What if, instead of paying hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars each month for health insurance that you may not even be taking advantage of, you paid a retainer of somewhere between $39 to $79 a month to your primary care physician? Some doctors say this kind of service can work out to the benefit of both caregiver and patient.
For patients who can’t afford huge monthly premiums — or who can’t get individual insurance because of pre-existing conditions — the retainer (plus around $20 per office visit) allows them to see the doctor when they need to without breaking the bank.
For doctors, those retainers cut out the insurance companies, which means they are doing less paperwork and worrying less about whether or not some computer at the insurer decides some visit isn’t covered. All this means more time dealing with patients and less time wrapped up in red tape.
“What I’m doing allows the patient to come to the doctor and pay the doctor without a third party there to set rules and regulations for how we conduct medicine,” one doctor tells USA Today.
According to the paper, these types of retainer-based practices are operating in 18 states, with Oregon, Utah, Washington and West Virginia having specific laws governing such practices. No states specifically outlaw retainer-based physicians.
While retainers do allow people without insurance to see a doctor for regular healthcare and check-ups, those payments generally don’t cover the more expensive procedures that most insurance policies would.
“I think the issue is for patients to really understand what they’re getting,” says the director of public affairs for the Center for Studying Health System Change. “They’re getting doctor visits and some minimum level of diagnostic services. But if they get really sick, they better have insurance, or they’re going to be bankrupt. This is not insurance in any way, shape or form.”