Some patients think primary care is worthless

How much is a primary care appointment worth?

Not much, it appears.

Physicians in California decided to embark on an innovative idea, asking patients to simply pay them what they thought the visit was worth.

Here’s how it worked:

On the day of the events, no insurance was accepted. Care was provided only to the uninsured, who were asked to pay what they could afford. Laboratory tests were provided at cost, and patients who needed additional services were referred to various public resources. Practices also handed out lists of generic medications available for reduced prices at large, discount pharmacies.

Physicians who accept Medicare are not allowed to include Medicare beneficiaries in any pay-what-you-can program.

Although patients did value the visit, they grossly underestimated its cost. Of course, some paid nothing, others paid as much as $100 for the appointments that lasted from 10 minutes to 1 hour.The bottom line, however, was that none of the doctors were able to financially sustain such a practice for more than a single day.

And therein lies the disconnect between the actual cost of providing primary care and what patients perceive that number to be. Until we better bridge that gap, it’s unlikely that primary care will escape its financial woes anytime soon.