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In store clinics and MinuteClinics help people save on medical bills.

In store clinics are being open across the nation in an increasing number. The centers are sometimes called retail clinics, and they are involved in providing patients with another option for low cost, convenient, and quality health care. Insurance is not required to use their services.

These clinics offer the ultimate in convenience, including quick and easy access to low-cost health care treatment by experienced professionals, with no appointments necessary. One of the primary goals of these clinics is to provide low cost medical care or referrals to specialists if needed, and the centers help people pay lower medical bills for less complex conditions and non serious injuries. Some retailers have even taken the concept even further, as shown by Walgreens, which is now providing free health care from its clinics.

MinuteClinic is currently the industry leader. It was launched in 2002. Each MinuteClinic is staffed by a team of full- and part-time NPs or PAs, with one medical representative always on duty. The hours of operation are generally longer than those at the average doctor's office. Many clinics, for example, are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and from 10 to 4 on weekends. Many of these locations have the highest traffic on evenings and weekends, when patients can't get an appointment with their own doctors, and they also have high traffic over the lunch hours on weekdays, when patients can run in quickly from work.

The bills you will expect to pay are much lower. Clinic fees range from $25 for athlete's foot to $99 for allergy testing. But pay only $40 to $50, and you will be covered for treatments for most common illnesses like strep throat, bronchitis, or sinus, ear, skin, and bladder infections. The NPs also administer vaccines, and will also perform screenings for pregnancy, cholesterol, thyroid, diabetes, and heart disease. Health screenings range from $40 to $75. About two-thirds of the patients receive prescriptions and many of the others are advised to take OTC medications.

Since in store retail clinics and MinuteClinics are typically covered in-network by health insurance plans, most patients are charged only a low cost copay, typically $10 to $20, for the health care provided. In fact, some health insurance plans actually encourage enrollees to utilize the clinics because their fees are considerably lower than those charged by urgent care clinics, emergency rooms, EDs, and physicians. According to MinuteClinic, which charges less than $50 to treat strep throat (plus $14 if an overnight culture is required), the average medical bill at a doctor's office is more than $100, and expect to pay more than $300 at an ED.





Unlike urgent care centers, these retail clinics don't deal with serious injuries or complex conditions. A referral will be given to those patients. The staff t the locations only treat common, straightforward medical conditions that can be handled with one visit by the patient and those that don't require a full workup or follow-up care, says Debra Benoit, an NP who supervises clinics in the Maryland area.

The model has been greeted by employers, health insurers, and even many consumer groups as one way to address the rising number of uninsured Americans and an effective way to help people reduce medical bills and debt. The number of underinsured Americans is up to 45 million, even when factoring in the affordable health care act. Retail clinics not only provide convenience to all customers, but they are also considerably less expensive. The services provided at these sites also nicely complement free government clinics as well.

You can find these in store retail medical clinics in CVS, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and other national retailers As noted, an appointment is not needed and people can just drop in. While not all stores have them yet, every week additional clinics are opening, and they are providing consumers many options.




By Jon McNamara

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