We initially came to this area in 1997 when the small community hospital hired us. My wife, Dr. Annika Brown, a family physician, wanted more autonomy with patients and we decided to branch out on our own. We opened and ran a very successful family practice office for seven years. We took a risk and did fine financially.
In 2011, when health care costs were going up, almost all of the local businesses moved their employees to high deductible insurance plans. Many of our patients now had to pay us [more] out of pocket until they met their deductible and their insurance kicked in.
A primary care doctor's bill is maybe $80 to $150, never high enough to cover the entire deductible. Patients aren't in the habit of paying the full amount for an office visit. So when we sent them the bill, many thought it was a mistake, or we didn't get a response.
In the meantime, half of our revenue went through the floor. Meanwhile, we are spending a lot of time and labor filling out all the exhausting billing requirements. By August of 2011, we realized we couldn't stay in business. We sold our practice of 4,000 to 5,000 patients to the hospital, and now we are employed by the same hospital.
There is no independent local option left for primary care in our area of 6,000 people. The hospital owns and runs, at a loss, all nine local primary care practices. The downside is that if the hospital loses revenue and goes out of business, there will be no doctors left in the area.
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