Local organization offering health care without health insurance

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Forget health care reform; a Kirkland doctor and his partners say they've come up with their own way to give medical coverage to patients who have no insurance.

It's called direct primary care, and doctor Vern Cherewatenko's motto says it all: no health insurance, no problem.

Cherewatenko started a non-profit organization called Simple Care that says no to health insurance, but yes to patients. The organization now treats 60,000 people, and none of them need insurance.

Patients pay $29 annually to join, then they pay as they go. A five minute exam costs $75, while 10 minutes costs $100 and 20 minutes costs $150. There's no paperwork and no red tape, but payment is required at the time of service.

"It just clicked. It made sense," said Andre Watson, who's been one of Dr. Cherewatenko's Simple Care patients since 1997. "They spend time with you. You don't find that very often because (in other facilities) it's 'Get out, next. Get out.' Because it's money."

Patient Patricia West said in three months Dr. Cherewatenko did for her daughter's head injury what her health care doctors could not: he correctly diagnosed and treated her.

"It's because doctors aren't taking enough time to really listen to patients and find out what's going on," West said.

That's what Cherewatenko wanted to change with his organization.

"My background is to help patients," he said. "The last thing I needed was a bureaucracy to tell me I can or can't take care of people the way I want to, the way I'm trained."

He said the program is ethical and legal, yet slow to take off.

"The sad part about it is people look at Simple Care in a vacuum," Watson said. "That it's too simple. It's right there you pay cash for time you see him and go from there."

The service typically does not cover hospital care. For that, Cherewatenko recommends patients get catastrophic insurance.