Need health care but lack health insurance? Bartering may be the answer
At a time when roughly 50 million Americans lack health insurance, programs and organizations are filling the void by letting artists and others exchange their talents and services for health care.
Before jumping into a bartering system, however, check with a traditional insurance agent or company about low-cost coverage. But if that route doesn’t work out, bartering may be your ticket to health care coverage.
Organizations such as the for-profit ITEX Corp. bartering network help tens of thousands of businesses negotiate “cashless” business transactions.
The network’s more than 550 physicians and more 600 dentists participate in 100 local bartering groups around the country, says Alan Zimmelman, a spokesman for Bellevue, Wash.-based ITEX. A dentist, for example, can fill vacant appointment slots with barter patients. In return, those patients can offer services such as advertising, plumbing and plant care.
|Some uninsured musicians are trading their talents for health care.|
“The weakened economy during the past two years has seen many health care providers with more open time on their schedules,” Zimmelman says.
Types of bartering
People in need of health care may choose direct or indirect bartering. In direct bartering, you trade goods or services without using money. In indirect bartering, individuals or small business owners accumulate credits or “barter dollars” for their services, such as painting a porch. The barter dollars can be applied to the services of any other network member. Through direct or indirect bartering, a painter can get his ingrown toenail fixed, while a podiatrist can get his living room painted.
Bartering for health care usually involves services but not lab tests, although a dentist might barter with the lab so that those charges can be covered through bartering, Zimmelman says. “It often depends on the ability of the patient to pay,” he says.
Some physicians set a value on services on a case-by-case basis and barter directly with their patients. Others go through barter exchange companies such as ITEX or New Berlin, Wis.-based International Monetary Systems, a for-profit company.
Use caution before signing up, however, as some companies are more reputable than others:
• Ask about the size of the bartering network. A bartering company that networks with other bartering companies gives you the greatest number of options when you want to cash in your bartering dollars.
• Speak with other members to find out their level of satisfaction with the bartering service.
• Investigate the bartering company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau or the International Reciprocal Trade Association.
• Ask about the fees. “Bartering networks often charge annual or monthly administrative fees and may even require a cut from every transaction,” the Better Business Bureau says. “Read the fine print and understand the conditions of membership — including the true cost — before joining a bartering network.”
Health care for a song
Some hospitals have initiated bartering programs on their own. Brooklyn’s Woodhull Medical Center, for example, entertains staff, patients and community members with talent and, in exchange, the artists earn points toward health care. Since its inception six years ago, 700 artists have participated in Woodhull’s Artist Access program, says Lynn Schulman, senior associate executive director for business affairs at the Woodhull North Brooklyn Health Network.
Qualified artists in the program are offered a range of services — including doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, emergency care, medical and surgical procedures, prescriptions, MRIs and ambulatory surgery — at any hospital or clinic within the network, according to Schulman.
Each hour of performance earns the artist 40 credits that can be used immediately or banked for the future. Under the program, a doctor’s visit costs between $15 and $60 (depending on income) and can be paid with cash or credits.