AFCM Interviews SimpleCare® Founder Vern Cherewatenko, MD
Vern S. Cherewatenko, MD, is founder of SimpleCare®, a fee-for-service program that has been featured on the cover of U.S. News & World Report, in Forbes, and on NBC News, and author of The Diabetes Cure (1999) and The Stress Cure (2003).
His SimpleCare® lives up to the name, accepting money for medical treatment without the bureaucratic process of insurance forms, co-payments, and other third-party payment related procedures associated with health insurance. The idea is to preserve the doctor-patient relationship.
Under an umbrella organization, SimpleCare® guides the patient to an alliance of doctors offering cash discounts. Dr. Cherewatenko estimates membership at 38,000 patient members working with 1,500 doctors nationwide. Discounts range from 15 percent to 50 percent for patients paying in cash.
Board-certified by the American Board of Family Practice, Dr. Cherewatenko is in private clinical practice in Renton, Washington, where he is president and CEO of HealthMax, Inc., specializing in obesity and weight management, diabetes, food allergy testing, digestive disorders, stress management, nutritional medicine and what Dr. Cherewatenko calls attention management, which he believes addresses the condition commonly referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
He received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1986 and completed his Family Practice Residency at the University of Washington, Valley Medical Center, Family Practice Residency in 1989. He also has a Masters Degree of Education in Counseling Psychology and a BS in Psychology & Pre-Medicine from Montana State University.
AFCM: Why is the state of Washington lacking in health insurance choices?
Dr. Cherewatenko: In talking to insurance carriers, when we were trying to find out what was wrong [in the market], they see Washington as a hostile environment. Just as no one would take their relatives out for dinner and say 'order anything for dinner—an appetizer, three or four desserts, whatever,' the [state's heavily regulated] insurance system perpetuates this idea of spending other people's money. It's human behavior. For example, a doctor doesn't want to be sued [for malpractice], so he orders a CT scan. So the patient overutilizes [available medical treatment] and the insurance company tries to ration care it deems unnecessary care—and they may have a point. Should insurance cover birth control for $30 per month? Viagra? Someone is going to pay that bill. The fallout is that premiums continue to escalate far beyond the average individual's ability to pay-and, in an effort to stay competitive, insurance companies decrease payments to doctors. The [socialized] system caused doctors like me to say, 'take your insurance and shove it.' I'm a family doctor. I forego malpractice insurance. I don't make patients sign waivers.
AFCM: What does SimpleCare® do for you?
Dr. Cherewatenko: I love being a doctor again. I spend twice as much time with patients as I charge them. Of course, I want to make money—anyone who is in a vocation wants to make money—as a doctor. SimpleCare® takes away the frustration and anguish of trying to deal with insurance company denials of care that my patients desire.
AFCM: Most patients are shielded from the real cost of medical treatment. What is your regular fee?
Dr. Cherewatenko: My standard rate is $300 per hour.
AFCM: What does SimpleCare® do for the doctor?
Dr. Cherewatenko: We have 38,000 patient members across the USA, in Washington, Oregon, Texas, Colorado, New Hampshire—Virginia, Arizona, California, New York, Maryland and other states. We have many members in the Seattle/Tacoma region. The doctor's fee is $125 for the first year—and $50 each year after that. The doctor gets staffing, coding, and patient education. The doctor gets a step-by-step outline for improving cash-based medicine to benefit patients in his service area while making a viable income for the doctor.
AFCM: What does SimpleCare® do for the patient?
Dr. Cherewatenko: Besides doctor fee discounts, each member saves money on laboratory fees and radiology and pharmaceutical costs. It's $39 per year for a family to join and $ 29 per year for an individual.
AFCM: How many new doctors join each month?
Dr. Cherewatenko: Between 50 and 100. SimpleCare® also accepts osteopathic doctors, massage therapists, dentists—any licensed health care provider.
AFCM: Do you consider SimpleCare® part of the so-called consumer-driven health care movement?
Dr. Cherewatenko: I don't use that term anymore. It's basically capitalism vs. socialism in the medical profession. Unfortunately, other industries are hijacking the term 'consumer-driven' for things that may not be authentically free market driven—and that's the term we prefer to use: free market. I'm really excited that people are finally saying, 'I get it.' I was down at Seattle Baptist church and the head pastor embraces free market health care. There's the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Washington Policy Center. I've talked [in presentations] to workers at a Coco's [restaurant] in Bellevue, at a Denny's in Bellevue, at Shari's Restaurant in Renton, at a United Way [chapter] in Snohomish County. Now we have patients volunteering to educate the public.
AFCM: How many patients do you see?
Dr. Cherewatenko: About 20 patients a day.
AFCM: Do you think health insurance is unnecessary?
Dr. Cherewatenko: No. Insurance companies can make a profitable product issuing a catastrophic [i.e., high deductible] policy. They can make lucrative margins at very low risk. What they cannot do is provide health care. Yet that is what they are mandated [by government regulation] to do. Insurance companies ought to be insurance companies again. By providing lower cost care, SimpleCare® puts a larger buffer between first dollar coverage and the deductible.
AFCM: Do you accept Medicare?
Dr. Cherewatenko: I do not accept government payments of any kind and I'm not a Medicare provider. Technically, I've opted out. But I do treat Medicare and welfare patients who choose to pay me out of pocket. Medicare patients should really understand where the money is going. The [Medicare] premium is paid by the government. Essentially, the government pays $600 or $700 a month for each Medicare patient and 68 percent of that is never applied to health care. If that same money went directly to the individual, the patient would be more responsible—and happier.
AFCM: So you do you see older patients?
Dr. Cherewatenko: Yes. Five to ten percent are Medicare patients and they're asked to sign a sheet saying they won't charge Medicare.
AFCM: Do you see patients who own Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)?
Dr. Cherewatenko: Yes. Several patients have HSAs—and personally, I have a Health Savings Account, too. My deductible is $3,000.
Scott Holleran, Editorial Director
Copyright © 2007 Americans for Free Choice in Medicine. All rights reserved.
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