Concierge doc shows way to lower health-care

Published 1:50 pm Saturday, December 1, 2018

by Tom Purcell

As physicals go, it was the most thorough I’d ever gotten.

My new primary care doctor is a “concierge” doctor. Much like small-town doctors years ago, he isn’t paid by a third-party insurance firm. He’s paid by me, directly, at a reasonable $115 monthly.

If I get a cold, sprain an ankle or have any kind of issue, he’s a phone call, email or text message away. He isn’t just a doctor. He’s a knowledgeable collaborator guiding me to my very best health.

He’s saving me a lot of money by guiding me to other cash-only services. I paid about $100 for a CT heart scan, $150 for a detailed scan of my arteries and bones, and another $100 to a large clinical laboratory for an exhaustive review of my blood (cholesterol, etc.) that would have cost hundreds if I’d attempted to pay the lab directly.

For $350, I was able to have a thorough evaluation of my body — and discover it’s in pretty good shape — which is something everyone 50 or older should be able to do.

More doctors are going the concierge route — to their benefit and patients’ benefit alike. They’re doing so because our health-insurance system is a giant mess — a giant cost mess, to be precise.

As a self-employed writer, I’ve seen my premiums soar. My “bronze” policy cost me nearly $500 a month, and I had to pay the first $6,000 in costs before the insurance kicked in. Millions who purchase individual insurance have experienced similar pain.

So I dropped the health-insurance policy and weaved together a different strategy.

First, to protect against a catastrophic incident, I joined a Christian health-cost-sharing service. Such services are growing in popularity. The “Gold Plan” costs $150 monthly. If I need hospital care, I pay the first $500, then the service negotiates the rest of the tab with the hospital. Its 400,000 members pay monthly to share medical bills.

This is not health insurance — it has limitations and doesn’t cover costs for “non-Christian” behaviors, such as alcohol abuse or drug use. Note that many scammers come out of the woodwork this time of the year, so do your homework. (During open enrollment this year, I’m also reviewing low-cost, high-deductible catastrophic health-insurance options made available by the Trump administration; I may replace the Christian plan with a catastrophic insurance plan.)

To round out my health-care strategy, I purchased two insurance policies that will pay me a nice chunk of cash if I suffer a debilitating injury and cannot work, or if I’m hospitalized. These policies, in addition to the health-cost-sharing service, should cover my bills if something bad happens.

In any event, my total monthly cost for my concierge doctor, health-cost-sharing service and insurance policies is just north of $300. I’d prefer an affordable, low-deductible “Cadillac” policy like I had six or seven years ago, but no such policies exist.

Regrettably, cost is the biggest health-care issue. Reforms are badly needed — but none are on the immediate horizon. That leaves millions to string together novel health-care strategies, as I have attempted to do, turning to concierge doctors who can help us navigate health care’s high cost.

TOM PURCELL, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to Tom at