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Sunday, Nov 27, 2022
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Urgent Care Prefers Cash, Not Coverage

A Glendale urgent care clinic is simplifying its economic model by charging fixed prices for cash-paying patients. For most of its patients, Urgent 9 Urgent Care Center bypasses insurance companies. It offers a full gamut of services, including X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds as well as state-of-the-art virtual visits. “What we do is try to provide the best service using a cost-effective, transparent price system, so patients feel like they get the best care and get a diagnosis when seen,” said Dr. Manuel Momjian, a founding doctor of the care facility. He started the clinic in 2008 with a partner who is no longer with the practice. They bought equipment to expand the clinic’s offerings beyond what a typical doctor’s office provides. Also, they decided to list prices for all Urgent 9 services on the clinic’s website. For example, a patient can get a physical exam for $149, a urine analysis for $30 as well as an X-ray or electrocardiogram for $100 each. In addition, Urgent 9 offers its own “everything health plan.” For a one-time fee of $499, the patient is guaranteed all in-office services for one week to fix whatever ailment he or she may have. “What we guarantee is the patient will get all of these services – basic blood, imaging, small procedures, IV (intravenous) fluids – all within the $499 price,” said Momjian. “When the diagnosis can’t be made in one day, we bring them back in and they don’t have to worry about paying more.” However, one expert believes the model bears risks for the business as well as the patient. Dr. Nadereh Pourat, director of UCLA’s Center for Health Economics and Evaluation Research Program, believes the clinic is taking a risk by assuming there are going to be enough patients willing to pay out of pocket. For the patient, she said without the standards required by insurance to be part of a network, the clinic isn’t held to as stringent requirements as insurance-based providers. “Most insurance companies these days provide a lot of oversight,” she said. “When going outside of that system, it’s just a transaction between the patient and provider. … The only accountability in terms of patient safety would be a lawsuit.” However, taking insurance out of the equation reduces Momjian’s administrative costs and overhead, because the billing process becomes straightforward. This allows Urgent 9 to charge patients lower prices, which attracts around 20 to 30 patients a day, seven days a week. Although Urgent 9 accepts some insurance, most patients who opt to pay cash are uninsured. But some insured customers are willing to pay up just to avoid the insurance hassle. “People are finding it’s cheaper to go out and pay cash for basic medical needs, even though they (the federal government) are forcing us to buy insurance,” said Momjian. “It’s not really working for people.” – Stephanie Henkel

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