If there’s profit involved in some aspect of the human condition, America’s big money investors will try to find a way to inflate the price and take a cut. The latest profit-from-suffering scheme is to try to grab a slice of the revenue stream from urgent care clinics that are not part of hospitals.
But what is happening here is also playing out across the nation, as private equity investment firms, sensing opportunity, invest billions in urgent care and related businesses. Since 2008, these investors have sunk $2.3 billion into urgent care clinics. Commercial insurance companies, regional health systems and local hospitals are also looking to buy urgent care practices or form business relationships with them.
The business model is simple: Treat many patients as quickly as possible. Urgent care is a low-margin, high-volume proposition. At PhysicianOne here, most people are in and out in about 30 minutes. The national average charge runs about $155 per patient visit. Do 30 or 35 exams a day, and the money starts to add up.
Urgent care clinics also have a crucial business advantage over traditional hospital emergency rooms in that they can cherry-pick patients. Most of these centers do not accept Medicaid and turn away the uninsured unless they pay upfront. Hospital E.R.s, by contrast, are legally obligated to treat everyone.
I suppose it would be too much to suggest not trying to introduce a profit motive into every single thing — or to treat every citizen as a potential cash cow. Too much to ask that people only be asked to pay the actual cost of their urgent health care without having to pay extra to make billionaires wealthier. Don’t even suggest that this could be made a public function.