Doctor, healthcare

Montana is adopting a new form of healthcare where the billing and payment agreement made between a doctor and their patient does not involve insurance.

Direct primary care is a monthly membership health care plan. Under this plan, the patients' health insurance will not be billed or accepted. Cole Whitmoyer is the first and only physician to have direct primary care in Billings. He is a family nurse practitioner at his recently-opened business Flex Family Health.

"It's an alternative healthcare model and basically, what the model is is a direct contract between the provider and the patient and what that allows us to do is cut out insurance so we don't have to do all the extra paperwork to please the insurance companies," Whitmoyer said.

At Flex Family Health, patients will pay $59 per month for an individual membership or $149 per month for family memberships.

"We like people to have health insurance because we can't do everything, catastrophic things, but we target people with high deductible insurance as well as anybody who wants more time with their provider," Whitmoyer said. "If you're not insured, it's a great option for them as well."

Morena Garcia is a small business owner in town and a new member of Flex Family Health. She said it is important to her to have good communication and the ability to check in about her health.

"The only insurance I can afford is the 'If I get hit by a bus plan,'" Garcia said. "Now that I know more about this model, I feel like if I had a cold, or something where maybe I need antibiotics, this is a great place to come."

Trevor Daer is also a member at Flex Family Health. Being a part of a family of six, he is also appreciates great communication.

"What we really liked about Cole's model for our family, we've got four kids, is just the convenience," Daer said. "The ability to text or call directly pretty much no wait and a very reasonable cost."

Bozeman primary care opened it's doors around the same time as Billings. Physician Terry Edwards and nurse practitioner Melissa Blixt are co-founders of Bozeman Healthcare. Individual patients there pay a flat rate of $99 per month. For a family of four or more, membership would cost $299.

"Business rates, it's significantly less than that. Depending on how many employees you have in your business," Edwards said.

Edwards said the community response has been overwhelmingly positive toward this new healthcare model.

"I don't think there's anyone that has said anything negative about the model. So, we're very enthusiastic about moving forward," Edwards said.

Blixt said that they are already seeing a huge decline in patients in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

"Healthcare costs in general can tend to go down when you have folks going to see their primary care provider more often and because we can offer the membership fee, people are going to see us more often since they're not thinking, 'Oh gosh, it's going to cost me x amount of money every time I come in,'" Blixt said.

Outside of Billings and Bozeman, direct primary care facilities can be found in Missoula, Polson and Kalispell. Washington also has numerous options and a couple are starting to grow in Idaho.

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