Over 10 million people have signed up for Disney Plus since it launched late last year. It’s easy to understand why. The streaming service gives subscribers access to hundreds of movies and televisions shows for just $7 a month — no cable plan required.
Imagine if we applied the Disney Plus model to health care. For a flat monthly fee, subscribers could get everything from flu shots to checkups and lab tests “on demand” — no expensive, cumbersome insurance plan required.
This model already exists in health care. It’s called direct primary care — and Americans young and old, rich and poor alike are increasingly turning to it as a means of securing affordable, high-quality health care.
Under direct primary care, a patient pays a doctor a modest subscription-style fee in exchange for access to an array of health services. Just a decade ago, there were only a handful of direct primary care practices scattered across the country. Today, over 1,000 serve around half a million people in 49 states, including 10 registered practices in Central Florida.
The model has flourished in part because many doctors no longer want to deal with insurance. Nearly 75 percent of physicians spend at least 10 hours each week on paperwork. Bureaucratic tasks are the largest contributor to physician burnout, which affects roughly half of all family medicine doctors.
Burnout is serious. Physicians who experience it are more likely to make medical errors.
Direct primary care can ease doctors’ administrative workload, reduce their risk of burning out, and give them more time to spend with patients. Direct primary care visits often last up to an hour — four times as long as the usual 15-minute visit offered in traditional family practices.
Patients also have a much easier time scheduling appointments. More than 90 percent of direct primary care practices offer same-day appointments, according to a study published in the Kansas Journal of Medicine. Many allow patients to text, email, or video chat with their physicians for consultations.
Putting a doctor on retainer may sound like it’s beyond the means of most Americans. But it typically costs less than the average monthly cable bill. Direct primary care patients typically pay between $50 and $100 each month for a host of services including preventive care, sick visits, and in-office procedures. Many direct primary care providers also offer discounts on prescription drugs.
Consider Kansas City Direct Primary Care, where adults 26 and over pay $65 a month for unlimited primary and urgent care visits and 24/7 access to a physician. Members also get home visits and access to reduced-price labs, medicines, and specialist services. For $140 a month, two parents can get that same level of coverage for themselves and all their children under 18.
For some people, that’s a much better deal than traditional insurance. The average lowest-cost plan for sale on Obamacare’s exchanges this year features a $331 monthly premium. Last year, family coverage on the exchanges ran $1,154 a month, on average.
Those high premiums don’t even buy much in the way of medical services. Patients may struggle to find a doctor who will take their insurance. Once they do, they still have to shell out thousands of dollars to meet their deductibles — before they receive a dime from their insurers.
In other words, direct primary care could provide a worthy alternative to the expensive Obamacare status quo. Many patients could receive better care at lower cost by pairing a direct primary care arrangement with a high-deductible, catastrophic policy that they only tapped if they sustained a medical emergency.
The subscription model has transformed how Americans watch movies, buy groceries, and more. As the growth of direct primary care shows, it can transform health care, too.
The author is president, CEO, and the Thomas W. Smith fellow in healthcare policy at the Pacific Research Institute.