Valley Baptist offers alternative for uninsured patients

HARLINGEN — Valley Baptist Health System says it’s offering patients who pay medical expenses out of pocket a way to save money through a partnership with a company called MDsave.

MDsave, founded in 2012 and based in Brentwood, Tenn., and San Francisco, Calif., touts itself as the world’s first online health-care marketplace. Its business model relies on a simplified billing process for patients and health-care providers through negotiated rates, bundled pricing and up-front payment.

MDsave’s website features copious information on diseases and treatments that patients can use to educate themselves. Patients also can use the website to search by procedure, provider, specialty or ailment, and compare prices among MDsave network providers in the same geographical area.

It’s basically online shopping: Patients choose an option, add it to their cart and check out online. The price posted is what the patient pays when getting the procedure.

“The best way I’ve described it to people, I like to call it the Groupon of health care,” said Megan Drake, VBHS chief business development officer. “You get the voucher, you go out and seek out your discounted services, and then you apply your voucher.”

VBHS hopes MDsave will allow more Rio Grande Valley residents to get preventive medical care instead of waiting until they’re so sick they have to go the emergency room, she said.

“We want them to have another way,” Drake said.

The Valley’s uninsured rate is the highest in Texas and among the highest in the country. VBHS CEO Manny Vela noted that accessing medical care often is confusing and expensive for people without insurance who are forced to pay out of pocket.

“This service can help these patients access the same quality health care they have come to expect at our hospital at a lower cost,” he said.

VBHS’s Harlingen and Brownsville campuses are both part of the MDsave network. The next closest in-network facility is Laredo Medical Center. VBMH said its patients who pay up front through MDsave will be able to save up to 60 percent off the average cost of a wide variety of medical procedures.

MDsave co-founder and CEO Paul Ketchel said the average patient saves 40 to 60 percent using the online service. While the average cost of an MRI in the United States is around $2,600, according to MDsave’s website they range from $426 to $696 at VBHS, depending on the type of MRI.

Mary Valdez, VBHS physician relationship manager, said the physicians, nurses and doctor’s office managers she’s told about MDsave have expressed enthusiasm about the program. VBHS executed the agreement with MDsave the first quarter of this year and rolled out the program last month, she said.

“It does take time to sit down with doctors, radiology groups — make sure everybody’s on board,” Valdez said.

VBHS plans to get the word out this month, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer screenings will be available for purchase for $99 through October. If purchased through MDsave, the vouchers can be used any time during the year.

“This was a really nice opportunity for us,” VBHS spokeswoman Teri Retana said. “We’re going to be taking advantage of the fact that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and introduce MDsave that way.”