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A creative new way to help health care speed backward

I thought health care in America was in the deepest funk possible. Reform is on the rocks. The insurance lobby is gaining traction. The uninsured are going up, not down. Access is being restricted.

I thought health care in America was in the deepest funk possible. Reform is on the rocks. The insurance lobby seems to be gaining traction. The number of uninsured is going up, not down. Access is being restricted. Emergency rooms are packed … and, well you get the idea.

But I was wrong. The health-care industry, creative as it is, has actually found a new way to further retard better health and wellness in our society, and allow us to speed in reverse. Let me explain.

We are California snowbirds from Minnesota. As seniors, we have doctors at both ends. Upon returning to Palm Desert this fall, my wife had a need to see her primary care physician in Palm Desert. He was previously in private practice, but recently joined Eisenhower’s Medical Group.

So far so good — but, we quickly learned that he would not be available to us much longer, because he was being transferred to their “Personalized Care Program.”  Well actually, we could still see him — for a price!  And what would that be? $595/year annual membership fee (kind of like “dues”); and a big bargain for the spouse: only $555, or about $1,100 per year for two.

What a deal! We can pay, to see our doctor.

Care, with benefits
Eisenhower calls this “365 Personalized Care,” with announced benefits (quotes below verbatim):

• Convenient appointment scheduling

• Communication with your personal physician

• Online communication

• Access to your personal health records

• Access to all the resources of Eisenhower Medical Center as needed

There’s more, but you get the idea. Everything you expect to get from your health-care giver is yours — as long as you pay for the privilege. Not pay for services, pay “dues” for the privilege of getting care.

Now, I do not want this to be about Eisenhower — it is considered a fine, competent, caring medical center and hospital. This is more about health care in America today. These plans (often call “Concierge Plans”) have been around for a while, but their adoption by a major regional medical facility (and its clear potential for wider adoption) is a huge move in precisely the wrong direction. It actually makes medical care more expensive, not less. It has an “elite” quality to it that is antithetical to care as we should know it; the rich will be well cared for (and even have “access to all the resources of Eisenhower Medical Center as needed”), but the less rich will have … ? 

An extra fee for communication?
“Communication with a personal physician” — isn’t that exactly what we need, want, and pay for, and expect to get when we go to a caring doctor? Do we have to pay an annual membership fee to deserve this? And best of all, you can visit your doctor online (didn’t they used to actually make house calls?). Now, there is a benefit for you; maybe the doctor does not even have to personally see you anymore. What’s next — a virtual doctor, with virtual care, for a virtual sickness? Only in America.

In Minnesota, such plans have been in place for many years — but only for private practitioners. Generally, these were well known doctors who catered to what they referred to as “suits” (well-heeled patients willing to pay even without insurance coverage). The danger to Minnesota with this new event in California is that some major local health organization will move in the same direction. With marketing and financial executives driving health-care organizations, that possibility is quite likely. 

Ironically, this comes at exactly the time we are debating the health-care system in our country. It is a metaphor for what ails our ability to improve the system. Fees, like these, not only exclude those who cannot afford them, but even worse, obviously eliminate those who do not have any insurance at all. A giant step backward.

Further, by segregating what is likely their more senior doctors (after all you have to “join” to have access, so you will want a proven practitioner), you create the appearance, if not the reality, that care for the “common folk” will be diminished with lesser physicians — the ones “who did not make it into the elite ranks and building.”  Did I say “building”?  Yes there will actually be not only elite practitioners in the plan, and elite services, but also an elite new building. One that promises those who are “members” that they will have comfortable, upscale surroundings while getting their upscale services. The rest of us will have to wallow in the “ordinary” and the older surroundings, I guess.

No wonder …
No wonder other countries mock our system. No wonder other countries provide better health-care services to ALL their citizens on an equal basis. No wonder other countries have better outcomes, better health statistics, less administrative costs, equal accessibility and greater satisfaction with their systems (virtually none would trade theirs for ours in numerous polls). And no wonder public plans have been introduced in virtually every industrialized nation except ours, because we have left our nation’s health-care and insurance programs to the private sector for too long, and they have failed us.

If those who are fighting against real reform do not understand this as we speed backward in our health-care system, let them become new members of Eisenhower’s 365 Personalized Care Program.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.