A Blair physician will be the first in Washington County to offer a new health care model, which has become a growing trend and an alternative to the traditional health care system.
Dr. Amber Beckenhauer, who previously practiced at the Blair Clinic, will open The Healthy Human, 407 S. 19th St., on Wednesday and provide what is called direct primary care.
Her patients will pay a monthly membership fee, ranging from $15 to $99 based on age, in exchange for free office visits, including wellness exams and treatment of illnesses. They'll also get her cell phone number and email address to call, text or email any time of the day or night.
Patients will also see longer visits rather than the seven to 15-minute visits they may get in a regular health care system, where doctors may have a patient panel of 1,500 to 2,500 people. In direct primary care, providers typically see 800 to 1,000 patients.
“In a traditional system, you'd be getting billed on about average $150 just for the visit,” Beckenhauer said. “If you get labs or any type of X-rays on top of that, you're paying extra.”
Memberships exclude emergency room visits, hospitalizations, accidents or surgery. Beckenhauer said patients should still carry a high-deductible insurance to cover those catastrophic events. However, if a patient is hospitalized at Memorial Community Hospital & Health System, Beckenhauer can see them for an additional fee.
Due to government regulations, Beckenhauer can't see people who are on Medicare and Medicaid.
“No one can pay a membership fee if they're on a government-based insurance,” Beckenauer said.
Beckenhauer can also dispense medication that she buys at wholesale, which she can then sell at a lower cost to her patients. Labs and X-rays are also done at negotiated rates with other facilities.
Nurse practitioner Melanie Dresden will also see patients at Beckenhauer's office. LPN Emily Beckman will work part time.
A bill, sponsored by Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, passed in 2016 and paved the way for direct primary care clinics in Nebraska.
“Direct primary care is an innovative health care reform model which can improve access to medical care, reduce the use of emergency departments for non-emergent primary care use and reduce health care costs,” Riepe said in his statement of intent for the bill.
On Wednesday, Riepe, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, introduced another direct primary care bill, which would adopt the Direct Primary Care Pilot Program as an option for state employees.
“Since the adoption of the Direct Primary Care Act in 2016, direct primary care is gaining momentum throughout the State of Nebraska,” Riepe said in a press release. “State employees should be allowed to have the option to participate in unlimited access to comprehensive primary care services and increased opportunities to build a strong patient-practitioner relationship.
Nebraska is the second state to consider a Direct Primary Care Pilot Program. New Jersey implemented a pilot program to include direct primary care services for state employees in 2016.
The first direct primary care clinic to open in the state was Access Family Medicine in Lincoln by Dr. Todd Johnson in July 2016.
Johnson and Dr. John Jacobsen, who operates Click Family Healthcare in Kearney, are both mentors to Beckenhauer. She researched other direct primary care clinics and consulted with them before making the decision to open her own clinic.
She was amazed at how easy the clinics appeared to work.
“They said it's just going back to the roots of medicine and charging people what it used to be, full transparency and helping the blue collar workers,” Beckenhauer said.
After visiting several clinics, Beckenhauer realized she wanted to do the same.
“When I saw how this direct primary care thing went and how the patients all loved it because it was complete transparency,” she said. “They knew what they were going to pay before they walked out the door, let alone before it even happened to them.”