Looking for ‘sustainable’ local health care in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Looking for ‘sustainable’ local health care in Eagle County

NWS Kovacevich KA 09-03-10

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – A new nonprofit group in the valley is working on a novel idea – health care should be accessible, affordable and understandable.

The idea for new group, called Doctors Plus, started from a simple, uncomfortable idea – federal health care reform is going to bring big, expensive changes to the way clinics, patients and insurance companies work together. Mostly, insurance premiums and deductibles are going to go up significantly soon, putting even more pressure on patients who have a hard time paying for medical care now.

Jill Kovacevich and her husband, Guy, run Doctors on Call in Avon. That clinic cares for people including the uninsured and Medicare and Medicaid patients. It’s hard work – Guy, the physician, usually works 12-hour days, while Jill takes care of the business end of the operation.

As Jill started looking at the changes the new federal mandates will bring, she wondered how the clinic could stay in business. After a lot of thought and countless conversations with other doctors and medical service people, Doctors Plus incorporated as a nonprofit organization this year.

Doctors Plus intends to be a central point for medical providers throughout the valley, from the Eagle Care medical clinic for indigent patients to those who require the services of cardiologists, dermatologists and other specialists.

The idea is to provide patients – no matter who their primary-care doctor is – with a one-stop source for referrals, and an easier way for medical providers to track a patient’s care. The Doctors Plus group can also negotiate fees or payment schedules with specialists.

As the nonprofit grows, there are plans to lease space in Edwards for office and classroom space, to allow everything from counseling to physical therapy to wellness seminars.

“The idea is to get everyone thinking, ‘We’re going to do what’s best for the patient, even if my office doesn’t benefit,'” Kovacevich said.

Tom Steinberg, Vail’s first full-time doctor, said the Doctors Plus idea might be a way to get medicine back to the place it was years ago.

“My gut reaction is it will help bring back family practice versus the specialists that are driving prices up,” Steinberg said. “Anything that will work in that direction is good.”

Chris Montera, the director of the Western Eagle County Ambulance District, said he also likes what he’s seen of the Doctors Plus model.

“We need something to break down the ‘silos’ of care we have now and coordinate care,” Montera said. “It’s well beyond time.”

Montera said the Doctors Plus idea could be the future of health care. But first, the idea has to take root, and that means fund-raising.

Kovacevich acknowleged that perhaps the main question she’s gotten about the Doctors Plus idea is the need for another nonprofit in the valley.

“There are so many nonprofits already, you wonder if (Kovacevich) can pull it off,” Steinberg said. “But it’s certainly worth the effort and gamble.”

And, Kovacevich said, the Doctors Plus plan could help other nonprofits.

As an example, the Vail Valley Charitable Fund helps working locals with unexpected catastrophic expenses, usually medical bills. Using Doctors Plus to negotiate fees could help reduce some of those bills.

And, if the idea catches on, Doctors Plus could use donations to provide vouchers for various pre-negotiated medical services. Those vouchers could do more than help people who have been injured. It can also be used to help pay for tests that can prevent disease.

Doctors on Call has a patient who showed signs of potential colon cancer. The patient was asked to get a colonoscopy, which can not only check for signs of the disease, but can remove polyps than can turn cancerous if left in place. The patient put off the test because of the cost, and ended up with full-blown cancer. The test could have prevented it.

Looking ahead, having a medical nonprofit in the valley could also help bring new family practice doctors to the area. Kovacevich said there are programs that grant tuition waivers to new doctors, but only if they work for nonprofits.

Kovacevich acknowleged that this might not be the best time to seek out donors for a new venture. But, she said, the need is great, and there’s no really good time to start a new nonprofit.

“We can’t afford to wait,” she said. “If the times make it more of a challenge, then we have to face that. But the need for this mission cannot wait.

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