Healthcare in the Unites States is broken.
Actually, "broken" doesn't quite capture it. It's a roiling cesspool of greed, perverse incentives, incompetence, and a lack of interest in providing great care to the people who need it.
So let's get into it.
Insurance companies are widely blamed for causing the healthcare crisis. And yeah—they certainly deserve a big part of the blame.
The whole point of insurance (of any kind) is to avoid a huge bill if something catastrophic happens. By paying a little bit of money on a regular basis, you avoid paying a lot of money when something really bad happens. If an insurance company is paying for something that is normal and routine, they're just a useless middleman.
Here's the thing: insurance companies have a fixed profit margin; they take a cut of all the money that flows through them. The only way for them to make more money is to process more dollars. So they started insuring things that didn't need to be insured.
Would you use your car insurance to pay for an oil change? No—you only use it when you get in an accident. You pay for routine maintenance yourself. What if your car insurer offered to pay for your oil changes, but only if you go to High Price Lube and pay a pre-negotiated "discounted" rate of $200?
This is how the system works in America; you use your health insurance for everything. Annual physicals? Pay with insurance. Routine blood tests? Pay with insurance. Putting a bandaid on a scratch? Pay with insurance.
This is the madness of health insurance in America.
In 1966, the American Medical Association published the first edition of the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) manual. It assigned a short, standard numerical "CPT code" to every known medical procedure. The insurance industry loved it.
By the 80s, Medicare and private insurance companies had deeply integrated CPT codes into their claims processing system. They were a convenient shorthand way to itemize all the services performed in a doctor visit. All hospitals and clinics had to use CPT codes in their insurance claims to get paid. And for a while, things were good. Everyone spoke the same language and the system was working.
Then a terrible thing happened. Hospitals learned how to game the system.
They started submitting itemized lists containing dozens of CPT codes, even for simple visits. They developed medical record software that was geared entirely towards maximizing revenues, instead of tracking medically relevant information. They started training their doctors to use certain "billable phrases" in the their medical records. They started recommending MRIs and blood tests willy nilly, even if they weren't medically necessary. They started choosing a more lucrative surgery over a cheaper, safer option.
There are a thousand other ways hospitals have managed to “optimize” their insurance billing. There’s even an entire profession dedicated to the art of maximizing hospital revenue: “medical coder”.
Of course, the insurance companies realized they were getting played. So they tried to fix their systems they only way they knew how: with more elaborate coding systems, more reporting requirements, and more paperwork. As the systems grew in complexity, hospitals starting requiring more and more administrators to handle the additional requirements. How many more? See for yourself.
In the past 40 years, there has been a 32x increase in hospital administrators, compared to a 2.6x increase in the total number of doctors. That's not good.
These days, it's so hard for a doctor to get reimbursed by an insurance company that many private practices and pharmacies are going out of business. Managing the complexity of the modern insurance system requires a huge, well-funded bureaucracy—something only big hospital systems can afford.
This is the core driver behind "hospital consolidation", one of the most harmful healthcare trends of the past decade. Big corporate "health systems" have been buying clinics, private practices, and even other hospitals. By aggregating a bunch of facilities under one umbrella, hospitals can implement their billing practices more widely, steer patients towards facilities and specialists they control, and decrease operating costs.
As these health systems grew to encompass entire counties or states, they gained a huge advantage in negotiations with insurance companies.
A fair market price for a knee replacement is about $30k; this covers the hospital’s cost of labor and materials plus a fair profit margin. If you get a knee replacement within a huge health system, they'll probably try to bill your insurance company over $100k. If the insurance company complains, the hospital will offer them an amazing deal: a massive 50% discount! The insurance company happily agrees to pay $50k—but they’re still paying $20k more than the market price. Over time, prices drift upwards as insurance companies get accustomed to paying ever higher prices.
In recent years, this phenomenon has reach the point of absurdity. Here are some examples of real medical bills (source):
A $17 Tylenol pill in the hospital. A $98 ice pack applied during physical therapy. A $70 additional “mileage charge” for a 15-minute ambulance ride. A $10,000 “trauma team activation fee,” when a triage nurse summoned surgeons to the emergency room. A $1000 “rooming-in charge” to a mother who opted to keep her newborn in her room, rather than having him admitted to the new-born nursery.
This is the largest contributor to the last 10 years of rising healthcare costs: huge, consolidated, corporate health systems continually charging more for the same services, because they can.
That's the context of the current crisis. Insurance and health systems are locked in a decades-long price war where both sides just get richer. So who are the losers?
This one is obvious. If you've had a medical appointment in the last 15 years you've seen these problems firsthand.
Doctors are another victim of the current crisis. The overwhelming majority of doctors get into medicine to help people. If you’ve had a bad experience with a doctor who doesn’t seem to care, it’s because they’re in an impossible situation.
Hospitals treat their doctors like cogs in a machine; they don’t care about the quality of care the doctor provides or the satisfaction of the patient. Physicians exmployed by hospitals have extremely low job satisfaction rates. These short, impersonal visits take a huge emotional toll on doctors. In surveys, 40% of doctors say they plan to leave the profession in the 49% of doctors say they wouldn't recommend a career in medicine to their children.
If you've had a string of bad experiences, it’s easy to blame it on bad doctors. But it’s virtually impossible for a physician to operate in an empathetic, caring way inside of a modern American hospital. The big corporate health systems have optimized away the doctor-patient relationship in the name of higher profits.
DPC is a new way to get high quality, comprehensive healthcare from a doctor who cares, all for a low, flat monthly fee.
DPC doctors ditch the broken healthcare system, leave their hellish hospital jobs, and start providing care at reasonable prices. It’s that simple. No insurance, no corporate health system, no middlemen. Just doctors and patients.
Practically speaking, DPC is a membership model for healthcare. Every patient pays a flat monthly fee to become a member of the DPC practice. What are the benefits of membership? Put simply: access to a doctor that cares about you.
Your DPC doctor is there when you need them. You get unlimited office visits at no additional charge—and they'll be as long as you need. Typically you’ll be able to book a same-day or next-day appointment, sometimes directly through the practice’s website. Often you’ll have access to your doctor’s cell phone number, so you’ll be able to call or text them any medical questions as needed. Simple diagnostics like strep tests can often be performed in office for a small additional charge (or no charge at all). If you have a major issue, your doctor will coordinate any specialist referrals or hospital care.
Not to mention: the membership fee can often pay for itself. Most DPC practices have an established relationship with local laboratories and radiology centers. That means you can get blood tests, pathology screens, X-rays, MRIs, and more for low cash prices. Plus, most DPC practices dispense medications in-house at near-wholesale prices, so you both save money and avoid extra trips to the pharmacy.
In short: being a member of a DPC practice is like having a doctor in the family. Your doctor will always be in your corner, working to keep you as healthy as possible. It’s an amazing feeling.
Join over a quarter million other Americans and become a member of a DPC practice! There are over 1,000 DPC practices spread across in 48 states, including multiple in every major city. To find a practice near you, go to the DPC Frontier mapper and search for your zip code. If you find a practice that looks good, visit their website directly for more information on how to schedule an initial visit.Find a Practice
If you want to learn more about DPC, join the DPC Nation Facebook group! It's a fast-growing community of people who are tired of being the victims of a broken healthcare system and have taken their health into their own hands. It's a great way to learn more about direct primary care, staying healthy, saving money, and the future of healthcare in America.Join the DPC Nation