Health Care’s Other “Big Deal”: Direct Primary Care Regulation in Contemporary American Health Law

by Glenn E. Chappell

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Abstract

Direct primary care is a promising, market-based alternative to the fee-for-service payment structure that shapes doctor–patient relationships in America. Instead of billing patients and insurers service by service, direct primary care doctors charge their patients a periodic, prenegotiated fee in exchange for providing a wide range of healthcare services and increased availability compared to traditional practices. This “subscription” model is intended to eliminate the administrative burdens associated with insurer interaction, which, in theory, allows doctors to spend more time with their patients and less time doing paperwork.

Direct practices have become increasingly popular since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This growth has been driven by legislation in several states that resolves a number of legal questions that slowed the model’s growth and by the ACA’s recognition of the model as a permissible way to cover primary care in “approved” health plans. Yet legal scholars have hardly focused on direct primary care. Given the model’s growth, however, the time is ripe for a more focused legal inquiry.

This Note begins that inquiry. After tracing the model’s evolution and its core components, this Note substantively examines the laws in states that regulate direct practices and analyzes how those laws address a number of potential policy concerns. It then analyzes direct primary care’s broader role in the contemporary American healthcare marketplace. Based upon that analysis, this Note concludes that direct primary care is a beneficial innovation that harmonizes well with a cooperative-federalism-based healthcare policy model.

Health Care’s Other “Big Deal”: Direct Primary Care Regulation in Contemporary American Health Law

by Glenn E. Chappell

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

Direct primary care is a promising, market-based alternative to the fee-for-service payment structure that shapes doctor–patient relationships in America. Instead of billing patients and insurers service by service, direct primary care doctors charge their patients a periodic, prenegotiated fee in exchange for providing a wide range of healthcare services and increased availability compared to traditional practices. This “subscription” model is intended to eliminate the administrative burdens associated with insurer interaction, which, in theory, allows doctors to spend more time with their patients and less time doing paperwork.

Direct practices have become increasingly popular since Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This growth has been driven by legislation in several states that resolves a number of legal questions that slowed the model’s growth and by the ACA’s recognition of the model as a permissible way to cover primary care in “approved” health plans. Yet legal scholars have hardly focused on direct primary care. Given the model’s growth, however, the time is ripe for a more focused legal inquiry.

This Note begins that inquiry. After tracing the model’s evolution and its core components, this Note substantively examines the laws in states that regulate direct practices and analyzes how those laws address a number of potential policy concerns. It then analyzes direct primary care’s broader role in the contemporary American healthcare marketplace. Based upon that analysis, this Note concludes that direct primary care is a beneficial innovation that harmonizes well with a cooperative-federalism-based healthcare policy model.