Center Still Has Room

September 28, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Beth Boltinghouse was one of those business owners whose firm was priced out of the health insurance market. As president of QCI Nurse Specialists, she saw premiums for her company and her employees rise higher and faster than either could handle financially.

So Boltinghouse decided to do something about that increasingly dismal situation. She invented a discount card, created a provider network and opened a primary-care facility that offers care to more than 3,000 local residents.

“You know, if you’re going to complain, you have two choices: shut up or do something about it, and you can tell that I’m not quiet,” said Boltinghouse, who was concerned that her health-care workers wouldn’t have access to affordable health care.

Her WestMichiganCenter for Family Health, at

1425 Michigan Ave. NE
, opened a little more than two years ago with a goal of providing primary care to 8,000, either through employers or to individuals.

She enlisted Dr. John Lemke to be her medical director, and Sarah Burgress to be her nurse practitioner. Together they have offered checkups, physicals, simple surgeries, illness management, X-rays and other primary services since June 2003. The charge is a flat annual fee of $250 plus $25 for the discount card.

“So it’s $275 total,” she said of what the center charges for a year’s worth of care.

To round out their clients’ care, the WestMichiganCenter for Family Health hooks them up with an insurance provider who offers an extensive range of policies that covers inpatient services, outpatient surgeries the center doesn’t perform, and special tests like an MRI.

“There are policies out there that totally exclude wellness and office visits, and we work with that. We work with HSAs (Health Savings Accounts); you can use HSA money with us. Also, we work with the high deductible policy, say the $2,000 or $3,000 deductible, and if they spend more than their deductible, they get reimbursed at 100 percent,” said Boltinghouse.

Master Plaster Patchers became the first company to enroll its employees in the center’s primary-care plan back in October of 2003. Doing so allowed the business to chop its annual health-care bill from $60,000 to $18,000. Since then a number of other firms have come onboard, and Boltinghouse said there is room for more.

“Actually, just in the last couple of months we’ve signed up a couple new companies, and we continue to get individuals, as well. We have a lot of Realtors signed up with us because they’re independent contractors,” she said.

Some employers are paying the entire annual fee for their workers, while others are splitting the cost with employees through small payroll deductions. Some are also picking up the whole tab for the insurance coverage, while others are paying for part of that coverage and letting employees pay for a portion.

Boltinghouse, who still runs QCI, lets business owners decide for themselves who pays for what and how it gets paid.

“We offer different things for businesses. Let’s say a company has 25 employees. Instead of having to come up with the whole amount all at once, we let them pay us over time, like on a monthly basis,” she said.

“The other thing that we do for employers is, if they’re providing at 100 percent for their employees, we give them an option of either giving it to the employees or buying the spot (at the center). Let’s say if an employee leaves in three months and the company had purchased the spot, they have the option of keeping it for a new employee, or calling us and saying they are no longer under our program,” she added.

Boltinghouse created the Discount Card of America, which is what her clients get for $25 a year, to keep the center from being classified as an HMO. The cards let her establish a small network of outside providers that gives her clients discounted services and allows the center to offer primary care without being part of the insurance world.

Employers interested in learning more about the WestMichiganCenter for Family Health may call (616) 233-0933.    

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