Do membership practices offer privileges or just reserved for the privileged?

Scott_shreeveI have watched the meteoric rise of popular term “Medical Home.” While I personally dislike this phrase, it has caught on in the popular vernacular and looks like it is here to stay. In conjunction with the rise of the term is the growing popularity of a practice model that includes a higher level of service on a membership basis. It is essentially, next-generation concierge medicine, but now being promoted under the more politically correct banner of “direct practice.” Multiple variations of the model exist, from an all-inclusive single fee to a membership structure that retains a fee for service financial arrangement.

So discerning patients evaluating these practices are forced to determine the relative value of this new direct practice concept, and having passed that test, determine which type of practice model actually makes sense to them (All inclusive or Fee-for-Service). Lets look at these questions using a traditional four-person family with an annual all-in health care spending of $15,000 (consistent with Milliman’s 2008 numbers).

First, the value of a direct practice to a regular insured person receiving a very rich high premium, low-deductible benefit package from their employer. In this arrangement, the worker typically pays about 20% of the cost of care, and so the resulting split is employer paying $12,000 (premium) and the employee coming “out of pocket” $3,000 (co-pay, co-insurances, etc). In this setting the insurance options are set, and the employee chooses from the menu. Within this menu, there is typically a PPO option which is often selected because it provides significant flexibility in choosing a provider/specialist. However, you are stuck with selecting a provider from the directory, stuck in the current 2 hour wait room, 10-12 minute physician visit, and getting the same old no value added consumer health experience. This heavily subsidized model (paying $3,000 for a $15,000 benefit) of health care is going away rapidly, and Americans will continue to feel the pinch as the cost shifting pendulum continues to swing toward consumers.

Contrast this with the individual who views their health as an asset that needs to be invested in over the long haul. This individual will have already transitioned to a low-premium, high-deductible health plan so that the same $15,000 can be spent much differently: $3,500 for the premium, $7,500 for the deductible, and the remaining balance of $4,000 being made available to purchase additional health services. Even if fully maxing out the insurance benefit (remember that any part of your deductible that you don’t use can be saved in your tax advantaged health savings account), this $4,000 is available to optimize care for the family. What is the most effective way that it could be spent?

While every individual will have different priorities, I would suggest that these extra dollars could create significant value by enrolling in a direct practice relationship with a primary care physician. In this arrangement, the member would have 24×7 access to the physician, see the physician in an office/home/virtual setting, have care coordinated across medical conditions and across care environments, proactive preventive measures being actively undertaken, medical advocacy support, and someone whom you absolutely trust who can help you navigate your health. Essentially, a personal medical director, working with your personal medical staff, to ensure that your personal health objectives are met. An unbelievable value (outcome/price) to help you manage your most valuable asset.

Is this really possible? Do these numbers really jive? Is this type of individual consumer experience really available? It absolutely is. They absolutely do. It is absolutely coming. Membership based practices really do have their privileges and those privileges are going to rapidly be extended to the masses.

3 replies »

  1. I’m trying to figure out what need these concierge practices fill and who needs them. Is their existence the result of a lack of PCPs that create the so called “2 hour wait”( I’ve never waited that long btw for the few times I’ve needed a GP)? Who can afford them and are they some kind of solution to healthcare access and affordability? I try to understand this statement; “This individual will have already transitioned to a low-premium, high-deductible health plan so that the same $15,000 can be spent much differently: $3,500 for the premium, $7,500 for the deductible, and the remaining balance of $4,000 being made available to purchase additional health services.” So does the employer give the employee that $4000 cash to spend on healthcare or is that coming from the employee’s pocket. And I don’t know how many companies give such lavish healthcare plans to their employees, given that employers are cutting back health benefits. I’m thinking this concierge system is being devised by docs who see the opportunity from longer wait times created by less PCPs and their need/want for more reimbursement and less insurance hassle – all symptoms of a failing healthcare delivery system. Give me an income bracket that can afford these elite services and I’ll bet it’s the same income bracket that joins membership only golf clubs – no waiting, more personalized care and no lines on the first tee. Are these the “solutions” we should be concerned about given the increasing lack of affordable healthcare and now with more PCPs removing themsleves from the access pool and going with private healthclub memberships.

  2. There is just one “black-hole” sized problem with this scenario – $7,500 for the deductible.
    This high a level of a deductible would inevitably result in a majority of Americans delying large amounts of ambulatory care. Everything from the RAND Health Insurance to the most recent evidence to emerge on HSAs incidates this result.
    Now, it depends on what types of preventative care would be covered with first dollar coverage but the likely reality is that a world of high deductible plans will pose alot more income problems for a majority of physicians and ambulatory care providers.

  3. Reminiscent of the “ADS” days, when HMOs and PPOs where novelty interests to HCFA, and the rest of the health policy world, circa the early 80s.
    Membership based models (though not of the insured variety) as “alternatives (to a billing and claims filing practice) model are estimated at a mere 2-3% share of medical practices today, yet likely to gain share each year. Who knows where the upside ceiling will be?
    IMO, the direct practice industry will have to come up with some standards and definitions as to what is a “concierge”, “boutique”, “retainer” or an otherwise membership based medical practice.
    At this stage in its development, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. There are no standards, or cross platform compatibility; they can be anything the owners want the model to be.
    One trade group, the Society for Innovative Medical Practice Design (SIMPD)
    is somewhat out front, but with “practice lite” guidance philosophy as to standards or industry branding per se.
    This niche is one to watch, IMO.