Dr. Michael Ciampi of South Portland, Maine has come up with a new plan to bypass the hassles of dealing with insurance companies as middlemen: he stopped accepting insurance altogether, effective April 1st of this year. However, despite what one may assume, this has actually allowed Dr. Ciampi to charge his patients less than he did before the change. Sun Journal reports:
[T]he decision to do away with insurance allows Ciampi to practice medicine the way he sees fit, he said. Insurance companies no longer dictate how much he charges. He can offer discounts to patients struggling with their medical bills. He can make house calls.
“I’m freed up to do what I think is right for the patients,” Ciampi said. “If I’m providing them a service that they value, they can pay me, and we cut the insurance out as the middleman and cut out a lot of the expense.”
“I’ve been able to cut my prices in half because my overhead will be so much less,” he said.
Before, Ciampi charged $160 for an office visit with an existing patient facing one or more complicated health problems. Now, he charges $75.
Patients with an earache or strep throat can spend $300 at their local hospital emergency room, or promptly get an appointment at his office and pay $50, he said.
“If more doctors were able to do this, that would be real health care reform,” he said. “That’s when we’d see the cost of medicine truly go down.”
Dr. Ciampi’s nontraditional approach has put him in a position where he has to compete in the free market to retain patients and gain new ones. In fact, he may have taken the first step toward a watershed solution for health care reform — complete free market competition. Doctors will have to balance prices versus demand. Patients will have the option to do their due diligence and balance price versus experience & expertise. Dr. Ciampi’s strategy has the potential to allow doctors to treat patients in ways not approved by many insurance companies (e.g., house calls). But probably the most important benefit would be that it can empower patients to tailor their medical care to their individual needs.
At this time, there is no way to know whether Dr. Ciampi’s business plan would work at a larger level. As one anecdotal example, one of my physicians has stopped accepting insurance but the prices for services have not changed.
But we fervent believers in a completely free market can dream, right?