By Jay Greene
JUNE 5, 2015 – John Blanchard, M.D., got part of his wish fulfilled when 191-bed Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital agreed this week to an affiliation with his Premier Private Physicians Management LLC of Troy and Clarkston.
Blanchard, a family medicine physician, is at the forefront of a new movement in medicine called direct primary care.
Under direct primary care, Blanchard – and an estimated 75 other physicians in Michigan – sells monthly subscriptions for primary care services to patients. The subscriptions, for which Blanchard charges $200 per month, cover a catalog of primary care services, limited diagnostic tests and extended time with a medical doctor.
His patients usually carry health insurance, so if a referral to a specialist or diagnostic test is required, Blanchard helps his patient find the right provider.
“We are extremely proud of our affiliation with Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital,” said Blanchard, CEO of Premier Private Physicians, in a statement. “This affiliation gives our patients access to the world-class hospital services and specialists of the Henry Ford Medical Group.”
Henry Ford signed the agreement to give its patients another option to access health care.
“There are many ways to access health care,” said Betty Chu, M.D., vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, in a statement. “We want to deliver primary care the way patients want it. This affiliation gives Henry Ford patients more options.”
Last year, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, won passage of Senate Bill 1033. Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, which alleviates concerns doctors have about offering direct primary care without fear of state insurance department regulation.
“This is the free market solution and the replacement for Obamacare,” said Colbeck in a March 22 story in Crain’s.
Nine states, including Michigan, have direct primary care laws, and five more have legislation pending, according to Henry Ford.
Blanchard told me in the March 22 article that if health insurers offer high-deductible health insurance plans that cover the concierge services, he might be able to lower patients’ monthly fees to about $100.
So far, Premier has about 2,000 patients and corporate contracts with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, United Shore Financial Services, Continental Automotive, Masco and Fanuc.
Blanchard said he’d like a health insurer to partner with Premier to offer his direct primary care service as a benefit associated with a health plan product. For now, signing up hospitals or self-insured employers will help expand Premier’s alternative care model.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about direct primary care.
Officials for several insurers in Michigan, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Priority Health, say they are studying the concept.
From talking with sources, I don’t get a sense insurers like direct primary care because it appears to interfere with their efforts to encourage patient-centered medical homes, which essentially offer patients greater access and care options than typical office practices. Insurers also express concerns that people might confuse direct primary care with insurance, which it is not.
Some physicians also express concerns that having a large number of doctors moving into direct primary care could worsen the physician shortage problem.
The average direct primary care doctor sees about 500 patients per year, while the average internist treats up to 3,000 patients per year.
But if you want to pay $100 to $200 extra each month for direct primary care – in addition to your monthly insurance premium so you have full coverage – you can get an hourlong appointment with your doctor instead of the usual 10 to 15 minutes.