New kind of primary care clinic set to open in Billings

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By: Susan Olp

On April 1, Cole Whitmoyer will open a different kind of medical clinic in Billings.

Whitmoyer, a nurse practitioner is starting Flex Family Health Direct Primary Care. The membership-based clinic, where patients pay a monthly fee, gives them access to unlimited visits, phone access and telemedicine and reduced prices on labs and imaging.

What makes it unique is Whitmoyer’s clinic will accept no insurance of any kind…

The ability for such clinics to operate came through the State auditor’s office in late 2017. Twice, in 2015 and 2017, the Montana Legislature approved legislation to allow direct primary care…

Both times, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the bill, saying in 2017 that such primary care plans “offer little or no added value to most consumers” and “charge fees for treatments already covered by a consumer’s health insurance, such as preventive care that insurance covers at no out-of-pocket cost to the consumer.”

The 2015 bill was introduced by then state Sen. Matt Rosendale. In late 2017, Rosendale, now state auditor, issued an advisory memorandum that opened the way for such clinics. The memo outlined criteria for the clinics, that the provider would charge patients a periodic fee, would not bill any third-parties for services covered by the agreement and that fees charged by the provider would have to be less than the monthly fee.

Since these clinics do not involve insurance, they would not be regulated by his office, Rosendale said. At the same time, Rosendale recommended people have insurance coverage for major or unexpected health care expenses.

When he released the memo, Rosendale said that direct primary care is another option for consumers to access routine, preventative or preliminary health care.

Earlier this week, Kyle Schmauch, media specialist in Rosendale’s office, said no bill authorizing direct primary care had been submitted this session in light of Bullock’s previous actions.

“It would be good to get it in statute, but he’s made it clear with his veto it won’t happen while he’s in office,” Schmauch said.

Whitmoyer agrees with Rosendale’s advice that patients have health insurance to at least cover catastrophic events.

Read more at the Billings Gazette