San Antonio Doctor and Restaurant Owner Partner Up to Offer Direct-Care Health Care to Employees

In a previous San Antonio Current report, we introduced Dr. Ray Altamirano, a local doctor who is changing the way he does provides health care by eliminating insurance companies and charging patients a flat fee for services he provides.

It has only been a few months since he started this service at his South Side clinic, but he has received positive feedback from the community. It has even sparked the interest of one local restaurant owner.

Lisa Asvestas, owner of The Cove and 5 Points Local, is partnering with Altamirano to offer health care to her employees at a lower cost compared to traditional health insurance.

She saw the article on Altamirano and was excited to hear about his model and how affordable it would be for her as a business owner, and her employees.

She also realized that they both championed giving back and helping the communities in which they serve.

"I met him and his wife, who is a nurse, and saw that we were both aligned in that we want to help community. That's what I'm looking for in all my relationships, alignment," Asvestas said.

She states that the health care system in the U.S. at this time isn't where it needs to be, and this has prompted her to search for other ways of providing coverage for her employees.

"It's about really understanding that no one is coming to care of us. The government is a mess right now," Asvestas said. "I've seen team members that are sick and they don't have any kind of insurance. I've looked at the insurance model when Obamacare came out, and it is so expensive."

She has reached out to peers in the business community who offer insurance for some insight but has not heard good things about it. This, in turn, motivated her to take things into her own hands.

"From a business perspective, my thing is like community takes care of the community. If no one is coming to rescue us, and no one is taking care of us, we have to take care of us," she said. "We have to come together, the doctors have to come together."

That's what Altamirano has been working toward since he opened his clinic, recruiting various doctors and specialists to take part in his model.

Asvestas wants health and wellness for all of her employees, and her plans in collaboration with Altamirano are focused around providing basic health care services to her employees. This includes doctor visits, annual checkups and preventative healthcare.

The restaurant owner has seen first-hand the impact of being underinsured or completely uninsured can have on an individual, as most employees in the restaurant industry live paycheck to paycheck.

"The part that bothers me is that when someone does get sick and they have to go to urgent care or something, they're sick and they're stressed because they're like 'that was my rent money' or 'that was my car payment,'" she said.

The plan Asvestas and Altamirano are set to implement beginning the first week of August is that every employee contributes seven dollars a week and the employer will contribute the same amount per employee. This will allow them to visit Altamirano, as well as other medical professionals like dentists and eye doctors part of the doctor's network who have agreed to charge for services given and not the large bill handed down by insurance companies.

Asvestas believes this will take away some stress that is commonly associated with going to the doctor.

"I think people sometimes don't go because it's too stressful on their pocketbooks...By everybody contributing a small amount, it's community taking care of community," she said. "I haven't had one team member say 'I'm not interested.' I've had everyone say 'Wow, I totally would love that."

The restaurant queen is a bit scared going into it, given that she doesn't know how it will exactly work, but her passion for the community and caring for her employees is what motivates her to go through with the plan.

"I love the phrase 'socially conscious business.' We're looking for consciousness here, conscious business, and this is part of being socially conscious."

Asvestas believes that the health care industry should be afraid of this model, stating that it is a "powerful" thing when it comes to reshaping health care in the U.S.

"It is a smart business move... the healthier your employees are, the healthier the business is. It just makes sense," she said.

She also loves the idea because Altamirano practices medicine, something that insurance companies hinder.

"Every doctor I've talked to is so jealous because I'm practicing pure medicine. Before leaving primary care, I would only practice maybe 15%. The rest of the time I was clicking buttons, signing things off, arguing on the phone with insurance. I wasn't doing doctor work," Altamirano said.

One thing he always keeps in mind is "Are you answering the call?" He has seen instances where doctors overcharge patients for basic care and he wants to change that.

"I want to give [people] an honest option because my heart is in the right place," he said

He applauds Asvestas in her work she has done in helping to implement the program into her businesses.

"It's so refreshing to see a business owner be so proactive and try to promote health for their own employees, especially when the systems we have in place aren't really that," the doctor said.

Both of them hope that this can be the start of a trend for small businesses as it is easier, cheaper and beneficial to all who take part in it when practiced effectively.

"I can definitely see more small businesses getting in on direct-care models. However, I just offer it, and once you see the transparency behind it, it's a no-brainer," Altamirano said.

Asvestas hopes other business owners will see that too.

"To make these moves, it takes courage and passion, and a lot of people are afraid. What we are doing, I hope, will inspire more small business owners and more doctors to wake up! Just because it's always been this way doesn't mean it has to stay this way," Asvestas said.

For more information on Dr. Altamirano and his work, visit his clinic's Facebook page.

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