Concierge health care delivers medical perks for a price

Stephanie Taylor Christensen

For patients who complain about a lack of face time with their doctors, concierge health care sounds pretty appealing. If you can afford a physician's retainer fee, it's an attractive health care model for both doctors and patients. Patients benefit from around-the-clock access to their doctor, house calls, near-immediate appointment access, flexible scheduling outside traditional office hours and personalized service, according to myMD, which provides retainer-based medical care.

Physicians who have grown tired of endless bargaining with insurance companies also might benefit from the so-called "boutique health care" model. It allows them to provide more personalized care, reduce paperwork and take on a more flexible patient load (instead of squeezing more appointments in to get more compensation from health insurance companies), according to the American College of Physicians.

The catch? Concierge health care can be quite expensive and often operates outside traditional health insurance coverage. Concierge health care is about equal parts service and medical treatment. But the term "concierge" doesn't necessarily mean "VIP" treatment. Patients who expect longer visits with a physician, preferential scheduling or a more luxurious experience than traditional health care offers should make sure that those services are explicitly stated in the concierge plan.

While it has cheerleaders, critics maintain that concierge health care is just a variance of the "have and have-not" mentality. Ethicists argue that it allows the wealthy to get privileged health care, while the masses continue to suffer in a broken health care system, according to the American College of Physicians.

Because concierge health care is relatively new, costs and benefits vary. Concierge annual or monthly service fees generally are not covered by insurance and can be paid by check, credit card or debit card, or through a payment plan, according to Concierge Choice Physicians, a provider of concierge care. The American College of Physicians estimates that annual concierge retainer fees cost anywhere from $900 to $20,000.

While not all concierge services refuse to work with the health insurance system, many physicians enter into the model to reduce paperwork and insurance dealings. In those cases, patients should be prepared to handle such tasks if they want to pursue insurance claims. That said, the model isn't for everyone. A common concierge service client generally is from the upper middle class and above. According to the American College of Physicians, many are middle-age entrepreneurs and wealthy seniors.