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Direct primary care, with a touch of Robin Hood

Bernard J. Wolfson, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

MODESTO, Calif. — Britta Foster and Minerva Tiznado are in different leagues as far as health care is concerned.

Foster, who married into the family that owns the $2.5 billion Foster Farms chicken company, has Blue Shield coverage as well as a high-octane primary care plan that gives her 24/7 digital access to her doctor for a $5,900 annual fee that also covers her husband and two of their children.

Tiznado is from Nayarit, Mexico, and has no insurance. She gets free primary care visits and steep discounts on prescription drugs, lab tests and imaging.

But Tiznado, 32, and Foster, 48, go to the same place for their care: St. Luke’s Family Practice, in this Central Valley city of about 217,000. St. Luke’s, a clinic with a staff of four in a nondescript shopping center, offers an unorthodox combination of concierge-style medicine for the well-off and charity care for the uninsured.

The annual fees that St. Luke’s collects from Foster’s family and some 550 other paying patients help cover free care for a somewhat larger number of uninsured patients, many of them, like Tiznado, Spanish-speaking immigrants who can’t get Medicaid because they lack documents.

The clinic does not accept insurance of any kind but requires its paying patients to have coverage for major medical expenses outside its scope of care.

 

The paying patients, whom St. Luke’s calls “benefactors,” say they are happy to participate in this “Robin Hood” model. It gives them highly personalized care with great access to their doctors and the emotional satisfaction of supporting those less privileged, the “recipients.”

Foster said it’s been a “huge, huge benefit” for her family to be able to text or call their doctor at any time and be seen on short notice: “Knowing that their group is here also to serve our community makes it all feel even more important.”

Tiznado, who visited the clinic one September morning for a scheduled monitoring of ovarian cysts, said St Luke’s “has helped us a lot — economically and in every way. I think if we moved somewhere else, I would continue coming here.”

But Tiznado and the other uninsured patients don’t get the same 24/7 access that benefactors do. The two groups used separate waiting rooms until the pandemic hit.

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