Direct primary care (DPC) for unemployed patients
As businesses have closed, either temporarily or permanently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have lost their jobs. Some have been furloughed and anticipate being hired back once the crisis is resolved. However, many are finding that their employers may never reopen for business. When they lost their jobs, they probably also lost their healthcare coverage. Direct primary care (DPC) is a viable and financially sound alternative for these unemployed patients.
The unemployment rate in the US jumped from 4.4% in March 2020 to 14.7% in April. Since then, the numbers have come down slightly but still remain at historical highs, with unemployment rates at:
- 13.3% in May
- 11.1% in June
- 10.2% in July.
Just under half of the population relies on their employer for health insurance coverage. DPC practices offer an affordable solution for the unemployed who no longer have employer-paid healthcare.
DPC physicians typically charge a monthly membership that covers basic primary care services and that is much less than a monthly insurance premium. Since there are no additional fees for office or telehealth visits, patients can budget for their healthcare more predictably.
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DPC practices have also made the transition to telehealth during COVID-19 more seamlessly than most traditional practices. The model has always included the opportunity for patients to communicate with their physician via methods other than face-to-face office visits. Patients can typically use email, texts, or video chats, providing them the option of remaining safely at home while receiving healthcare services.
As many traditional healthcare practices have cut back on services or even shut down completely during the coronavirus outbreak, DPC practices are continuing to operate with little to no loss in revenue or service delivery. In fact, several practices in the DPC model tell Healthcare Dive their finances have been relatively unchanged since the pandemic began.
The publication mentions Ciampi Family Practice in Maine, which “had almost no decrease in income, even when it had to dramatically cut hours to comply with Maine’s emergency orders in March, taking them from roughly a dozen daily in-office visits to between zero and three on average.” Ciampi told Healthcare Dive, “If we’d been in fee-for-service, I have very little doubt we would have gone bankrupt. You can’t run a fee-for-service practice seeing three people a day.”
Another DPC practice, operated by Jeff Gold in Marblehead, Massachusetts, saw a slight dip in membership at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as some patients lost their jobs and canceled their memberships. In contrast, many fee-for-service practices reported volumes disappearing almost completely in March and April.
Gold’s income, as well as that of other DPC practices throughout the country, is the same whether they are seeing patients in the office or via video calls. Gold says “We haven’t really had to change anything.” In fact, he says his practice is now seeing an increase in membership requests.
DPC practices typically do not accept any kind of insurance, so present as an optimal solution for unemployed patients without health insurance.