Direct Primary Care and the Working Poor

This post was written for PanZoe‘s blog on May 21, 2015, here.


One of the easiest vulnerabilities to spot in healthcare after the Accountable care Act are those individuals who simply cannot afford their deductibles. The insurance mandate in Obamacare leads those who work low wage jobs without benefits to buy the cheapest policies.

These policies have huge deductibles, so even with great subsidies, these individuals simply can’t afford to see a doctor. In fact, they are often exposed to the full “rack rate” for health services and have inflated out of pocket costs 2 to 3 times as high as insurance companies pay providers.

A 40 year old man sat at home with a cold, or so he thought. When his fever did not get better after three weeks and he started getting so short of breath that he couldn’t work, he finally came to see me. His cold was really a pneumonia and could have been treated weeks earlier by someone who recognized the red flags early enough. Instead, he ended up in hospital and his $8000 deductible got charged pretty fast.

Low wage workers are the productive members of society trying to transition out of multi-generational cycle of poverty, and succeeding to some extent. Such shocks can throw them back on the public rolls. One of the major advantages of Direct Primary Care for low income individuals just above the Medicaid threshold is unlimited access to high-impact primary care. They can get minor illnesses treated quickly, before suffering serious illness requiring hospitalization. In addition they have access to prevention, care coordination and chronic disease. The technology that goes with Direct Primary Care, like secure video and texting is of particular importance to people whose trips to the doctor often impact their income. In jobs without benefits, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

In policy circles Direct Primary care suffers from an image of care for the elites. But the low price point makes it most appropriate for low and middle income individuals. These are the people most likely to benefit from a close relationship with a primary care provider.