Lubbock is seeing its first glimmer of a national trend spreading across the country. Doctors are getting fed up with the rising cost of healthcare premiums plus the hassle of dealing with insurance companies and the federal government. Now, a group of providers is stripping away all the red tape and going back to basics in Lubbock.
If you don't have insurance, you don't have medicaid and you don't have medicare, you're still welcome at Premier Health Clinic. Premier takes medicine back to the days of Norman Rockwell, back to the days when no middlemen were involved. One of Premier's founders and CEO's, Al Bendeck, says, "Years ago it was the physician and the patient. We had a relationship. We took care of you with reasonable cost. You walked out the door, you paid your bill that was it."
Nowadays payment and reimbursement to doctors come with miles of paperwork and sky high insurance rates. At a backyard bar-b-que just about a year ago, Bendeck and his colleagues dreamt of a better way. They decided to open a clinic where you're treated, you pay, you leave. Bendeck says, "You can go to the emergency room and wait four, five, six hours and pay $500 or more when you finally get your bill from the E.R., or more like $1,000 is the average, or you can come here for $35."
For Bendeck, it's a way to be closer to patients while at the same time empowering them. Costs of additional services are posted right on a menu in the lobby. Offering patients a discounted rate because of the overhead saved not dealing with insurance companies or the federal government.
John McMillion, a Doctor at Premier, has been caring for patients for decades. He remembers medicine got complicated when the roll of insurance grew. Skeptics might say the clinic isn't going to work. If it were going to work we would have done this years ago. To that, McMillion says, "Well, we did do it years ago before insurance became part of the factor and I think it's become an evolutionary process and perhaps we're returning to it."
A clinic like Premier is not meant to replace emergency care or to deal with major catstrophies. Patients should still carry an affordable catasrophic insurance policy for those things. Think of it like car insurance; you use it for major wrecks, but take care of the dings, scrapes and oil changes yourself.
There are 45 million uninsured nationwide and the high cost of all inclusive insurance policies leaves 15% of people in Lubbock County without health insurance, mostly mid to low income. Representative Carl Isett, who also does Premier's accounting, knew it was just a matter of time before high healthcare costs brought the consumer back into the mix. "I think it definitely is the future but it's also the present. A lot of doctors are moving out of the third party payer system."
Bendeck says, "The red tape is tremendous. This makes it so much easier. We've actually developed relationships with specialists in this town who take care of our patients for a huge cash discount."
For Bendeck and Dr. McMillion, taking care of patients is the bottom line. Mcmillion says, "When I started my practice that was what it was like in the early 60's. It seems to be very acceptable to patients coming in here." Bendeck says, "You talk to most phsyicians and what drives them is their patients and unfortunately they're stuck in that money game with the insurance companies and we're not."
Premier Health Clinic has had patients referred to them by University Medical Center and Covenant. NewsChannel 11 called those hospitals plus, Highland Medical Center to get their take on this new idea. All three declined to comment. Bendeck says he thinks they just don't know how to respond to what he calls a "new animal" in healthcare.
There are concerns that having to pay cash for medical treatment will prevent people from seeking out preventitive healthcare, but Premier does offer preventative medicine. A routine physical goes for about $95 to $100.
Premier opened back in July and they are currently seeing about 30 patients a day. They are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. You can call Premier at (806) 771-3565.