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How Important is Primary Care?

As health costs continue to rise, many people have decided that primary care is not worth the expense, a conclusion that's a big mistake for a variety of reasons. For example, many conditions are easily treatable when caught in their early stages. In fact if you think about the words "primary care", you'll realize that primary care clinicians are your first line of defense against a variety of health care problems.

The Value of a Personal Physician

One of the most important aspects of primary care is the value of seeing someone who knows you, your health problems, and your personal values. With a primary care provider, you're not just a number, but a person, and the longer you stay with a primary care provider you like and trust, the deeper this relationship grows.

Your primary care provider assesses your general health, takes care of chronic health problems, and provides personalized, comprehensive care.

Coordinating Your Healthcare

Primary care clinicians are the medical personnel who identify and then delegate your health care problems to the appropriate specialists, many of whom will not even see a patient without a referral from a primary care provider. In other words, without primary care, you may not get the care you need.

The Reasons for Resistance

Healthcare is expensive, and for the uninsured, primary care is often viewed as unnecessary, since it focuses more on prevention than "cure". The uninsured weigh their medical decisions carefully against the potential cost, often waiting until they're really sick or have an obvious injury that isn't likely to get better on its own before they seek health care.

Similarly, those with high-deductible health insurance plans often don't fully understand that most HDHP policies cover preventive care such as an annual physical and various screenings (e.g., blood pressure, cholesterol), as well as vaccinations to prevent things like the flu and the classic childhood diseases (measles, mumps, chickenpox, etc.). These (and many more) preventive care services are usually covered even if you haven't met your deductible.

Thinking Outside of the Healthcare Box

For those who fall into the low-income, uninsured category, it's important to realize that there are alternatives to waiting for serious illness to strike before seeking medical care. Even though it may be tougher to find affordable health care if you are uninsured, there are still options. Consider the following resources ...

  • MEDICARE - If you haven't done so already, check to see if you're eligible for Medicare. Each state manages its Medicare program eligibility standards, but if you happen to live in a state that has expanded its Medicare program, you may be eligible if you live alone and make less than $16,243, or if you have a family (maximum of 4) and make less than $33,465 annually.
  • CASH ONLY PROVIDER - Believe it or not, there are health care providers who choose not to deal with insurance and operate on a cash only basis. (When seeking them out, look for cash-only clinics, direct primary care or concierge-based medicine.) Because they're not paying administrative staff to manage insurance claims, they often pass the savings on to their patients.
  • COMMUNITY HEALTH CLINICS - Research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that these clinics perform as well -- and in some cases better -- than private-practice clinics.  And according to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the ACA  (as long as it exists in its present form) is contributing $11 billion over 5 years towards expansion and additional staffing for these clinics, which offer sliding-fee scales and special services specifically geared toward the uninsured.
  • COMPARISON SHOP - Yes, you can comparison shop for health care in the same way you compare prices between competing grocery or discount stores. You just have to know where to look. For healthcare comparisons, check out websites like OKCopay and the Healthcare Bluebook.
  • NEGOTIATE - Even after the fact, you can always negotiate a payment plan on a health care bill that's too high for you to pay. In fact, both doctors and hospitals often offer discounts to those who lack insurance coverage.

Whether you're uninsured, under-insured, unemployed or under-employed, don't give in to the temptation to go without the basic health care provided by primary care. As you can see, a little effort can go a long way toward protecting both your health and your bank book!