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Health in Reach Promises Health Care for the Uninsured

Health in Reach, Inc., a free online service that helps consumers reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses, launches its new CarePoints™ reward program this morning at Tech Crunch Disrupt. Care Points are like “frequent flyer miles” for health care; awards points for appointments booked with dentists and doctors online through the Health In Reach website. The CarePoints program is a no-cost incentive for consumers to be more proactive in their health care decisions, and provides free health care services once points are redeemed.

I first met Health in Reach at San Francisco-based Rock Health, where I’m an occasional (less often than I’d like) mentor. Health in Reach, which was in the first class, launched at Rock Health’s first Demo Day and two months later signed an agreement to merge with competitor Price Doc, which had started a year before and focuses on building our a major national provider network. In retrospect, this was a wise decision for the young company, because price transparency in the health care industry isn’t going to happen overnight. There are too many entrenched interested and habits at stake. Health in Reach had concentrated its efforts in southern California, building its network of providers narrow and deep. So the merger gave the combined company synergistic strengths.

And Health In Reach has one thing in its favor: its business model does not involve dealing with insurance companies.

By May of year one, the merger was complete and the combined companies re-launched under the Health In Reach name with a national network. CEO Scott Sangster remained to run the combined company.

By now, Health In Reach has over 1.5 million appointments in inventory, and most people in the US can find a provider within 20 miles of where they live. Providers create profiles of their practices, including what’s covered in their prices for specific procedures. About half of them will even tell prospective patients what the procedure costs – the first step toward the price transparency that Health In Reach sees for the future.

Health In Reach targets self-pay patients, who are price-sensitive and often delay treatment for financial reasons. Its providers can shape their own demand curves by raising and lowering prices, creating an environment of dynamic pricing. This attracts providers, because in exchange for going below the “list price” for services that they negotiate with insurance carriers, they have no receivables and no billing expenses for patients who pay at the time of the visit. This is one way doctors can change their practice mixes from low-margin Medicare and Medicaid patients to uninsured patients looking for value.

Since 130,000,000 Americans don’t have dental insurance and are forgoing dental work during the difficult economic times, dentists are flocking to Health in Reach’s network. Others who offer their services include Lasik surgeons, dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons, and all doctors who want to be consulted for second opinions that are no longer covered by insurance.

Health in Reach’s Sangster hopes that gamifying health care decisions with rewards points will incentivize consumers not to put off those teeth-cleanings, mole inspections, and other elective procedures that might help reform health care by making Americans healthier. I hope he is right.

 
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