Free Market Alert!
Many medical practitioners have apparently simply had enough. Instead of continuing their never-ending struggle with the welfare state’s red tape, they have decided to revert to a free market model without insurance. At first glance that seems to represent a barrier to obtaining medical care for poorer strata of the population. However, a second glance reveals that this might actually not be the case. No doubt to the great dismay of the sick-care cartel and the bureaucracy administering it, the refreshing breeze of the free market suddenly intruding upon the system shows what prices actually would be if the State were not involved in health care. According to a recent report on the spreading ‘cash only’ medical care phenomenon:
“Fed up with declining payments and rising red tape, a small but growing number of doctors are opting out of the insurance system completely. They’re expecting patients to pony up with cash. Some doctors who have gone that route love it, saying they can spend more time with and provide higher-quality care to their patients. Health advocates are skeptical, worrying that only the wealthy will benefit from this system.
In Wichita, Kansas, 32-year old family physician Doug Nunamaker switched to a cash-only basis in 2010 after taking insurance for five years. (“Cash-only” is a loose description. Nunamaker accepts payment by debit or credit card too.)
Under the traditional health insurance system, a large staff was required just to navigate all the paperwork, he said. That resulted in high overhead, forcing doctors like Nunamaker to take on more patients to cover costs. Plus, the amount insurance companies were willing to pay for procedures was declining, leading to a vicious cycle. “The paperwork, the hassles, it just got to be overwhelming,” Nunamaker said. “We knew that we had to find a better way to practice.”
So Nunamaker and his partner set up a membership-based practice called Atlas M.D. — a nod to free-market champion Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. Under the membership plan — also known as “concierge” medicine — each patient pays a flat monthly fee to have unlimited access to the doctors and any service they can provide in the office, such as EKGs or stitches.
The fee varies depending on age. For kids, it’s $10 a month. For adults up to age 44, it’s $50 a month. Senior citizens pay $100.
The office has negotiated deals for services outside the office. By cutting out the middleman, Nunamaker said he can get a cholesterol test done for $3, versus the $90 the lab company he works with once billed to insurance carriers. An MRI can be had for $400, compared to a typical billed rate of $2,000 or more.
Kevin Petersen, a Las Vegas-based general surgeon, stopped taking insurance in 2005. Petersen named the same reasons as Nunamaker: too much paperwork and overhead, declining payments from insurance companies, and a general loss of control. “The insurance industry took over my practice,” he said. “They were telling me what procedures I could do, who I could treat — I basically became their employee.”
Now Petersen does hernia operations for $5,000 a pop, which includes anesthesia, operating room time and follow-up visits. He negotiates special rates for the anesthesiologist and the operating room, and is able to provide the service for about a third of what a patient might pay otherwise.
Many of his patients are early retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare but can’t afford a full-fledged health insurance plan, he said, and business is booming. “My practice at this point is the best it’s been in my 26-year career,” he said. “By far.”
While the cash-only model may please doctors, some question whether it’s good for middle- and low-income people. Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the consumer advocacy group Families U.S.A., didn’t want to speak directly to either Petersen’s or Nunamaker’s practice, as she didn’t know the specifics of each.
But in general, she fears that doctors who switch to a cash-only model will drive away the patients who can’t afford a monthly membership fee or thousands of dollars for an operation. “They cherry-pick among their patient population to serve only the wealthier ones,” Stoll said. “It certainly creates a barrier to care.”
Obviously, both the named and unnamed ‘health advocates’ and worriers have it completely wrong. People who don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for health insurance actually can afford ‘thousands of dollars for an operation‘ that costs only one third of what it would otherwise cost. It is not only the wealthy who can afford this free market care (besides, people who don’t want it have the option to continue with the existing system).
Look at those prices! A cholesterol test for “$3 instead of $90” – that is more than 96% less! An MRI for $400 instead of “$2,000 or more” (usually will be ‘or more’)? Not to mention the fact that these doctors now have more time to actually care for their patients properly. What’s not to like?
A Win-Win By Mistake?
Imagine for a moment what might happen if the government were to get out of healthcare altogether and there would be free competition between all health care service providers. What would happen to prices in that case? It is probably fair to assume that they would come down precipitously even from the low prices free market doctors are already able to obtain for their patients nowadays.
It is actually a good bet that the onerous red tape and the likely explosion in costs due to Obamacare will accelerate the move toward a free market in health care – unless the government explicitly forbids it, that is (unfortunately we cannot rule out completely that such tyrannical steps will eventually be taken – the government generally doesn’t like it when its ‘help’ is refused).
If so, the Obamacare Act could turn out to become a win-win by mistake so to speak, as more and more people decide to opt out of the system. It seems clear that the free market solution is preferable to the cartelized health care system imposed by government and the lobbyists that have co-written the laws. The doctors portrayed in the article above are leading by example, and we expect their ranks to swell in coming years.
Addendum: Somewhat Staged Looking Fainting Spell During Obamacare Speech
During a speech promising that the totally botched web implementation of the Unaffordable Care Act will one day actually be fixed, a pregnant (and diabetic as it later turned out) woman standing behind the president faints and is caught by him ‘just in time’. Apparently, the president has eyes at the back of his head too.
Fainting woman caught by President Obama in what actually looked a bit like a staged publicity stunt
As one commenter remarked on Twitter, this is ‘delivering Obamacare one person at a time‘.