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Doctor running for lieutenant governor swears by ‘direct primary care’ model

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Above image credit: Josh Umbehr has operated a direct medical care practice in Wichita since 2010. Rather than bill insurance companies for his services, he charges a monthly membership fee of $10 for kids and $50 for adults for unlimited visits, texts, phone calls, discounted prescription medications and in-office services. Photo: Kevin Brown

Wichita physician Josh Umbehr has never understood the traditional model of health care reimbursement — the one in which doctors and hospitals fill out pages of forms to bill a patient’s insurance company for everything from a $3 test to a $30,000 surgery.

“You don’t have car insurance for gasoline,” Umbehr said in a recent phone interview. “Why would you have health insurance for family practice?” With that philosophy in mind, Umbehr has operated on a kind of service plan for the human body since he opened his practice in 2010.

He sees hundreds of patients at his Wichita clinic, AtlasMD, but he bills no insurance companies. Instead, he charges a monthly membership fee of $10 for kids and $50 for adults for unlimited visits, texts, phone calls, discounted prescription medications and a slew of in-office services like stitching wounds and removing lesions.

“Any procedure we can do in the office is included free of charge,” Umbehr said. It’s what used to be called “concierge medicine,” and it used to be mostly for wealthy people. But Umbehr and others in the small but growing monthly-fee model prefer to call it “direct primary care” because they say they’re offering it at prices now accessible to the masses.

Umbehr, who now has two partners and a patient list of more than 1,600, is one of the more high-profile direct primary care physicians in the country. AtlasMD has been written up in the Wichita Business Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, and Umbehr, 33, spends a chunk of his time these days helping other doctors disillusioned with the traditional insurance model start their own direct primary care practices.

“We had doctors out today, we have doctors out Tuesday, we have a medical student with us,” Umbehr said just before the Labor Day weekend. “The momentum for this is picking up. When I started four years ago, they said this would never work or they doubted it. Now I’ll be traveling three of the next four weeks lecturing on this.” Umbehr also is running for lieutenant governor as a Libertarian with his father, Alma attorney Keen Umbehr, at the top of the ticket.

Related documents: Atlas MC Patient Agreement

Andy Marso reports for the Heartland Health Monitor team, a reporting collaboration among KCUR Public Media, KCPT Public Television and KHI News Service. This article originally appeared on KHI’s web site.

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