Tom Purcell: Concierge doc shows way to lower health care costs

November 30, 2018

As physicals go, it was the most thorough I’d ever gotten. My new primary care doctor is a “concierge” doctor. Much like small-town doctors years ago, he isn’t paid by a third-party insurance firm. He’s paid by me, directly, at a reasonable $115 monthly.

If I get a cold, sprain an ankle or have any kind of issue, he’s a phone call, email or text message away. He isn’t just a doctor. He’s a knowledgeable collaborator guiding me to my very best health.

He’s saving me a lot of money by guiding me to other cash-only services. I paid about $100 for a CT heart scan, $150 for a detailed scan of my arteries and bones, and another $100 to a large clinical laboratory for an exhaustive review of my blood (cholesterol, etc.) that would have cost hundreds if I’d attempted to pay the lab directly.

For $350, I was able to have a thorough evaluation of my body — and discover it’s in pretty good shape — which is something everyone 50 or older should be able to do.

More doctors are going the concierge route — to their benefit and patients’ benefit alike. They’re doing so because our health-insurance system is a giant mess - a giant cost mess, to be precise.

As a self-employed writer, I’ve seen my premiums soar. My “bronze” policy cost me nearly $500 a month, and I had to pay the first $6,000 in costs before the insurance kicked in. Millions who purchase individual insurance have experienced similar pain.

So I dropped the health-insurance policy and weaved together a different strategy.

First, to protect against a catastrophic incident, I joined a Christian health-cost-sharing service. Such services are growing in popularity. The “Gold Plan” costs $150 monthly. If I need hospital care, I pay the first $500, then the service negotiates the rest of the tab with the hospital. Its 400,000 members pay monthly to share medical bills.

This is not health insurance — it has limitations and doesn’t cover costs for “non-Christian” behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or drug use. Note that many scammers come out of the woodwork this time of the year, so do your homework.

To round out my health-care strategy, I purchased two insurance policies that will pay me a nice chunk of cash if I suffer a debilitating injury and cannot work, or if I’m hospitalized.

These policies, in addition to the health-cost-sharing service, should cover my bills if something bad happens.

In any event, my total monthly cost for my concierge doctor, health-cost-sharing service and insurance policies is just north of $300. I’d prefer an affordable, low-deductible “Cadillac” policy like I had six or seven years ago, but no such policies exist.

Regrettably, cost is the biggest health-care issue. Reforms are badly needed — but none are on the immediate horizon.

That leaves millions to string together novel health-care strategies, as I have attempted to do, turning to concierge doctors who can help us navigate health care’s high cost.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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