CENTRAL COAST, Calif. - Everybody knows healthcare is complicated, but consumers are becoming more savvy when it comes to taking care of their medical needs. Many are starting to shop around for better deals, and some are turning away from insurance altogether, taking an out of pocket, cash approach to treatment.
Shubda Garani says, "We do have insurance, but I feel like that really did not serve me well." It's that dissatisfaction, that got Garani and others like her searching for a new way to take care of their basic health needs. Garani says, "I was so sick and I had met so many specialists and I was tossed around from one specialist to another and really there was no end in sight for me. I was starting to feel, I was at my wits end." It's a similar story for Cheryl and Vern Weitzman. Cheryl says, "We were with a large medical provider and I wasn't getting the kind of care that I felt that I needed and I wanted, nor was I getting better."
The Weitzman's had a high deductible insurance plan, and besides not getting the proper treatment, they were spending a fortune for continued visits. So they turned to a trend being seen across the country, where discounts are being offered to patients who pay cash, instead of going through insurance. Dr. Tom Yarema says, "I've negotiated the same exact laboratory test, under the same exact bio-chemical standards and it's literally ten percent the cost of what's getting billed to insurance." That's where Doctor's like Yarema are stepping in, he says, "I'll set up a general practice of medicine that will be cash based, that way i'm responsible to the patient for diagnosis, for treatment, and treatment that is curative rather than dependency based." Actually Dr. Yarema has been doing it for decades, working outside the system, not through insurance, just caring for patients. Not to say that there aren't costs. If you're regularly meeting your deductible, for example, the rest of your health care needs would be covered under insurance. But if you're just paying cash, then there's no limit to how much you could pay.
President of the Monterey Bay Independent Physician Association, Dr. James Gilbert says, "Very few of us can self insure for the maximum amount that health care can cost. Because you and I can be sitting here and some unlucky thing can happen to us and the next thing you know we have $100,000 or $200,000 in medical bills, and that's relatively unpredictable." Dr. Gilbert spent nearly thirty years as an OBGYN. Now, he represents hundreds of doctors in Monterey County. He says cash only doctors are still a niche market in our area, but he recognizes the system is broken. He says, "There's a whole lot about medicine that's foolish and irrational."
It's those concerns that are turning some patients away from traditional insurance based care. Jane Amaral says, "I needed to talk to someone who had information, more than my ten minute stint. Ten or fifteen minutes and you're out of those places." Amaral pays cash for her care now and she'd otherwise be completely covered by Medicare. She says, "I would rather do this, than be doing what I was doing, because I was given medication with nothing else, no other suggestions." She's part of a more hybrid healthcare consumer that we found in our area, like Garani and the Weitzmans. They are all covered by insurance for the catastrophic, but are choosing cash for the day to day.
Cheryl Weitzman says, "We feel it's the best choice, not only for ourselves, but for our family. We can choose for ourselves and for our daughter where to spend our time, where to spend our money, what's the recovery time and how are we getting there. So we can make the decision as a family as to what is best for our health." and Garani says, "I don't mean to downplay that (the money) to say that it's not at all a consideration, but I think what we get back is so much more than a dollar value."
There are still only a few doctors that we could find that offer this cash only option. Many hospitals in the area don't, but at a time when lots of people are looking for alternatives to high premiums and high prices, it is another option.