WMCFH Gets A Good Checkup

May 28, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The new medical model has made it through its first year and the founder of the pioneering business said the last dozen months have been both thrilling and therapeutic.

The West Michigan Center for Family Health, 1425 Michigan Ave. NE, starts its second year on Thursday right after it recognizes its first one on Wednesday with an open house.

"It has been exciting," said Beth Boltinghouse, who with John Lemke, D.O., opened the center on June 2, 2003.

Boltinghouse told the Business Journal that WMCFH already has 2,000 patients, about a quarter of the number she eventually hopes to serve.

"Our patient satisfaction is really good," she said. "Obviously we haven't gotten our full capacity of patients, yet. But we have been able to help a lot of folks who otherwise wouldn't have insurance, and haven't had insurance or regular medical care."

Seven employers have signed on with the center, which provides affordable primary care for the business's employees and then helps find them suitable catastrophic insurance as part of a package. The first firm that joined WMCFH looked to save $42,000 on its annual health-care costs, and the center expects to see more businesses come to the table this year.

"This is a such a new model that there were a lot of folks that didn't believe we would be around for a year. They were kind of waiting to see us make that year to say, 'Maybe this is real and not too good to be true,'" said Boltinghouse, who also owns QCI Nurse Specialists.

Boltinghouse knows first-hand how difficult it can be for an entry with a new business practice to find clients in a time-honored and congested industry.

QCI, which uses the center for pre-employment physicals and drug screens, wanted a potential employee to join the firm. But the applicant hesitated in doing that because she didn't want to change physicians. Once she met Lemke, though, she changed her mind.

"By the time she left the center, she went back to QCI and told them she didn't know why she waited so long because she was so impressed with the doctor, she couldn't wait to switch," said Boltinghouse.

Providing health coverage for QCI employees is what drove Boltinghouse to open the center. Like a lot of small-business owners, she wasn't able to keep up with the double-digit premium increases on her health plan each year, and neither were her workers.

So Boltinghouse started the Discount Card of America, which allowed her to attract other health-care service providers and then open WMCFH.

The discount card costs an individual $25 a year and a family $50. The center offers its patients a year's worth of care — which includes checkups, physicals, illness management, simple surgeries and other primary treatments — for $250, a charge unlikely to go up soon.

"We don't foresee that changing for several years, " said Boltinghouse of the annual fee.

X-rays also are available at the center, as are on-site prescriptions from Bill's Pills.

Owned by William Overkamp, the pharmacy is one of the nation's very few insurance-free drug stores. Overkamp said he is able to sell prescriptions for less because he doesn't negotiate drug prices with insurers and doesn't do third-party billing, two things he said bumps up costs to consumers.

In addition to Lemke, who left Spectrum Health Primary Care Partners to become the center's medical director, nurse practitioner JoLynn Mulder also serves patients. The center promises that any patient with an urgent medical need will be seen within 24 hours, and that is why WMCFH has a cutoff point of 8,000 patients.

"The model is working very well and it continues to grow every day," said Boltinghouse.

"We've still been able to save all of the employers who signed up with us a significant amount of money and provide them with quality care," she added.

Boltinghouse explained that the festivities planned at the center on Wednesday aren't solely a celebration. In fact, she said, much of that day is likely to resemble Thanksgiving.

"We're going to throw an open house in order to thank all the patients and folks that have helped make this year successful for us," she said, "like Quest Diagnostics, which has given our patients a discount for their lab work."    

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