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A Low-Cost, No Hassle Program?
CNBC.com | September 12, 2011 | 05:08 PM EDT

What if doctor's offices were like gym memberships? Pay a monthly fee and come as often as you like: no insurance, no deductible, no paperwork, no bill.

Direct primary care (DPC), a low-cost alternative to conventional health care, works much like this and is sometimes described as the middle-class version of “concierge” or “boutique” medical practices started in the 1990s to cater to the wealthy.

"If you have a hunger for accessibility, continuity, and familiarity, it [DPC] is very valuable. It is so valuable that people are willing to pay extra to get it," says Kelly Devers, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center .

In addition, DPC providers will soon be allowed to compete within state-based insurance exchanges thanks to a provision included in the 2010 health-care reform legislation , The term “direct practice” was first used in legislation in Washington in 2007 that clarified these practices were not insurance companies under state law—but they do provide basic, preventive medical care.

Some analysts believe, however, that allowing direct-care providers to compete with insurers will dilute DPC's original success—and pose as an even greater challenge to uninsured Americans.

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