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Jesse’s Story of the Day

Jesse looks into medical membership fee at local doctor’s office

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Pay an extra fee — or you can’t see your doctor.  That’s the message patients received from their Poulsbo doctor’s office.

“I had steam coming out of my ears.  I’m still mad,” former Sound Family Health patient Sandra Ring said.

Ring, and more than 7,000 other patients received an email from Sound Family Health, saying adults will have to pay an annual fee of $150 dollars just to keep seeing their doctors.

Former patient Brian Stufflebeam is also upset about the change.

“So basically, it says pay more or you’re out,” Stufflebeam said.

Caren Sloan, the administrator of the independent clinic, says insurance companies just aren’t paying out enough to keep the business healthy.

“The reimbursements from insurance companies have continued to decline over the years we’ve been in business, and we’re just not able to absorb that extra cost,” Sloan said.

Starting July 15th, adults will pay $150 dollars a year if they pay in advance.  Additional adults are $135 dollars a year, and the first three kids are $25.

“It covers all of the costs.” Sound Family Health consultant Dennis Vogt said, “And there’s also enough patients in here so they get the right amount of office revenue.  It just all balances out.”

Sandra Ring says the fee means she will not be able to see the doctor she’s had for 13 years.

“The whole clinic is nice. They are friendly,” Ring said.  “I have a feeling the insurance company is screwing them, but you can’t treat people like that.”

Brian Stufflebeam said the clinic shouldn’t cut into patients’ wallets because their deal with insurers isn’t working out.

“They’ve agreed to the terms that the providers are offering and their payment schedule,” Stufflebeam said.  “And now, that’s unsatisfactory and they want to subsidize their income by charging the patient and yet offering no additional health benefit.”

Aaron Katz, a professor with the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, says smaller independent clinics like Sound Family Health are merging because of rising technology and regulatory costs.

“They’ve become part of larger practices and it’s in those larger practices that they get economies of scale they are able to afford these new innovations that are being required by larger health systems and insurance companies,” Katz explained.

That appears to be the high price the doctors at Sound Family Health are paying.

“It’s very important for them to stay independent and not have corporate rules to follow,” Sloan said.

With those costs being passed down to patients, Brian Stufflebeam is learning freedom isn’t free.

“It’s really not about the amount,” Stufflebeam said.  “It wouldn’t matter if it were 50 cents or $50 dollars.  To me, it’s the principle.”

The clinic’s administrator says she isn’t concerned if patients leave.

“If we lost patients through this, we will be able to open our doors and call people on that waiting list and get people in,” Sloan explained.  “It’s hard to stomach I think, but I bet some of them will come back once they test what’s out there.”

Patients at Sound Family Health have until mid-July to make a decision.  The doctor’s office says it’s lost about 150 patients so far.

Some larger providers do ask patients to pay facility fees.  So if you are paying medical fees anywhere, let me know about it here.

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