Deborah Walker knows all about the challenges of traditional health care.
As a longtime nurse practitioner, she was a witness to the pressures of lower government and private-insurance reimbursements on the physicians for whom she worked. The result was doctors often had less time for patients because of financial pressures.
In September, Walker acquired a clinic called Gulf Coast Family Care in Cape Coral with an unusual twist: It takes no insurance. Instead of spending money on administrative staff to file insurance claims, Walker charges just $60 to $80 for a visit, payable in cash or by credit card.
For a sports physical, it costs $35 — the equivalent of an insurance co-pay. “You can't get that anywhere for that price,” Walker says.
Despite the federal government's mandate that everyone must buy insurance or face a penalty, many uninsured patients tell Walker it's less expensive to pay the fine than buy insurance. “This area has a huge population of uninsured people,” Walker says, estimating that as many as 20% go without the protection.
But Walker says even patients with insurance visit her practice because of the long waits to see their own doctors. Walker schedules a half hour with each patient, twice the amount of time that many doctors spend.
When she's not busy, Walker says she's spent as long as an hour counseling patients. “If no one's waiting, I shower them with attention,” she says.
Walker, who has been a nurse practitioner since 1996, says she's always wanted to operate a practice where medical care could be affordable to those without insurance. “It's always something I've believed in strongly,” says Walker, who answers the phones herself.
Another nurse practitioner had opened Gulf Coast Family Care, but she sold the business in September to Walker because of a personal emergency. “I had done a business plan for opening my own company, so the timing was great,” Walker says. “We broke even during the first three months.”
For now, Gulf Coast Family Clinic is only open in the afternoons and walk-ins are welcome. “We're still trying to get the word out,” says Walker. A third of patients find the clinic using Google, one-third find it when they drive by (the clinic is in the Fountain Shoppes center next to Stevie Tomato's bar and restaurant) and the remainder come via word of mouth referral.
The $35 sports physicals are a big draw. “It's a great way to get families in,” Walker says.
Walker can write prescriptions for antibiotics and can draw blood for tests, but she works under the license of a local physician and she can't prescribe narcotics or controlled substances. She refers patients to Radiology Regional Center for X-rays and A1 Imaging for magnetic resonance imaging tests.
Walker also knows where patients can get more specialized medical services at no cost. For example, she can refer uninsured patients to a free mammogram service in Lee County. “I know the places to get the best prices,” she says.
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