(Bloomberg News) Doctors on call day or night. Medical care care while traveling outside the U.S. Emergency-room grade equipment, modeled on gear used in the White House, installed in the client's home. Well-heeled executives and their families increasingly are paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for high-end medical services that aren't covered by insurance.
"Wealthy people want to have a little exclusivity and want better service than they can get at their normal health-care facility, and they're willing to pay for it," says Rick Flynn, principal and head of the Family Office Group with Rothstein Kass, a Roseland, N.J.-based accounting and consulting firm.
Such white-glove concierge care doesn't come cheap. It may cost as much as $30,000 a year out-of-pocket for unfettered access to physicians who limit the number of patients they take on. An emergency room in one's home designed to handle a family's ailments can cost as much as $1 million.
About 55% of single-family offices used a concierge health-care provider in 2011, compared with about 36% in 2009, according to a study released in December by Rothstein Kass. The top reasons were managing severe medical conditions and gaining access to quality physicians and medical institutions, the study found.
"People are really looking for an alternative to what's become conveyor-belt medicine today," says Mark Murrison, president of marketing and innovation for Boca Raton, Fla.-based MDVIP, a network of concierge doctors and a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., the world's largest consumer-products company.
PinnacleCare Private Health Advisory organizes medical records, has emergency physicians available around the clock and connects patients to a network of top doctors throughout the world, for fees ranging from $2,500 to $30,000 a year, says Miles Varn, an emergency physician and chief medical officer for the Baltimore-based firm.
WorldClinic specializes in care for families and executives while they're traveling, including performing emergency triage by phone and prearranging for any necessary care at destinations, says Daniel Carlin, a physician and founder of the New London, N.H.-based firm.
Patients of MDVIP pay from $1,500 to $1,800 a year in membership fees for access to a primary-care doctor whose practice is generally limited to about 600 patients. The fees, which also cover certain preventative-care services, generally aren't covered by traditional health insurance, while charges for care, such as costs for sick visits and tests, often are, Murrison says. The firm started in 2001, and about 92% of its 180,000 members renew each year.
Some family offices also work with doctors who cater to the ultra-affluent by charging retainers and who aren't part of any broader network, says Mindy Rosenthal, executive director of the Institute for Private Investors, a New York-based association of wealthy families. Traditional health insurance for a family in an employer-sponsored plan was about $15,073 in 2011, with employers paying $10,944 and workers paying $4,129 on average, according to a survey by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Chicago-based Health Research & Educational Trust.
Guardian 24/7 installs its so-called ReadyRooms in homes, yachts and planes, and can equip them with X-ray machines, CT scanners, ultrasounds and blood-analysis technology, says Sean O'Mara, who co-founded the firm in 2009 with two former White House physicians, Robert Darling and William Lang. The equipment alone may cost as much as $1 million, he says.
"In a hospital gown, we are all created equal," reads the firm's Web site marketing material.
The company staffs a 24-hour operations center in Leesburg, Va., about 40 miles from downtown Washington, from which doctors may treat patients through secure high-resolution teleconferencing. The firm has about 55 individuals as clients of its support services, for which it charges from $6,000 to $12,000 a month, and has installed about 15 ReadyRooms, he says.
"We borrowed the idea of the technology, high-end telemedicine connectivity, out of the White House situation room," O'Mara says.
Part of the rush toward high-end, private services may stem from a growing gap in the availability of health-care providers. There was a shortage of about 13,700 physicians in the U.S. in 2010, which may rise to about 91,500 in 2020 and 130,600 by 2025, according to estimates by the Washington-based Association of American Medical Colleges.
An increase in doctors moving to a concierge or retainer business model could reduce access further, says Julia Paradise, an associate director in Washington at the Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.