The direct primary care movement is ‘picking up speed’

Certified nurse practitioner conducts a check-up on a patient at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
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LAS VEGAS — Earlier this summer, Peak Benefits wanted to offer its client, a staff of teachers and administrators at a rural school in Colorado, better healthcare.

So the Colorado-based benefits company teamed up with Nextera Healthcare solutions, a healthcare resources provider, to bring a direct primary care model to employees — which is offered with no deductible, copay or out of pocket cost. Bryan Perry, Peak’s president and founder, designed the school’s new plan which is now offered to workers through Nextera.

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“The reason we looked at direct primary care [is because] it was good news,” Perry said at the Employee Benefit Adviser’s Workplace Benefit Mania Conference. “When you can look at a teacher and say we just saved you that copay, that means something.”

Direct primary care is an alternative payment model that gives patients access to better quality healthcare at an affordable, flat membership fee. Some patients that participate in a direct primary care plan say it allows for a more close, personal relationship with their primary care physician.

Nextera CEO Clint Flanagan, a family physician, began offering direct primary care solutions to employers about 10 years ago. Advisers are in a unique position to offer new healthcare solutions to employers, including direct primary care, Flanagan said.

“The direct primary care movement has really picked up speed over the last several years,” said Laura Hirsch, co-CEO of healthcare company Aither Health. “But part of the problem is that there’s no manual that defines how you should be implementing direct primary care and how it integrates with the self-funded plan.”

One issue may be that employers are uneasy about making the switch from a traditional health plan to direct primary care, Perry said. A recurring concern for employers is that workers will need to switch doctors.

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But it may be difficult for an employee to see or even speak with their current doctor if they suddenly become sick. They could end up going to the emergency room for non-emergency care regardless, costing them more. With direct primary care there is greater communication between doctor and patient at no additional cost, Perry said.

“The doctor relationship that used to be so sacred is gone and guess what direct primary care does? It re-establishes that,” Perry said.

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