With a $1 million gift from the Cullen Trust for Health Care, the two entities will operate the direct care clinic, with the UH College of Medicine as primary operator. The clinic will begin its pilot phase this fall and aims to service 1,000 patients during its first year.
Direct care is a model of medical practice that operates outside of the insurance model in which patients pay for services in cash.
It is usually less expensive, often much less so, than medical care received in a typical hospital setting. For example, at a Walmart direct care clinic, an annual checkup costs $30 while that same service averages anywhere between $50 and $200 in typical insurance-based health care outfits.
In a starker distinction, an average hip replacement surgery costs roughly $40,000 in a traditional setting while at Texas Free Market Surgery — a direct care surgery center — it amounts to about half that.
Direct care is a burgeoning trend across the country, allowing doctors to avoid the mountains of paperwork and derivative costs. The UH announcement adds, “The direct primary care model offers an alternative to insurance-based or fee-for-service practices commonly utilized in the U.S. by simplifying the health care system, alleviating the economic burden, and excluding third party payers.”
“A direct primary care practice will add value to the local health care ecosystem by tackling one of the most pressing problems of our city: the lack of a comprehensive primary care system for the uninsured,” UH President Renu Khator said of the new clinic.
According to the news release, 25 percent of the Houston-area population is uninsured. Of Texas’ 5.1 million uninsured, over half are eligible for either Medicaid or the Obamacare tax credit and have chosen not to enroll. In Southwest Houston, per UH, the uninsured rate is 45 percent and nearly one in three residents live below the federal poverty level.
The direct care model is aimed at servicing those patients who, for whatever reason, do not deal in the insurance-based system — and providing them more hands-on attention at a cheaper rate.
In addition to primary care services, patients will have access to telehealth, at cost laboratory testing, reduced cost medications, and a guarantee of same-day or next-day appointments.
Founding dean of the medical school, Dr. Stephen Spann, said, “The UH College of Medicine wants to restore primary care as the foundation of health care. We have developed a model with strong incentives to innovate the delivery of primary care designed to improve quality and more effectively control the cost of care.”
No exact opening date is set yet, but the clinic will begin servicing patients well before the end of the year.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.