Charlottesville physician Dr. Joseph B. Orlick has found a way to help the uninsured receive medical treatment.
The primary-care doctor has started Core Care, a program that is targeted at patients who want medical care but can’t afford or have no access to medical insurance.
For $75 a month and a $10 co-pay per visit, Orlick will treat patients for all of their primary health care needs at his office. The patient signs a contract agreeing to pay the monthly fee and then has unlimited visits to Orlick’s office.
For the doctor, the program is a win-win situation.
“I believe that most people would agree that the cost of obtaining medical care has risen to the point that many can no longer afford the cost of basic medical attention,” Orlick said. “This program is my attempt to address this issue in our community and to make available primary medical services at an affordable price.”
According to the Virginia Health Care Foundation, there were more than 889,000 Virginians without health care coverage in 2009, and the majority of those people were between the ages of 19 to 64.
Orlick’s program, which has 35 patients so far, is handled in the doctor’s office on Berkmar Drive. Although he still sees insured patients, his goal is to grow the Core Care program to be the heart of his business with up to 200 patients.
“We’ve had patients with various stories,” Orlick said. “Some have never had access to a doctor and they want to know they’re OK. Some have had access to a doctor and know they have a problem, but they haven’t had the money to address it. We’ve come to understand that almost everyone in the program has a chronic medical condition that without therapy is going to cause a disaster.”
Ronald Owen, 60, is a Core Care patient who recently came to see Orlick after not going to a doctor in more than 20 years. Owen said he’s never had access to affordable health care coverage, but had the ability to pay what he sees is a fair price for health care.
“My wife got sick about a year ago and we took her to the emergency room,” Owen said. “We ended up with $4,500 in medical bills and we couldn’t afford that.”
The couple heard about Core Care from a friend, and Owen’s wife went first, he said. When he joined the program a few months ago, he learned his blood glucose level was high and needed to be addressed.
“Dr. Orlick takes enough time to really talk to you and he’s very thorough,” Owen said. “He’s a real gentleman and I think he really cares, but I know he has to make a living too.”
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, only 3 percent of their members surveyed in 2010 had a practice that involved a cash-only or retainer medical practice.
Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president-elect of the AAFP, said there are a handful of medical practices in each state operating on a cash-only basis and have found success if they maintain a low overhead.
“Dr. Orlick’s practice is unique because he’s focusing on treating the uninsured,” Cain said. “For patients that have good access to medical care, there is improved health and lower costs. It’s a model that can be successful.”
Orlick said he had heard about a similar program years ago and worked hard to find a way to create one for patients in his own practice. He tries to place his Core Care patients on medications that are most affordable or works to help find a way to pay for more expensive medicines.
“We’re advocating for patients,” Orlick said. “We aren’t going to get to the perfect goal for everybody, but that argument comes from people who have insurance and they have access to everything. Some people say, ‘Well, what if they need to see a specialist?’ or “What if they need hospitalization?’ and my response is they have access to nothing right now. I’m giving them 90 percent of what they need for $75 a month.”
Orlick suggests that people take out a high deductible health care plan for catastrophic ailments, but he said most ailments can be treated in his office.
“People come in and if they have a laceration I sew them up and if their knee needs to be injected I inject it,” Orlick said. “I will practice to the full extent of my ability and not beyond it and if someone needs to see a specialist and I can’t take care of it … I will make a call to someone who I think will be fair to the patient financially, and then it’s out of my hands. I’m not required to do this by contract, but I want to advocate for my patients.”
Erika Viccellio, executive director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic, said the area has a need for programs like Core Care. Orlick also volunteers for the free clinic and sees some of the clinic’s patients at his office.
“There are not enough programs to serve the needs of everyone,” Viccellio said. “I think he is coming from a position of trying to do what he can to help as many people as possible.”
Viccellio thinks there will be more of a need for alternative medical care practices as medical costs increase and the ability to have health care coverage changes.
“This is a way for people to get good, consistent, high-quality health care,” Viccellio said.
For Orlick, he hopes Core Care will be a successful model that other local physicians will look at and adopt. He also hopes it will help his patients.
“I want to do what I can to prevent my patients from having to go to the emergency room,” Orlick said. “A lot of medical issues can be treated before they become a crisis.”