I thought healthcare in America was in the deepest funk possible. Reform is on the rocks. The insurance lobby is gaining traction. The uninsured are going up not down. Access is being restricted. Emergency Rooms are packed…and, well you get the idea.
But I was wrong. The healthcare industry, creative as they are, has actually found a new way to further retard better health and wellness in our society, and allow us to speed in reverse. Let me explain.
We are California snowbirds from Minnesota. As seniors, we have doctors at both ends. Upon returning to Palm Desert this fall, my wife had a need to see her primary care physician in Palm Desert. He was previously in private practice, but recently joined Eisenhower’s Medical Group. So far so good – but, we quickly learned that he would not be available to us much longer, because he was being transferred to their “Personalized Care Program”. Well actually, we could still see him…for a price! And what would that be? $595/year annual membership fee (kind of like “dues”); and a big bargain for the spouse: only $555, or about $1100 per year for two. What a deal! We can pay, to see our doctor.
Eisenhower calls this “365 Personalized Care“, with announced benefits (quotes below verbatim):
- Convenient appointment scheduling
- Communication with your personal physician
- Online communication
- Access to your personal health records
- Access to all the resources of Eisenhower Medical Center as needed
There’s more, but you get the idea. Everything you expect to get from your healthcare giver is yours…as long as you pay for the privilege. Not pay for services, pay “dues” for the privilege of getting care.
Now, I do not want this to be about Eisenhower – they are considered a fine, competent, caring medical center and hospital. This is more about healthcare in America today. These plans (often call “Concierge Plans”) have been around for a while, but their adoption by a major regional medical facility (and its clear potential for wider adoption) is a huge move in precisely the wrong direction. It actually makes medical care more expensive, not less. It has an “elite” quality to it that is antithetical to care as we should know it; the rich will be well cared for (and even have “access to all the resources of Eisenhower Medical Center as needed”), but the less rich will have…? “Communication with a personal physician” – isn’t that exactly what we need, want, and pay for, and expect to get when we go to a caring doctor? Do we have to pay an annual membership fee to deserve this? And best of all, you can visit your doctor online (didn’t they used to actually make house calls). Now, there is a benefit for you, maybe the doctor does not even have to personally see you anymore. What’s next — a virtual doctor, with virtual care, for a virtual sickness? Only in America.
Ironically, this comes at exactly the time we are debating the healthcare system in our country. It is a metaphor for what ails our ability to improve the system. Fees, like these, not only exclude those who cannot afford them, but even worse, it obviously eliminates those who do not have any insurance at all. A giant step backwards. Further, by segregating what is likely their more senior doctors (after all you have to “join” to have access, so you will want a proven practitioner), you create the appearance, if not the reality, that care for the “common folk” will be diminished with lesser physicians – the ones “who did not make it into the elite ranks and building”. Did I say “building”? Yes there will actually be not only elite practitioners in the plan, and elite services, but also an elite new building. One that promises those who are “members” that they will have comfortable, upscale surroundings while getting their upscale services. The rest of us will have to wallow in the “ordinary” and the older surroundings, I guess.
No wonder other countries mock our system. No wonder other countries provide better healthcare services to ALL their citizens on an equal basis. No wonder other countries have better outcomes, better health statistics, less administrative costs, equal accessibility and greater satisfaction with their systems (virtually none would trade theirs for ours in numerous polls). And no wonder, public plans have been introduced in virtually every industrialized nation except ours, because we have left our nation’s health care and insurance programs to the private sector for too long, and they have failed us.
If Congress, and those others who are fighting against real reform do not understand this as we speed backwards in our health care system…let them become the first new members of Eisenhower 365 Personalized Care Program.