away seven patients yesterday, because I was too busy,” says Dr. Brook. “For a few days, I just couldn’t take any new patients.”

He even has a small pharmacy in his office. “This is the closet. I’ve got medicines here. Bottles, bags, pills z-pack for a dollar each. They cost me about $1.35,” says Dr. Brook.

He actually gets tips from his patients.

“A waitress tipped me $11. My collection rate is slightly over 100% because of tips.”

Both doctors say they hope others in their field will become more flexible in the way they run their offices and bill their patients. Dr. Brook has written a book: ‘The High Price of Socialized Medicine.’

He says if you want to fix health care in this country, get the government out!

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