The rise of cash pay doctors: what they are and how they work

July 31, 2020
Josie Rasberry

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There are all kinds of ways to save money on medical care, and a cash pay doctor is one of the best ways. Simply put, a cash pay doctor is a physician who doesn’t accept insurance and operates on a cash-only system. To clarify, cash here means debit cards, credit cards, checks, and actual cash. This might sound strange, but this is how doctors worked for decades before health insurance became mainstream in the mid 20th century.

You might scrunch up your nose and think of a sketchy, back-alley doctor when you hear “cash-only” but there are hundreds of reputable physicians who operate under this model. Other terms you might hear are cash-only doctors, direct-pay doctors, and direct primary care (DPC entails a bit more, and you can read about it here.) Many of our own team members see direct primary care and cash pay doctors and are extremely happy with the care they receive (and the money they save!)

What’s so great about a cash pay doctor?

There are several benefits to seeing a cash pay doctor, but one of the most obvious is that if you don’t have health insurance this is the perfect solution for you. Not only are cash pay doctors much more affordable than doctors that operate under insurance, the services they offer are just as good.

Even if you do have health insurance, cash pay doctors are often far cheaper than in-network doctors where you might have a high co-pay, or be on the hook for the whole bill if it’s not a yearly physical. Cash pay doctors set their own rates, and direct primary care physicians specifically charge a monthly or yearly subscription so you can call and visit them as much as you need.

Another benefit to cash pay doctors, for both the patient and the doctor, is that you generally get more time. That’s actually a big reason why so many doctors have moved to a cash pay model; they want to spend more time with their patients. When doctors don’t have to spend hours creating records for insurance companies, they get that time back to really focus on the patient. If you’re at the doctor, chances are you want to make sure you get all your issues addressed and feel cared for. With cash pay doctors, you’ll more often than not get that extra time and attention.

Are there any reasons to not use a cash pay doctor?

If a patient is on Medicare or Medicaid, cash pay doctors might not be the best option for them. When it comes to a direct primary care physician, Medicare/Medicaid patients can receive care from them but they have to sign an agreement form that Medicare/Medicaid won’t be billed.

Another situation where cash pay doctors might not be the best option is if you do have a health insurance plan that you pay a high monthly premium for and covers most of your care. Financially, it doesn’t make sense to spend extra on a cash pay doctor if most of your medical needs are covered already. Cash pay doctors tend to work best with a high deductible plan or a health cost sharing plan. Depending on what kind of cash pay doctors are available to you, this model also may not be the best choice if you have complex medical needs.

Final thoughts.

At the end of the day, when you’re making any kind of healthcare decision, it’s important to do research and to look at your budget. Most of the time though, cash pay doctors are an excellent way for people to get quality care whenever they need it at an affordable price.

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