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Bartering for healthcare benefits small businesses, healthcare providers and patients

David Weldon, Contributor

If there is one sure way to beat the high cost of offering healthcare benefits, it is to not pay for it. At least, not directly.

That is the strategy for a growing number of small businesses that are bartering to get healthcare services they otherwise couldn’t afford. It’s a strategy that also offers benefits for the healthcare businesses providing the services.

Bartering is being used to offer or get primary medical care visits, dental work, chiropractic services, a number of specialty medical procedures and prescription and pharmaceutical goods, said Nicole Graham, senior trade director at Trade International Exchange (TIE), a national bartering service organization. It may be on a one-time or a long-term arrangement, depending on the terms worked out between healthcare provider and client.

“We’ve seen growing demand over the past five or six months for healthcare services,” noted Graham. Demand is increasing so much that Graham said her staff is now pushing the availability of healthcare services as a primary marketing tool.

For some small businesses, the motivation to barter for healthcare services is the bad economy. For others, it is new regulations requiring comprehensive healthcare coverage for employees.

These companies are trading their printing, construction, tax preparation, fine dining, or whatever services, for any number of medical or dental service needs for staff on an as-needed basis.

TIE, and groups like it, comes in as the broker between barter agency members. When a local florist member needs a dentist for its small staff, for example, it reaches out to TIE for other members that provide dental services. In turn, dentists that belong to the network and have vacant chairs to fill reach out to TIE for other members that need dental services. Perhaps the dentist needs office cleaning services or wishes to take a client out to dinner. Either can be accomplished without reaching for the wallet. TIE puts them together for an average membership fee of 10 percent of the cost of the services.

The way the process works for an individual employee is that they become tied in to the TIE bartering account of their employer. When the employee needs a visit to the dentist, for example, they agree to place a certain amount of hourly pay into their TIE Healthcare Program, earning a strike in the employer’s account. The employee receives a pay bump to cover the cost of that service, and they exchange their credits in the account to the participating dentist.

Credits received by the healthcare provider can then be exchanged for whatever other type of goods or service the provider may need.

It’s a process that has worked well for Mark Frankel, a dentist practicing in Hollandale, Fla.

“I have used bartering for vacations, painting, contracting, restaurants, hotels, air fares, massage services, medical services for myself, anything really,” Frankel said.

Frankel has been bartering for approximately 20 years and joined with TIE last year. He said the South Florida region has been hit especially hard by the bad economy, and he definitely sees a growing demand for healthcare services by local barter members.

Bartering has been a positive experience overall, Frankel said. He advises those interested in joining a bartering service to do so for the long haul. The types of goods and services available at any given time changes, depending on what members have available to offer, or as they come and go.

“As a long-term player, I don’t count on a given service at a given time,” Frankel said. But when a desirable service or product does become available, he takes advantage.

It is a similar story for Anthony Bui, a dentist in Coral Springs, Fla. Bui has been bartering for approximately 10 years. He belongs to four different trade agencies, including TIE, which he joined last year.

Bui said he does most of his bartering for the benefit of his own employees or patients. He may use the service to treat an employee and family to dinner out. Or he might decide to send flowers to a patient for a significant occasion.

“It is a great tool,” Bui said of bartering. “Whenever I need something, I call the bartering company and tell them, I need this service – do you have anything? I get a response back within 24 to 28 hours, and most of the time they will find what I am looking for.”

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