New trend in the Sooner State: Paying cash for health care

OKLAHOMA CITY – Waves of patients continue to travel from around the country to an Oklahoma surgery center for the promise of affordable health care.

WATCH: 2013 NewsChannel 4 report on ‘Shopping For Surgery’

According to Dr. Keith Smith from Surgery Center of Oklahoma, the 2013 news story was the beginning of millions of dollars in health care savings.

“In one day I had 70 patient requests.” said Smith. “It just was off-the-charts after the piece you guys did. It was unbelievable.”

The phones have been ringing off the hook ever since.

Patients travel from 49 of 50 states for what Surgery Center calls “price transparency.”

At SurgeryCenterOK.com prices for every procedure are posted online; find your surgery, the price is guaranteed.

They are hiring at Surgery Center of Oklahoma to keep up with demand, and the facility is considering plans for two more operating rooms.

“We can triple what we’re doing now. We’re still very hungry. We’re still anxious for more and more people and businesses to find out about what we’re doing.” said Smith.

Health care spending in the U.S., according to OECD health data, reached an all-time high in 2011, $2.7 trillion, an average of $8,680 per person.

While it’s still unclear what effect The Affordable Care Act will have on medical spending, the U.S. has been on an uphill climb for decades, outpacing every other industrialized country on the planet.

Price transparency has never been more important to consumers.

According to Dr. Smith and his medical partner, Dr. Steven Lantier, when they started streamlining their services, the price actually went down!

“Over the past four years (since posting prices online) our prices have gone down, not up.” Dr. Lantier said. “When we see we’re making an adequate profit that’s good enough we just go down. We don’t have to gouge.”

Medical insurance claim expert Jay Kempton said shrinking prices is unheard in medical billing.

“In my 21 years, health care inflation has never been flat.” Kempton said. “There’s only one thing drives the cost of insurance and that’s the cost of claims.”

Jay Kempton works for companies with self-insured health plans. His company, The Kempton Group, pays employee medical bills out of the operating budget for Oklahoma businesses.

“I don’t sell insurance.” Kempton said. “I actually process the claims. I see where the dollars go.”

The Kempton Group is now posting prices online too.

They are working with providers who can’t post their prices online because of federal medicare regulations.

About a dozen Oklahoma City medical facilities have joined Surgery Center of Oklahoma in making their prices public, either by posting them online, or through The Kempton Group website.

Surgery Center of Oklahoma is able to post on their own website, which is a violation of medicare regulation, because they do not accept medicare patients.

“These are providers who have chosen to compete for your business based on price and quality, just like a car dealership or anybody else. So having those prices on our website is very important to us and to our clients.” Kempton said.

Healthcare costs have grown so rapidly, medical bills and insurance premiums have virtually wiped out any real income growth the average Oklahoma family might have seen in the past decade.

Paying cash for care is catching on in other areas of medicine, including a network of 13 doctors who practice in several areas of medicine all around Oklahoma.

The physicians are not surgeons. They are part of the MDVIP network.

Patients who participate pay what amounts to a yearly “membership” for unlimited health care.

Dr. Michael Crawford is an internal medicine specialist who has practiced in Oklahoma City 27 years.

“In my experience patients are becoming consumers in their own right. (They are) looking up things and seeing what’s the best value.” said Dr. Crawford.

Crawford changed his practice a few years ago when he joined MDVIP.

For $120 a month, patients like Rick Jackson get unlimited care.

“It’s just peace of mind. That’s what it comes down to for me.” said Jackson.

Jackson is diabetic. His 60th birthday isn’t far off, and he likes the idea of having a doctor available 24/7.

“I can pick up the phone and doc is on call for me 24/7. If I’m traveling out-of-town, and I have an issue, I have a doctor I can get ahold of.” Jackson said.

Dr. Crawford believes consumer driven medicine is the way to go. “We have to put it in the hands of the patient who says, ‘This is my budget. How best can I use it?’”

In many cases consumer driven medicine eliminates the middleman.

It is an interesting new take on old-fashioned economics.

“When providers have been freed to compete for patients openly and honestly, more and more of the facilities are starting to come to this concept.” Kempton said.

In Oklahoma, a growing number of patients are making informed decisions about the best value for their hard-earned dollars.

“It really empowers the physician to feel like you’re doing something for the patient directly when you have nobody between you, insurance entities regulations and such, and the patient.” said Dr. Crawford. “It’s about the most direct relationship there is.”

Rick Jackson, who says he’ll have no reservations about quitting the MDVIP membership if he ever finds it to be a waste of money, believes he is getting a heck of a deal right now. “It is worth the money for me.”

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