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Column: Health care free marketers, progressives unite

Kathy Hoekstra

A free market health care advocate walked into a meeting of progressives. If you think you know the punchline to this one, think again.

Dr. Chad Savage got quite a surprise in May when he presented his free market health care ideas to the Grand Rapids United Progressives.

“They applauded,” he said. “They were open to the free market idea of direct primary care and they applauded it.”

Savage does not accept insurance at his Brighton practice, Your Choice Direct Care. Instead, he is one of the growing number of doctors in Michigan and across the country who charge patients a monthly fee for unlimited access to office visits, free in-office testing and discounts for some procedures.

By eliminating interference by insurance and government bureaucrats, direct primary care (DPC) is known to slash patient costs by as much as 50 percent, and allows doctors to focus on patients rather than bureaucracy.

But while Savage considers himself liberated after 12 years in the traditional third-party payer system, he knows progressives generally embrace the opposite — single-payer, government-controlled healthcare.

Yet, he was tagged by Paula Triplett, the chief organizer, to present at the May 31 forum on health care. Triplett is a longtime Democratic activist and early Obamacare supporter, and still likes the former president, just not his healthcare plan.

“I like (President Barack) Obama. I wish I could vote for him again. The health care that he crafted was a start, but it’s not that great. Obamacare is not the answer,” she said.

So Triplett assembled the forum to discuss congressional reform efforts and solutions not currently on the table in Washington. She admitted knowing nothing about free market health care, but promised an all inclusive, nonpartisan forum. So she added Savage to a list of presenters that included advocates for Obamacare and a single-payer option.

Savage explained direct primary care, and how the free market model could even apply to government assisted health care.

“I suggested essentially subsidizing patient-controlled dollars and creating a program like medical food stamps. That would allow for free market with a subsidy for the poor,” Savage explained. “I feel that in the current environment, medical food stamps would be the closest thing to free market that we can get.”

Triplett says the mostly progressive crowd loved it.

“I was kind of shocked,” she said. “It was a very, very new idea. It is a concept that certainly gives patients a lot more rights than what we have now.”

Triplett says she still has a lot of questions about how direct primary care works, but now she won’t have to go far for answers.

Christian Healthcare Centers opened for business in Grand Rapids last week , and is the first DPC practice in West Michigan. (In addition to Dr. Savage’s practice in Brighton, there are a host of DPC doctors in southeast Michigan and in Williamston, near Lansing.)

Michigan Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, who ushered through legislation in 2015 that allows DPC in Michigan, was on hand for the June 28 ribbon cutting at Christian Healthcare Centers.

“It’s really great because we can stop talking about shifting costs, about who gets to pay for what, and lowering the cost for everybody, not by saying ‘no, you can’t have that coverage’ but by providing better care, preventative care, (and) relationships with your patients,” Colbeck told onlookers.

In the meantime, could the single-payer and free market crowds do something our politicians seem unwilling or unable to do — find a common solution to the common enemy, third party payers?

“Dr. Savage said something during the forum that really brought a lot of people together,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Hey, there’s not that much difference between you and me.’”

She’d like to get Savage and John Cavacece, the single-payer advocate from the forum, back to the table and ask them if they are not that far apart and could create a health care policy, what would it look like?

“I would get that to (U.S.) Sen. (Debbie) Stabenow as fast as I could,” she added.

Kathy Hoekstra is a freelance journalist who previously wrote for Watchdog.org.