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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Even Higher-Income Americans are Frustrated with High Health Insurance Costs; Many Drop Coverage and Switch to Concierge Care; Clinical Laboratories May Be Affected by Trend

From reduced medical laboratory test ordering to dealing with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups are impacted daily by rising healthcare costs. Until now, however, one demographic was not affected—affluent Americans. But that is no longer the case.

According to Bloomberg, thousands of people—some earning more than $125,000 a year—are now foregoing health insurance altogether and instead choosing concierge medicine because it costs less.

“We’re not poor people, but we can’t afford health insurance,” Mimi Owens, a resident of Harahan, La., told Bloomberg.

Priced Out of the Market

Bloomberg also reported on a Marion, N. C., family whose monthly insurance premium of $1,691 in 2017—triple their house mortgage payment—was increasing to $1,813 in 2018. The couple, who had no children and an income of $127,000 from a small IT business plus a physical therapy job, had a $5,000 deductible. However, their total annual insurance investment after premiums was about $30,000, and that was before any healthcare claims.

They decided, instead, to purchase care through a membership in a physician practice.

“Self-employed people are being priced out of the market,” Donna Harper, an insurance agent in Crystal Lake, Ill., told Fierce Healthcare. The self-employed business owner reportedly had to cancel her Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) plan because the premiums totaled $11,000 annually with a $6,000 per year deductible.

“I haven’t been in the hospital for 40 years, so I’m going to roll the dice,” she stated.

Increasingly, this is the choice many people with higher incomes are making and it is impacting both the healthcare and health plan industries.

Huge Deductibles, Skyrocketing Premiums!

Regardless of whether people purchase their health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Exchanges or their employers, deductibles can be as high as $5,000/year for individuals and $10,000/year for family coverage, or more.

And, in 2017, annual premiums for workers averaged $18,764, a Kaiser Employer Survey reported.

According to CNN Money, ACA premiums for silver plans in 2018 were 37% higher than the previous year, and the average increase for all health exchange plans since 2017 was 24% nationwide.

And, while financial assistance is available, people making more than 400% over the Federal Poverty Level will not qualify for premium subsidies from the ACA, according to

Lots of “Essential” Services, But Narrow Networks

Critics of the ACA point out that one of the reasons Health Exchange plans are so expensive is because every plan is required to have “essential health benefits” that many enrollees to not need or want. For example, a childless couple in their 50s has to pay for an ACA plan that includes services such as maternity, newborn, and pediatric care.

Another cause for sky rocketing costs are the ACA’s limited number of health plans in many regions. In fact, according to Bloomberg, half of the counties in the US—which together cover 30% of all Americans—have just one insurance company available to the Health Exchange customers.

Uninsured Rate Edges Up in 2017

So, it may come as no surprise that after declining over recent years, the uninsured rate noted at 2017 year-end actually increased by 1.3%, which translates to 3.2-million Americans, a Gallup and Sharecare analysis found (see image below).

That report attributes the uptick in the uninsured population, the largest since ACA’s start, to:

  • Health insurance companies pulling out of the ACA exchanges;
  • Costs for remaining insurance plans too high for consumers to bear; and,
  • Those Americans who earn too much for federal subsidies opting to go without health insurance.

Concierge Care Instead of Health Insurance

Many people do not have health insurance, but that does not mean they are without healthcare. For example, the N.C. couple named in the Bloomberg article decided to pay $198 a month (instead of the $1,813 annual premium) for private membership (AKA, concierge care) in a doctor’s office practice. The fee gives them unlimited office visits, discounts on prescription drugs, and lab tests.

The Detroit News, in its report on the launch of University of Michigan Medicine’s Victors Care in April, called membership-based practice programs a “revolutionary shift in medicine.” Victors Care plans, which start at $225 a month, reportedly give people unlimited office visits. (See Dark Daily, “Some Hospitals Launch Concierge Care Clinics to Raise Revenue, Generating both Controversy and Opportunity for Medical Laboratories,” April 23, 2018.)

And HealthLeaders Media noted that about 34% of medical practices surveyed indicated that within three years they may add a membership-based payment model.


Dr. James Mumper, MD (left), founder and chief medical officer of PartnerMD, a concierge care practice in Richmond, Va., treats Howard Cobb (right), who has been Mumper’s patient for 14 years. (Photo copyright: Richmond Magazine/Jay Paul.)

For the doctor’s part, concierge medicine has appeal. Physician want to spend more time with their patients and have fewer patients, noted the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“So much of being a good primary care physician is listening and having time to listen,” stated Jim Mumper, MD, Chief Medical Officer, PartnerMD, a concierge medical practice he helped start in Richmond, Va. “This model allows the physicians to do the things that cause them to want to go to medical school and do all the training and all the sleepless nights—to feel at the end of the day that they’ve really helped a lot of people.”

Clearly, the healthcare and health insurance industries are under enormous pressure to address rising costs and evolve to better business models. Clinical laboratories are necessarily along for that ride, and in many ways, must be ready to react quickly to changes coming from both marketplaces.

 —Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Why Some Americans are Risking It and Skipping Health Insurance

Plans with More Restrictive Networks Comprise 73% of Exchange Market

Millions More Americans Were Uninsured in 2017

2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey

Premiums for the Benchmark Silver Obamacare Plan Will Soar 37%, on Average, for 2018, According to Federal Data

US Uninsured Rate at 12.2% in Fourth Quarter 2017

University of Michigan Fuels Debate on Retainer-Based Health Care

34% of Medical Practice Models Considering Membership Practice Models

A Different Kind of Practice

Back to the Future of Healthcare with A Higher Price Tag: Concierge Medicine Offers Patients Unique Care

Some Hospitals Launch Concierge Care Clinics to Raise Revenue, Generating both Controversy and Opportunity for Medical Laboratories

Some Hospitals Launch Concierge Care Clinics to Raise Revenue, Generating both Controversy and Opportunity for Medical Laboratories

Critics are quick to note that this creates a disparity in how patients access healthcare services

Independent concierge care (AKA concierge medicine) is available to anyone willing to pay the additional costs, which are over and above any health insurance. In a concierge care medical practice, patients pay an annual retainer fee to gain increased access to doctors, specialists, and services, such as faster TATs on clinical laboratory testing.

Depending on the program, concierge care also can offer patients a range of “improved” healthcare benefits, including same-day appointments, extended appointment times, around-the-clock telehealth services, and the experience of receiving care from a physician with a smaller patient roster and in a more personalized manner.

Clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups might also find benefit from the concierge care model. Though some concierge providers bill insurance, most work on a cash basis with payment due upfront for services. This ensures prompt payment for any medical laboratory testing provided, reduces administrative overhead, and eliminates the need to deal with payers.

Concierge Medicine Is Not Just for the Wealthy Anymore

Since its inception, concierge care has been considered a luxury available to only financially well-off patients. However, that may soon change. Several major health systems and hospitals are piloting scaled-back versions of concierge care aimed at both middle- and upper-class consumers. However, the programs are not without critics and have elicited both positive and negative responses from healthcare providers.

According to Modern Healthcare, hospitals and health systems currently testing concierge care programs include:

Patients with busy schedules or chronic conditions may see the biggest gains from investing in concierge care. The added flexibility and increased access might allow them to take advantage of care options more frequently. Physicians being able to take their time during consultations and more closely focus on specific concerns is also seen as a benefit to patients.

However, Modern Healthcare points out that patients are not the only ones to see benefits from this arrangement.

“Doctors who have switched to concierge-style medicine sing its praises, claiming the smaller patient panel allows the doctor to build relationships with patients and spend more time on preventive medicine,” Modern Healthcare noted.

In 2016, Dark Daily reported on similar findings from the American Academy of Private Physicians (AAPP). They noted that the average primary care physician in the US maintained between 2,000 and 4,000 patients using the traditional care model. In contrast, the AAPP found concierge physicians maintained on average only 600 patients. (See, “Concierge Medicine Increases in Popularity as More Consumers Opt for This Care Model; Will Clinical Laboratories Exploit This Business Opportunity?” May 6, 2016.)

Paul-Huang-MD-PhD-Mass General-500w@96ppi

Paul Huang, MD, PhD (above right), a concierge doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Modern Healthcare, “We are not doing this just to make more money—we are doing this to make money to put back into the mission of the hospital and to support programs that otherwise would be difficult to support.” (Photo copyright: Modern Healthcare.)

Concierge Care: Controversial Approach or Major Boon to Hospitals?

Since its debut in the 1990s, concierge care has faced scrutiny and opposition from those who feel it discriminates against those who cannot afford retainer premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

One health system that has drawn such criticism is Michigan Medicine (MM), which is owned by the University of Michigan. As reported by the Detroit Free Press, in a letter to hospital administration, 200 of MM’s own doctors and staff expressed their feelings about the concierge care program, stating, “Victors Care purports to offer ‘better’ healthcare to those with enough money to pay a large access fee. The University of Michigan is a public institution and our commitment is to serve the public, not a private few. We do not feel this is the role of a state university and are unable to justify this to the patients and families we serve.”

Tom Cassels, a consulting partner with the Advisory Board Company, told Modern Healthcare, “It’s a cultural learning curve, because most not-for-profit health systems are geared toward providing the same level of service to everyone in their community. The fundamental model of concierge medicine is to price-discriminate.”

However, media coverage also highlights how the hospitals creating concierge care services are using the financial benefits to help offset the cost of low-margin services or provide care to low-income patients who wouldn’t otherwise have access to care.

Misty Hathaway, Senior Director of the Center for Specialized Services at Mass General, explained to Modern Healthcare that since their physicians are salaried, margins from concierge services can help support “things like our substance abuse program, or other parts of primary care where the margin is a little bit harder to achieve.”

Despite the ethical debates, use of concierge care services continues to gain momentum as middle and upper-class patients find the increased quality of care a worthy value proposition. As more options emerge at major healthcare centers, medical laboratories and other service providers might find that this trend also offers an opportunity to increase revenue with a minimal impact on administrative and billing costs.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Concierge Care Taking Hold at Some Large, Urban Hospitals

No Appointment? No Problem … For a Price

Exclusive U-M Medical Plan Buys You ‘Better’ Care, Special Access

The Future of Healthcare Could Be in Concierge Medicine

The Doctor Won’t See You Now

Concierge Medicine Increases in Popularity as More Consumers Opt for This Care Model; Will Clinical Laboratories Exploit This Business Opportunity?

More Doctors Consider Concierge Medicine as Healthcare Reform Looms

Concierge Medicine Trend Continues and Creates New Clients for Clinical Pathology Laboratories