This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
On the road 50 hours a week, the drivers who work for Becker Trucking, headquartered in Seattle, have little trouble finding cheap eats at the all-night diners lining the interstates of the Pacific Northwest.
But many drivers were struggling with chronic poor health, and the company’s health costs were rising fast. What his employees really needed, the company president realized, was better access to doctors.
So he turned to a novel solution. Becker pays $54 per employee per month to a primary care provider called Qliance. Employees get unlimited doctor visits, 24-hour e-mail access to the medical staff, and same-day or next-day appointments. There is no insurance involved in their primary care: no expensive premiums, no complicated claims, no mysterious denials.
“Drivers are notorious for not being the best in using health care,” said Frank Riordan, president of Becker Trucking. “But now they can go into the clinic as many times as they want, and participation is high.” Two drivers no longer need blood pressure medication, Mr. Riordan added.
This type of health care model is called direct primary care, and it is getting a closer look not just from businessmen like Mr. Riordan, but also from researchers and government officials who see it as an effective way to lower costs.
“It is a very promising and good model,” said Dr. Arnold Milstein, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and head of the Stanford Clinical Excellence Research Center. “It is speedy and economical, and these practices are making themselves available to working people.”
Direct primary care derives from an unlikely source: the so-called concierge practices that began appearing a decade ago, catering primarily to the affluent. Concierge practices generally do not accept insurance, either; instead, members are charged thousands of dollars annually for unlimited access to their doctors.
The setup often is lucrative for doctors but “less accessible to patients who cannot or choose not to pay a membership fee,” according to a federal report issued in 2005.
“The concierge model carries a lot of baggage in being health care for the wealthy,” said Dr. Erika Bliss, a family physician and Qliance’s chief executive. “We want to grow this and bring the price point down to average Americans.”
Call it concierge medicine for the masses. The idea is that routine, mundane primary care should not require expensive insurance and can be cheaper without it. Direct primary care practices charge $50 to $60 a month for adults, with lower fees for children. Depending on the practice, the monthly fee also may cover certain lab tests, basic X-rays and stitches for cuts. […]