A new kind of retail health clinic has opened in Sacramento that’s geared toward routine services for healthy people willing to shop for the best deal.
WellnessMart MD opened in a strip mall at the high-profile corner of Watt Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard in mid-December, slightly ahead of schedule, in order to meet demand for H1N1 flu shots.
Touted as the “Kinko’s of health care,” the place looks more like a copy shop than a doctor’s office, but the menu boards list cash prices for lab tests, vaccinations, physician services and travel medicine.
The place also sells insurance for individuals, families and businesses, mostly high-deductible health savings accounts that cover catastrophes but leave it to patients to shop around for the small stuff.
Unlike Sutter Express Care, QuickHealth or national chains such as CVS-owned MinuteClinic, WellnessMart does not offer treatment of minor health conditions.
“We take care of well people, not sick people,” WellnessMart founder Dr. Richard McCauley said. “If you cough, you are not in the right spot.”
Services range from sports physicals and travel shots to blood tests and nutrition counseling. The company has compiled a directory for where to get the best price on health care services it does not provide, such as X-rays, dental work and prescription drugs.
The new entry into the market follows a shake-out in the region. Sutter shut three of its six clinics a year ago due to lackluster performance. And Burlingame-based QuickHealth Inc. closed its West Sacramento clinic, located in Wal-Mart, in August.
Cash pay at a fraction of the cost
The idea at WellnessMart is to make health care and health insurance easy, understandable and affordable by taking it retail.
“I have a strong feeling people can handle the health care system, given the right tools,” said Dr. Peter Wroblicky, an emergency room doctor at the Veterans Affairs hospital at Mather Field and owner of the Sacramento clinic.
The local clinic is WellnessMart’s first franchise. The only other WellnessMart, owned and run by McCauley, is in Thousand Oaks.
Wroblicky and McCauley are longtime friends; McCauley until recently worked as an emergency room doctor at a VA hospital in Southern California and sparked Wroblicky’s interest in medicine by taking him on rounds.
A self-described “terminal juvenile” at 45, Wroblicky worked as a burrito chef and stockbroker before going to medical school in Dublin. He lived in Fair Oaks as a child and used to ride his bike past the intersection that now houses his clinic.
He’s also a man with a mission.
“Rich and I kicked this idea around about how to provide better access to services,” Wroblicky said. “As physicians, part of the job is to be a patient advocate within a very complex system that frustrates patients and advocates. The idea was to create a medical marketplace with a certain level of transparency so people can see what things cost.”
Get more for less
McCauley runs the flagship center in Thousand Oaks. It was started in the hallway of a health club in 2006 and moved to a strip mall in early 2008.
He shopped around for services, asking providers for their best price for cash, and began building a referral directory. Wroblicky did the same thing here.
The results are eye-popping.
Patients can get a standard MRI at an imaging center near WellnessMart in Thousand Oaks for $500. That same center bills insurance companies $1,424 for the same test.
Similarly, a lab bill paid with cash cost $115, but the lab billed insurance companies $617.26 for the same test.
People buy car insurance for accidents, not oil changes, tune-ups and tires, McCauley said.
“If car insurance companies tried to sell policies that were many times more expensive but paid for routine maintenance, nobody would buy them,” he said.
That’s the problem with most health insurance, said McCauley, who is a licensed insurance broker. Wroblicky plans to get a license but currently refers clients to a broker in Southern California linked to the company.
WellnessMart sells regular insurance but touts buying health savings accounts for catastrophic coverage and paying for everything else out of pocket. The clinics bundle ancillary services and make them available at one place at posted prices.
San Corp. in Oxnard, which sells bodybuilding pills and powders and is a client of the WellnessMart in Thousand Oaks, saved $175 a month per employee by switching from traditional insurance to a high-deductible health savings account, controller Edward Schillo said.
The company turned around and put $150 per month in employees’ accounts and encouraged them to shop at the clinic for basic services.
“It’s great,” Schillo said. “They can call any time or go in.”
The company will provide the service at the posted rate or help employees find a provider that will do it for cash at a price they know ahead of time.
Recession slows rapid growth
The Sacramento clinic is just getting going. Menu boards are up, but not all the services are available yet.
Wroblicky works three 12-hour shifts at the VA hospital and staffs the clinic by himself four days a week. He’s looking to hire a licensed vocational nurse to help out
WellnessMart makes its money through service fees. Urinalysis, for example, costs $6, but the clinic charges a $25 fee to collect the specimen, send it to a lab and report the results.
“We are trying to be fair. We are in business to serve our customer, but it’s a business, too,” Wroblicky said. He’s put $30,000 into the venture and hopes to break even by year-end.
“I have no plans to leave the VA,” he quipped.
The key, like that for other retail clinics, will be getting enough traffic to make the place sustainable.
The idea is not to take business away from doctors, but to augment it with affordable, convenient service. The California Medical Association hasn’t taken a position so far. Some models are staffed by doctors, some not.
“We’re open to ideas as long as (the clinics) provide quality of care and access to physicians or other licensed providers,” CMA president Dr. J. Brennan Cassidy said.
The market for walk-in clinics slowed from a 350 percent growth rate in 2007 to 30 percent in 2008, according to a study released in November by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. It declined 5 percent for the first five months of 2009.
Blame the economic downturn, says Deloitte, but look for “cautious” growth to resume this year and next, and accelerate from 2012 to 2014.
Others are more bullish.
The National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas expects the number of walk-in clinics to almost triple in the next four years in response to patient demand.
- Business: A doctor’s office designed to take of healthy people who need routine services and/or want to buy insurance
- Founded: 2006
- Locations: Thousand Oaks and 3511 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Sacramento
- Contact: Dr. Peter Wroblicky at 916-480-0660 or wellnessmart.com