Doing What ObamaCare Can't

The private sector prevails.

While the scheme to furnish nationalized health care struggles with its infinite complex of programs, as well as the broad public distaste for the law, an array of private-enterprise health-care systems already is at work curing ailments and saving lives as well as billions of taxpayer dollars.

A Sept. 7 Bloomberg Businessweek health report estimates $4.4 billion a year could be saved in health costs totally unrelated to federalized ObamaCare., a RAND Corp. study found. And that amount is just by patients using low-cost private-sector health facilities instead of hospital emergency rooms. Probably much more money than that will be saved by medical treatments in Urgent Care Centers, free clinics, and expanding retail and corporate health clinics. Some doctors have benefited by having a place to send non-acute patients.

Federal dollars generously have been dumped into primary health-care services to medically underserved communities and populations, including migrants, homeless, and residents in public housing for 40 years. These Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) provide a range of services. Since Obama took office, these community centers for the poor have been given $2 billion from the stimulus package. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), the association lobbying for the FQHCs. is looking for an additional $11 billion subsidy for its 1,200 centers for its activities from 2011 to 2014.

NACHC claimed in a June 28 press release it would reduce public spending for emergency room treatments by $24 billion in avoidable hospital-based care. But private-sector clinics and health centers—rather than those Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)—probably will be helping make possibly even greater savings for Americans.

The General Accountability Office (GAO) found that 72 percent of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) had costs above government payment limits. NACHC complained of the problem, so typical of living under government-dictated pricing, when it grumbled that “the majority of health centers, and indeed patients who rely on them for care, are negatively impacted by this outdated payment mechanism.”

A prime example of private enterprise at work in the health field is Urgent Care Centers. They provide walk-in, extended-hour access for acute illness and injury care that is either beyond the scope or availability of the typical primary care practice or retail clinic. Approximately 8,500 urgent care centers are scattered around the country. “Urgent Care Centers have more than 100 million visits a year, with 85 percent of the Centers open 7 days a week. More than 85 percent of the Centers have at least one physician on site at all times.

The mean reimbursement per patient visit for urgent care is $103. The urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) was founded in 2004 and “represents 3,200 professionals working in urgent care,” according to Lou Ellen Horwitz, the association’s executive director. Wait times to see a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant are said to be less than 15 minutes for 17 percent of the patients, between 15 and 45 minutes for 67 percent of patients.

Then there are Free clinics all over the country treating  approximately 3.5 million medical and dental patients annually, according to a June 15 survey reported in the journal “Archives of Internal Medicine.” Charities, civic groups, churches, foundations, and corporations provide most of the funding. Free clinics were defined as “non-profit organizations providing services for no fee or a nominal fee up to $20.” These clinics typically provide chronic disease management (73 percent), physical exams (81 percent), urgent or acute care (62 percent), and medications (87 percent). These clinics represent an important part of the health care “safety net” system, according to findings of the new survey.

One of the largest managers of worksite health and wellness centers is Take Care Health Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary  of Walgreens pharmacies, and part of Walgreens Health and Wellness division. It manages worksite health and wellness centers and convenient care clinics in the U. S. Take Care has treated more than 3.5 million patients in the past five years. A Take Care spokesman said its in-store model “can revolutionize health care delivery.” Take Care has partnered with many national and regional insurance plans. Board certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants treat clinic patients.

MinuteClinic, a division of CVS Caremark Corporation maintains it is the largest Pharmacy health care provider in the U.S. with 7,000 locations. MinuteClinic launched the first health clinic in the U.S. in 2000, establishing a national presence with 500 sites in 26 states. MinuteClinic also is establishing formal affiliations with several health systems, including the renowned Cleveland Clinic. An online resource will let customers schedule flu shots at their convenience. MinuteClinic treats a range of illness, from strep throat to bladder infections.

Independent health clinics offer health-care services in select Walmart stores nationwide at affordable prices. These clinics, leased from independent hospitals or health centers, offer preventative and routine, non-emergency health services. Clinics deal with such conditions as infections, cholesterol screening, vaccinations, ear aches, flu, sinus problems, and upper respiratory infections. Clinics are open seven days a week. An average visit cost $65 or less. No appointment is necessary. Walmart and Sam’s Club are offering flu shots now in more than 4,100 select stores and clubs.

The Convenient Care Association, with its Rediclinics has grown from 150 clinics 18 months ago to more than 950 today. More than 2.5 million patients have been treated in 36 states. Webster Golinkin is CEO of RediClinic, LLC, and president of Convenient Care Association. Rediclinic believes demand will increase with the growing shortage of primary care physicians, some of whom have quit in the wake of the ObamaCare law. Convenient Care clinics will eventually become one of consumers’ main portals into the healthcare system, the organization’s website predicted. So it seems, as ObamaCare bogs down.

That is, until Big Brother Government intrudes in another aspect of private enterprise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August hired the RAND Corp. to “determine what role retail clinics play in the U.S. health care system,” American Medical News reported Sept. 6. With its insatiable hunger for control, one can foresee federal interference with any perceived threat to it overbearing power.