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How Much Is A Primary Care Visit Worth To You?

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 patients paid nothing, while 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.

*This blog post was originally published at*

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One Response to “How Much Is A Primary Care Visit Worth To You?”

  1. JP Saleeby, MD says:


    Following your posts. Maybe the answer is telehealth, telemedicine. Since some 70% of minor complaints don’t actually require a PCP or ED visits and there are 123 Million ED visits a year these days, a whole lot of them non-urgent or non-emergent it only makes sense to have a system in place to screen out the non-emergent, low acuity complaints, solve them in a very cost and time effective/efficient way and de-burden our EDs. It has been my experience in the last 10-years of offering online telehealth services (, that it does work. You have to have “balls” to treat a patient via phone/ video conference call and know what your limitations are. But it works, it reduces overhead for the doctors and cost savings are passed to the patients. There are a number of plans out there, some good, some not so good. DAT lab testing ( for example) is also a way to help lower cost to consumer for annual lab tests.

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