The Doctor Will See You Now ... For An Extra $1,500
A Florida company is at the epicenter of what's called Concierge Care
Six years ago, Dorothy Ascherman of Boca Raton opened her mailbox to find a surprising letter from her longtime family doctor, internist Dr. Robert Colton.
Colton was overhauling his medical practice, the letter explained. He planned to slash his patient load from 3,000 to 600. Instead of hourlong waits to see him for minutes, patients would wait minutes to see him for an hour. They would also get his cell phone number, next-day appointments and the undivided attention of Colton and his staff.
|» We were afraid senior citizens on Medicare who could not afford concierge care would get kicked out of practices, and they are."
-- Bryan Gulley, Sen. Bill Nelson's press secretary
Under this so-called "concierge" approach, Colton would continue to accept reimbursement from Ascherman's Medicare or other insurance carriers, the letter said, but she would have to pay a $1,500 annual fee if she wanted to remain his patient. Ascherman, now 72, discussed the offer with her husband and her two sons, who are both physicians. And she declined. "Although we loved Dr. Colton," she says, "we decided the $1,500 wasn't worth it."
Then Ascherman got sick. A long wait to see her new primary care physician, and a particularly long wait in the emergency room after her new doctor failed to diagnose an illness, led her to reconsider Colton's offer. When she called him, she was lucky to land a spot. Colton and his partner, Dr. Bernard Kaminetsky, now turn away patients in droves.
The Concierge Patient
Jamie Blumenthal and her husband, a Tampa businessman, had grown exasperated with how they were treated when they or their children, ages 3 and 5, got sick. They say they always ended up seeing different physicians who didn't know them or their medical history. "Every time we had to call, even to check on a test result or get a prescription refilled, there would be this time-consuming chain of command," Blumenthal says. The Blumenthals read about O'Neal in a newspaper article and made an appointment to interview him. They are thrilled with his care, "just the way you wish a family doctor would be." His $3,500 annual fee for a family, Blumenthal says, "is well worth it -- it's an investment in our family's health."
The Concierge Doctor
Dr. Michael O'Neal, a primary care physician and the team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays, has concierge practices on Tampa's Harbour Island and in Palm Harbor, with 200 patients each. His retainer fee is $1,500 for an individual, $2,500 for a couple and $3,500 for a family of six. "I firmly believe I'm saving them money," says O'Neal, who has three years of data showing his patients are less likely to land in the ER, less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to miss work than the average primary care practice patient. "And their time is optimized, and they are getting preventive care," he says. His non-athlete patients range from 2 to 90 years old. O'Neal, 37, hung his concierge shingle right out of residency at the University of South Florida. He calls his practice model "membership medicine." It's a bit riskier than most concierge doctors, who convert practices after building up years of experience. "My model is unique," O'Neal says, "but I didn't have to drop any patients.