Direct-pay docs continue to tout model

With insurance hassles and high overhead continuing to frustrate doctors, news stories continue to roll in about physicians who've adopted a cash-only model and say they've never been happier.

Ryan Neuhofel, D.O., M.P.H., a direct primary care physician in Lawrence, Kan., recently told DailyFinance that his cash-only practice serving about 1,000 patients has helped him live out what he calls his "overly romantic vision of what a small-town doctor could be in today's health care system."

Neuhofel's fees, which range from $10 to $50 a month plus under-market charges for certain tests and procedures, allow the model to be accessible "to most patients," he said, while permitting him to earn a profit during a time when many independent doctors are operating in the red.

Meanwhile, Doug Nunamaker, M.D., Kansas primary care physician and co-founder of Atlas M.D., shared a similar story with CNN. Nunamaker, who has practiced on a cash-only basis since 2010, now has a patient list totaling 400 to 600, CNN reported, adding that he's quite happy with his annual salary of around $200,000.

Specialists such as Kevin Petersen, M.D., a Las Vegas-based general surgeon, have also embraced the trend. Since he stopped taking insurance in 2005, Petersen now charges patients $5,000 for a hernia operation, for example, which includes anesthesia, operating room time and follow-up visits.

"My practice at this point is the best it's been in my 26-year career," Petersen told CNN. "By far."

Most direct-pay physicians recommend patients carry insurance for catastrophic problems only, and contend that such lower-cost plans plus practice membership fees work out to cost many patients less than traditional insurance and copays.

Nonetheless, critics of the model say that retainer fees may still shut out low- and middle-income patients. "They cherry-pick among their patient population to serve only the wealthier ones," Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the consumer advocacy group Families U.S.A, told CNN. "It certainly creates a barrier to care."

To learn more:
- read the article from CNN
- see the story from DailyFinance