Now that Obamacare is a reality that our country is forced to deal with, many Americans are looking for alternatives to the traditional health care system. While thus far, Obamacare has failed to live up to its promises of higher rates of insured Americans and less expensive health care premiums, it has also created a bureaucratic mess for practices struggling to navigate the fine print.
After hiring a large team whose entire job was focused on dealing with all the red tape and paperwork associated with Obamacare, family physician Doug Nunamaker knew there had to be an easier way.
“The paperwork, the hassles, it just got to be overwhelming,” Nunamaker said. “We knew that we had to find a better way to practice.”
As many other practicing physicians have found themselves in similar situations, many have struggled to deal with the increasing overhead costs resulting from having to hire additional staff members just to handle all the paperwork that comes with government intervention in the private sector.
Additionally, higher overhead costs have meant that many of these doctors have had to take on additional patients just to cover their rising costs. Insurance companies have also began decreasing the amount of money they are willing to pay for certain procedures, leading to a perpetual cycle where everyone is paying more for medical service without any real benefits.
Doug Nunamaker has joined a growing movement of doctors who have done their best to create alternatives to our broken health care system that has become even worse with the implementation of Obamacare. Instead of going through third party insurance companies, Nunamaker’s practice does not accept any form of health insurance. Instead, his practice is member-ship based, which allows his patients to pay a flat monthly rate that covers unlimited access to any service that can be provided in his office.
Named in honor of Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, Atlas M.D. charges monthly fees that vary based on age. For children, Nunamaker charges $10 a month. For adults up to 44, services are $50 a month. Senior citizens are charged the most at $100 a month.
Since the office is free to negotiate its own prices with outside service vendors, Nunamaker has been able to save his patients a great deal of money by cutting out the middleman. A cholesterol test, for example, would typically cost $90 dollars after your insurance is billed. After working with the lab company responsible for handling the specimen and running the tests, Nunamaker has brought that cost down to just $3.
MRI’s are among the more expensive medical tests, costing around $2000 before insurance is taken into consideration. For patients of Atlas M.D. the cost is only $400.
Though proponents of government intervention in the health care industry have used fear mongering and criticism to accuse these direct-pay practices of only benefiting the upper class, Nunamaker and his patients do not view his practice in this light.
Additionally, Nunamaker still sees the merit and importance of encouraging his patients to carry a high-deductible health insurance plan in case of emergencies. For his 400-600 patients, many of whom are small business owners or employed by small businesses, the monthly membership plan combined with a high-deductible insurance plan for emergencies is still a less expensive option than traditional health insurance plans.
Typical family practices take on anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 patients on average, keeping wait times for appointments high and not allowing physicians to focus quality time on individual patients. For Nunamaker, his member-based system allows him to dedicate quality time to his patients, while striking a balance between his personal life and his work life.
“My professional life is better than expected, my family life and personal time is better than expected,” he said. “This is everything I wanted out of family medicine.”
What Nunamaker has done is slowly but surely becoming a trend in America in the wake of Obamacare. The membership model, or direct-pay health care as it is often called, saw a 25 percent increase from 2011 to 2012, according to the American Academy of Private Physicians.
To put that growth into perspective, there were only 756 of these practices in 2010. By 2012, when Obamacare implementation was quickly approaching, the number of direct-pay practices went up to 4,400 and that number is only expected to grow in the coming years.
This is a huge indication of what is to come in the health care industry now that the federal government has inserted itself into that market. Though the Obama Administration has gone to great lengths to control and regulate health care, the free market always finds a way.
By refusing to take traditional insurance plans, effectively exempting itself from the Obamacare rules and regulations, practices like Nunamaker’s are able to thrive by taking a consumer-driven approach to health care. By giving the consumers the medical care they desire while also decreasing costs and bureaucratic hassles, Nunamaker and other physicians are using this model to reshape the entire health care industry.