Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Can Money Buy You Good Health?
I know nowadays there is a lot of talk about the uninsured and those with health insurance. Correspondingly, you hear a lot about the two different health care systems serving these groups: the publicly funded health care system (think county hospitals and clinics) and the insurance funded health care system (think doctors in private practice, medical centers, etc.)
Having medical insurance and chronic illness, I've spent a good portion of my time and energy access care in the insurance funded health care system over the past eight years. I've learned a lot of things about how this system care works, enough to write a whole series of blog post. But perhaps my most perplexing discovery is that there is actually a third health care system that doesn't get a lot of attention, that of the cash-only or self-pay medical practice.
As the name implies, these are physicians and other health care professionals charge up front for their services. So if you can't pay (or charge the bill to your credit card) you can't be seen. They don't accept your insurance--in fact many don't belong to insurance networks and have opted-out of Medicaid and Medicare. Most will provide you with a superbill so you can submit their charges to your insurance company, but since their rates are usually above and beyond what your insurance carrier considers "reasonable and customary," you will only be reimbursed for a fraction of what you paid them.
So, in essence, this third health care system is for those who have money, lots and lots of money.
I don't have lots and lots of money, so in the past, whenever I have stumbled upon one of these medical practices, I have steered clear and not given them a second thought. Which is all well and good except that, as time has gone on and the insurance driven medical system has failed to provide me with adequate care for my chronic illnesses, I now am getting referred to this third system of care because its members provide the services I am seeking. In this system reside the experts in things like pain management, rare diseases and disorders and novel and cutting edge treatments that pick up where conventional approaches fall short.
Yes, it seems that here in Los Angeles many of the doctors who are at the top of their fields convert to this kind of practice.
Now I find myself wishing I had the money, the golden ticket, to access this third level of care. I'm drawn by the allure of better treatment that could potentially make a significant difference in my quality of life. Granted, I don't think they could cure me, but from what I have heard, it seems like these upper echelon providers could reduce my chronic illness burden and help me regain some of the day-to-day functioning I have lost along the way.
With all the hype, I have to wonder, 'Could being treated by one of these cash-only healthcare providers be the difference between living disabled and living more able-bodied?'
Unless I win the lottery or become the recipient of some fortune from a deceased distant relative, I guess I will never know.
So what do you think? Can money buy you good health? What is your opinion of cash-only or self-pay medical practices? Are you able to access this top tier medical system or is the admission price preventing you from getting the kind of medical care they provide?
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