Elaina George, MD
Physician Advisory Board Chairman, Liberty HealthShare
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the American healthcare system has undergone significant changes that affect everyone, whether they are patients or not. The price of health insurance and out of pocket costs have continued to rise while access has fallen. In fact, the US healthcare system remains the most expensive in the world, and yet it continues to rank last compared to other western countries.
Additionally, there has been a decrease in the number of private physicians, community and rural hospitals have closed, and prescription drug costs have continued to rise. As a result, Americans continue to pay more for prescription medication than patients in other countries do.
The structure of our health insurance model is based on inflated charges. It should not cost a patient 10-15 times more to have the same service performed in a hospital or satellite facility owned by a hospital compared to an independent, free-standing facility or independent physician’s office. The hidden facility fees charged by hospitals add significant cost to what a patient pays.
It is time to redefine what quality healthcare means. Having health insurance does not equal access to quality healthcare, but as a member of Liberty HealthShare who functions as a true healthcare consumer, you have the power to access truly affordable, individualized healthcare, provided by innovative doctors.
The reality is, the costs of healthcare can never be controlled until they are made transparent. Thankfully, as self-pay patients, Liberty HealthShare members have the power to get the direct pay rate for office visits, labs, surgery, and radiology services. Savings average 60-80% compared to what hospitals charge for the same services. That is the power of medical cost sharing.
Price transparency allows patients to become consumers who are able to make informed decisions about their care. When patients are given the power to decide how much they want to spend for medical services, it encourages free market competition, which brings costs down for everyone. It takes some time and effort, but the results are worth it. For those who want to become savvy, involved healthcare consumers, there are some great tools out there that can make the process easier. Here are a few I recommend:
Independent physician practices: Direct primary care (DPC) practices and cash pay practices.
Independent Surgery centers: Patients can save 50-80% compared to services offered by hospitals, hospital-owned physician practices, surgery centers, radiology centers, and labs. This is an example of one such organization located in Oklahoma. A search of your local area should yield results pertinent to you.
Medical tourism: Offer cash pay discounted rates for surgery inside and outside of the U.S.
Discount dental care, eye care, and telemedicine: Keep in mind that, if you are a Liberty Complete or Liberty Plus Member, you are enrolled in the SavNet discount program (subject to state limitations and guidelines). Most discount programs can be used concurrently, but be sure to read all pertinent guidelines.
The alternative to the centralized, one-size-fits-all, big-government approach is to allow choice. The best way to lower costs is for patients to become true healthcare consumers who have direct control of both their pocketbook and their healthcare choices. True value, innovation, and cost control will occur when patients are free to determine what works best for them.