Bye-bye health insurance: How direct primary care can save you money

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Dr. Rebekah Bernard isn’t just a primary care doctor, she’s an entrepreneur.

Fed up with the healthcare system, she opened her own direct primary care practice in 2016 called Gulf Coast Direct Primary Care.

“Right now, they say doctors spend more time on paperwork than they do with patients. Direct primary care totally changes that,” Bernard says.

What is it?

Direct Primary Care is just as it sounds, direct. There’s no insurance company, no middleman, or government involved.

Patients pay the doctor a monthly fee, in this case around $75 bucks, for unlimited visits.

Bernard says the time saved on paperwork means more time with patients.

“In this type of practice, I can really be a partner with my patient so that we can figure out the best treatment for them and it’s really personalized.”

While working for a large hospital group, Bernard estimates she saw up to 35 patients a day, spending between seven and ten minutes with each person.

“Here, I have a minimum of thirty minutes with each patient when they come into the office and I’m not super backed up like I was before.”

Bernard says her average patient is around 42 years old and that she sees slightly more women than men.

“We specialize in patients without health insurance, because about 70% of our patients either have no health insurance or have a high deductible plan. So it could be a $5,000 or $10,000 deductible, those tend to be patients we can really provide great care for,” Bernard says.

How can it save money?

Bernard says one of the best things about her practice, is that she can get most generic medications at a fraction of the cost that they would spend at the pharmacy.

“A Z-pak, for example, is $5 here,” Bernard said.

If a patient’s needs are beyond her scope, she’ll help them price out cash rates with specialists.

Imaging services, like a standard X-ray, are between $30-$40.

“The prices are significantly lower than you think they would be if you go through cash prices,” and she adds “there’s actually a law – it’s called the Hitech Act and it says that patients are allowed to opt-out of their insurance anytime they want to and they can ask for a cash price.”

Before moving to Florida’s east coast, Andre Batista was Bernard’s patient and without health insurance.

In 2018, Batista learned that he needed outpatient surgery.

“They (Florida surgeons) all told me it was going to take at least $20,000,” Batista said, ” I was like, how am I going to do it?”

To help pay for it, he even contemplated selling his pride and joy, his motorcycle.

“That was the money right there,” Batista said.

But Dr. Bernard told him about The Surgery Center of Oklahoma, a facility that operates like she does– directly with the patient.

Their price? $3,300.

“They tell you exactly what it’s going to cost,” Batista said, “it says it on their website actually.”

So he booked plane tickets for him and his wife at $706, rented a car for $146 and booked a hotel room for $378.

His transportation and boarding costs, plus the surgery, all came to less than $5,000; or $15,000 less than what it would cost to get the surgery in Florida.

“Looks just like a hotel. It’s not like going to a hospital. They come to you, they talk to you, explain to you everything,” Batista said.

DPC: A trend or here to stay?

Bernard says she would love to see more free-market surgical centers, even hospitals, that offer patients the opportunity to pay cash for treatments.

“Right now–there’s about a thousand direct primary care practices across the country. I think one of the limiting factors that keep doctors from leaving –is fear.”

But it turns out if you build it, they will come.

“We’re completely full now we’re on a waiting list for new patients,” Bernard says.

Bernard strongly recommends to her patients that they either get catastrophic insurance coverage, which you either have to be under 30 to have, or in financial need, or a high deductible plan.

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