HIGHTOWER: Concierge Doctors

Here's a place that might seem inviting to you -- a place where guests are given round-the-clock service, pampered treatment, personally monogrammed robes, heated towel racks and marble showers. A luxury resort? No ... a doctor's office.

More and more American doctors are abandoning the age-old Hippocratic notion that general practitioners of medicine have a social responsibility to respond to the health care needs of the whole community. Instead, these upwardly-mobile GPs are jettisoning the bulk of their patients and re-opening as "boutique" or "concierge" practices that cater exclusively to the well-off. How well-off? To get into a boutique doctor's office, you have to pay an annual fee ranging from $4,000 to $20,000 per family member. That's above and beyond what you pay for your health insurance.

Never mind that about 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all and millions more are underinsured, these new "concierge docs" are creating an entirely new layer of class separation in health care. The New York Times reports that the elites who can afford boutique medicine truly get royal treatment, including having 24-hour cell-phone access to their doctor, getting same-day office appointments, having some exams done in their homes or health clubs, and having their doctor go with them to see specialists.

That's swell for them, but meanwhile these exclusive practices are dumping thousands of non-rich patients saying to them "adios chump." It would be one thing if only a few concierge offices were popping up here and there, but there's a rising surge of such elitist practices with names like MDVIP. Some entrepreneurial doctors are even franchising the system in cities all across the country.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... Under this system, the rich are different from you and me -- they get health care. Our wealthy, democratic society should not be pushing more exclusivity in medicine, but striving to provide good health care for all ... no matter what your income.


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