This Doctor Doesn’t Want Your Health Insurance


I realized the system was broken, so much to the point that I was part of the problem of contributing to that broken system. – Dr. Timothy Wong doesn’t take
any insurance in his practice – and charges most of his patients
$35 for a consultation. We would always have to fight
the insurance companies getting something a patient required. We’re talking about
having to do extra work just to get a diabetic
the insulin they need; having to get a patient a
life-sustaining medication, and having to give her samples, just so that she doesn’t
end up in the hospital again. Health care is the only industry, I think, that we really turn customers away. We could do better as providers. We can buck the system and change it. – After working
at a hospital for four years, Dr. Wong decided to quit his job and open his own primary care
clinic in Pittsburgh. He’s one of a growing number
of doctors who are looking for ways to cut the
insurance companies out. Not taking insurance is a defiance because it’s against the traditional
way we do things. – Health insurance is a
trillion-dollar industry in the U.S. And profits are on the rise, but medical costs keep going up. And by taking this insurance,
we also get paid by the insurance. So, they become our masters
in a lot of ways. – Dr. Wong is able to treat the vast majority of routine ailments
as a primary care doctor, but can’t provide emergency care
or specialist expertise. That means all of Dr. Wong’s patients
pay a flat fee of $35 for primary care and
$10 for each additional ailment. There are no hidden fees, copays
or bills that show up in the mail later. $35 might be more than you paid
for your last doctors visit, but consider all the other potential fees
associated with insurance. Copays are the set amount you pay
for doctors visits and prescriptions, plus premiums every month
to insurance companies. Deductibles are how much you pay
out-of-pocket each year before your coverage kicks in. Coinsurances are a percentage you pay even after your deductible has been met. Health care pricing is just confusing. It’s like not knowing how much
a hamburger costs until after you’ve already eaten it. And Dr. Wong believes you don’t need
insurance to cover basic care, like stitches, flu shots or a sprained ankle. Part of our philosophy is
to keep things simple, but also to keep our costs low, so that we can pass that off to patients. – Dr. Wong is the only employee. There’s no receptionist, nurse or assistant. Patients sign in on an iPad
and wait until he calls them in. I was at work, put my finger in the mixer, and it’s smashed. – Brent drove over an hour
to get to the iHealth Clinic. I’ve dealt with this kind of injury before. I’ve paid thousands of dollars, even with my insurance. Last time was actually
$750 out-of-pocket for two stitches. – The most Dr. Wong says
he’s charged a patient? $55. That doesn’t include things
like testing or medication. But he works with patients
to find affordable options. I think a true primary care provider
is a patient’s advocate. – Dr. Wong says he used to
do a lot of extra work just for insurance companies. It was almost to the point where
I would tell the patients, you know what? I’ll do this after you leave. There’s really nothing
I’m doing face-to-face with you that’s providing you a benefit. I’m just, you know,
working on the computer or filling out forms that
the insurance wanted. – Both the endless paperwork and
emotional stress Dr. Wong experienced while working with insurance companies
led him to feel burnt out. More than half of U.S. doctors
have reported symptoms of burnout. Physician burnout, or burnout
in the health care industry, is called by other people moral injury. And moral injury occurs
when we are asked every day, and constantly, to do something
that is against our morals. – While Dr. Wong doesn’t want
to work with insurance companies, he acknowledges that his clinic is not
a replacement for insurance coverage. Catastrophic care is very important. You don’t want to go into personal debt, you know, for a lifetime
because of an accident when an insurance
could have covered that. – The American Medical Association
hasn’t taken a stance on doctors cutting out
insurance companies, but says it supports their right to choose. But I think a lot of providers
don’t realize that this model exists, and it could fit them very well. They might not get paid as much,
but their job satisfaction gets better. – There’s not enough data yet on
the long-term impact of models like this. But Dr. Wong believes
he’s already making a difference. We can decrease the cost of care.
We can increase efficiency. We can increase access of primary care
and urgent care services to those who need it. And I think you can
improve people’s lives that way. – At his last job, Dr. Wong says he was lucky
to get a handshake from a patient. I’ve never had such gratitude from patients. Just this week, I saw someone drive by and give me the thumbs-up as I was closing the door because I think she kind of knew about
what we were trying to do here. If I have a 1% chance of changing the health care system
for the better, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Hey everyone, it’s Adrienne. Has health insurance, or the lack of it,
affected you or someone you care about? We want to hear from you
in the comments below. And while you’re at it, like,
share and subscribe to AJ+.

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