Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Seattle Doctors Try Flat-Rate No-Limit Primary Care

Seattle doctors try flat-rate no-limit primary care

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A Seattle clinic for people fed up with insurance, started by doctors fed up with insurance, has gotten $4 million in private venture capital money to expand, it announced on Monday.

Qliance says it has a profit-making solution to the problems of long waits, rushed doctors and cursory care that bother patients, at the same time that it eliminates the paperwork and pressure that plague primary care doctors.

"If you spent five minutes in my office you would notice there is nobody waiting. We don't have to stack them up like jets over Newark," said Garrison Bliss, a doctor and co-founder of the primary care clinic.

The new venture funding comes from Second Avenue Partners with participation by New Atlantic Ventures and Clear Fir Partners, bringing total capital raised to about $7.5 million.

Co-founder Norm Wu said per-patient revenue is triple that of insurance-based clinics. He said many costs are fixed so the firm, now losing money, will turn to profit as business grows.

More than 50 noninsurance clinics operate in 18 U.S. states, based on different business models, Wu noted.

The backers believe Qliance can grow very profitable, and the clinic uses stock options to attract new doctors. The next step is to open a suburban office.

Qliance says it is a private alternative to the failures of insurance, which have made health care President Obama's top legislative priority in Congress, with a price tag of $1 trillion or more.

Qliance customers pay $99 to join, then a flat monthly rate of $39 to $119, depending on age and level of service. Patients can quit without notice and no one is rejected for pre-existing conditions.

Patients must go to outside brokers and qualify medically to buy catastrophic care. One broker said a 30-year-old could expect to pay $133 per month for such care, and a 60-year-old nearly $400, plus substantial deductibles.

Qliance patients get unrestricted round-the-clock primary care access and 30-minute appointments.

"Why would a doctor not want to see sick people? That doesn't make sense, unless you're an insurance company," Bliss said.

He rejected the idea that unrestricted access causes overuse, calling that "nonsense promoted by insurance companies .... There's nobody I've ever met who gets their pleasure by seeing doctors."

Bliss said dumping rigid, convoluted insurance requirements and paperwork saves large amounts of money.

UnitedHealth, which processes 60 billion health care transactions a year, argued in June that better use of technology would save $332 billion annually, with some going to physicians.

Other big health insurers include WellPoint, Humana, Cigna and Aetna.

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