Can “Retail Medicine” Fix the Healthcare Cost Crisis?

It’s no secret that healthcare costs in the United States are unsustainably high. Democrats and Republicans, patients and doctors all agree that America spends too much money and achieves too poor outcomes. Solutions often target insurance requirements and costs, but too few of those solutions address the high charges for medical goods and services. Now, some experts are suggesting that “retail medicine” might be the cure for an ailing healthcare system.

Retail Medicine


What Is Retail Medicine?

Retail medicine refers to healthcare services where the patient pays the provider directly at the point of sale, according to the Modern Medicine Network. Retail medicine includes the retail clinics in drugstores such as CVS and Walgreens as well as concierge doctors, cosmetic surgery and LASIK eye surgery, according to Forbes. While rarer, even hospitals can practice retail medicine. The Surgery Center of Oklahoma, for example, accepts mostly cash payments and doesn’t accept Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance, generally.

At first glance, a cash-only, no-insurance hospital may seem like a recipe for financial disaster. However, the surgical center charges just a tiny fraction of what traditional, insurance-accepting hospitals in the same area charge for the same procedure, Forbes reported. By the time you factor in your deductible, copay and coinsurance costs, you could potentially save thousands of dollars by choosing the more affordable hospital and not going through your insurance policy.

Why Retail Medicine Works

Health insurance policies typically don’t cover concierge medicine, LASIK or cosmetic procedures. As a result, providers must be transparent about their costs. A little more transparency could be exactly what’s needed in healthcare. Regardless of whether the payments are coming from a policyholder’s premiums or federal taxpayers’ dollars, when one-dollar medicines are marked up to hospital charges in the hundreds of dollars, the result is an overpriced medical system.

Retail medicine is an example of how healthcare could thrive under a real free-market system, according to Forbes. Retail facilities offer transparent pricing information that allows patients to make informed decisions about where to seek treatment. In places where retail medicine is becoming more popular, even traditional providers are changing their policies – and transparently publishing their prices – to compete with retail clinics.

Online medical services often bridge the gap between traditional and retail medicine. Many online doctors accept insurance coverage but also offer transparent pricing information – helping insured and uninsured patients make the best healthcare decisions for their families.