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Health insurance does not equal health care. As Americans, we often conflate these two entities. But they are in fact separate.

Health care is when you see your doctor. They listen to your story, empathize, perform a physical exam, make a diagnosis, and discuss treatment options. They can also order tests and give you medications. The compassion, the sincerity, the relationship — that’s health care. Health insurance is what covers you in the case of a medical catastrophe, like if you’re involved in an accident, have a heart attack or a stroke. Health insurance is a financial tool to prevent you from going bankrupt in case these catastrophic events occur.

These may seem like obvious statements, but we’ve grown accustomed to a system in which health insurance covers everything, from flu shots to ICU. This may not be a terrible thing; we all need flu shots, and some of us may end up needing ICU care. The problem exists in how we pay for these services.

If we continue to ask insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and government entities like Medicaid and Medicare to pay for all of our health care services, from blood pressure medications to cardiac bypass surgery, costs will continue to be inflated.

So if you’re paying $10 for your lisinopril each month, know that it actually costs $0.37. If you’ve paid $120 to check your cholesterol this year, know that it actually costs about $6.55. If you’ve ever paid $150 for a chest X-ray, it actually costs about $40. When we use our insurance cards to pay for the basic, routine health care services, prices are inflated. Fortunately, we now have a choice, an opportunity to use free market principles to save money on our health care services. More Direct Primary Care clinics are popping up in Michigan and across the nation.

Direct Primary Care doctors ask that patients pay a monthly membership, which allows them unlimited visits with their doctor and the ability to call, text or email the doctor any time. These doctors also provide wholesale medications, at-cost labs, and at-cost imaging services. By cutting out the middle man and asking consumers to pay for their basic services, the cost of these basic services decrease. Typical savings for medications, labs and imaging services range from 50 percent to 90 percent.

Ideally, people will pair DPC services with a health insurance plan that fits their needs and their budget, and covers them in case of a catastrophic event.

Paul Thomas, M.D., is a family doctor at Plum Health Direct Primary Care.

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