At the end of three frustrating days trying to find a doctor who would see me for a minor malady, a friend shot me a link to this: LiveHealthOnline. He said he gets all his prescriptions this way. Call anytime. It’s 24/7. He once called at 4am. No insurance necessary. The visit is $50 and takes about 10 minutes.
I was incredulous. How can this be? But I was ready to try anything.
One might think that the goal of any health care system would be to get high-quality, fast service at a reasonable price. One might think. I vaguely recall that 15 years ago, thanks to the rise of Urgent Care clinics, this was possible. Also, private health insurance was available at reasonable prices consistent with your risk profile, and you could pick a plan that fits one’s needs.
Then came Obamacare. Prices of everything soared and now people routinely worry about access. We speak of the problem of being underinsured, which the CommonwealthFund describes as follows: “More people who have coverage are underinsured now than in 2010, with the greatest increase occurring among those in employer plans. People who are underinsured or spend any time uninsured report cost-related problems getting care and difficulty paying medical bills at higher rates…”
Of course. Deductibles are up ten times in ten years, from $800 to $8,000. So you can’t afford to use the health care you have, but there’s another problem: finding ways even to spend the money you do have. It’s not always easy.
I had tried to get a general practitioner but after hours of calling I couldn’t find anyone who would see me until three months from now. I called specialists but they said they couldn’t see me without a referral from a general practitioner. It was a circuitous mess. Then there’s the problem with insurance too: everyone knows now that no medical provider is required to accept everyone’s insurance.
So you call your insurer to get a list. Then you call people on the list. Even if they accept your insurance, they still have to make a spot for you, and they are free to decline or make you wait months.
Here I am paying ten times for health insurance from 10 years ago, and I can’t see a doctor. Health care is unaffordable in this country, and now we see rationing taking place in ways other than price. Now you wait, if you can find someone to see you. The emergency room is always open but they are extremely limited in what they can and will do. Mostly, they try to slough you off on another doctor who won’t see you.
Hey, none of this is surprising. Health insurance is still mostly employer-provided, thus reducing consumer control. Insurers are not allowed to put together insurance pools based on real risk much less reward healthy over unhealthy people, thus affecting the incentive for lifestyle changes. Doctors are flooded with paperwork and compliance with insurance mandates, so the consumer is a low concern. We aren’t even allowed to pick and choose which services we want since these packages too are cobbled together by legislation, not by market forces.
It’s a complete mess. Everyone knows it. But there is such a lack of clarity about the problem that most politicians can’t think of any solution other than to put government in charge of everything and throw trillions more dollars at it, through ridiculous plans that are untenable financially and unworkable economically.
Meanwhile, there is a modicum of market forces still at work. And the solution of going online and getting a low-priced solution is one answer. No one in Washington put this idea in a plan. It just happened through entrepreneurship, technological savvy, figuring out what is still legal, and then acting. I have no idea how many people use this service. One problem is that advertising in health care is extremely limited. They have to be extremely judicious in presenting themselves, which is one reason you might not have heard of this company.
A quick google reveals not only the company I used but another dozen or so trying to make a go of it. But I do wonder about their prospects. Every person I’ve mentioned this service to was surprised to know that it even exists or that such a thing is even legal at all.
To be sure, the doctor might ask for lab details of your particular problem but that is something you can overcome just by visiting a lab and getting a blood test. There are other ways you can get x-rays and other data. These are real doctors doing this and they want to do the best job they can.
The bigger point here is that this service points to the real answer in health care. It is not going to come from a plan from the top. It is going to come from markets. Markets can be encouraged to develop through deregulation. Washington needs to act to liberalize the sector and allow entrepreneurs and consumers to work out their own deals. We are missing so much by failing to do this.
Online medical care is glorious but still in its infancy. It can grow and become wonderful – even universal – if only Washington would wise up and realize that the future of quality medicine rests with market innovation. For now, and at least for me in this instance, it is already a life saver.