Would you pay a monthly fee to see your doctor?

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

PHOENIX -- A Valley woman says she may have to pay $200 a month for something most people have never heard of before for her and her family to be able to see their family doctor.

Debbie Munoz is not only a mom, she's a nurse, so choosing the right doctor for her and her family was important.

So nearly 10 years ago, she selected Dr. Rakesh Patel to be her family physician.

"I've been very happy with him, I like him a lot, you know, I like his nurse practioners," she said.

But although Munoz has been happy with Patel and his Gilbert practice, she was rather surprised when the doctor's office mailed her a notice telling her about some changes.

"That they were changing the practice, that if we wanted to continue being a patient at this clinic of his we had to pay a $200 a month fee," Munoz said.

If Munoz and her family wanted to continue to be Patel's patients, she would actually have to pay a $200 monthly fee whether she saw Patel that month or not. And this is on top of her health insurance she paid for. Munoz couldn't believe it.

"I just need a family doctor that's not going to cost us an arm and a leg, I mean our insurance premiums are high as it is," she said.

3 On Your Side contacted Patel, who acknowledged that patients who want to continue to see him will have to pay what's called a "membership practice."

"It really is a new way of looking at healthcare and going beyond the kind of 25, 35, 40 patients a day we see," Patel said.

Patel said the membership practice fee is becoming more popular in his industry. He said the fee lets him reduce the number of patients he sees, which allows him to give better one-on-one care.

Plus, the fee puts his patients directly in contact with him if they need him.

"Call me on my cell phone, send me an email," he said. "I want to know about these things. It's really a collaborative effort between myself and the patient."

However, Patel said membership isn't for everyone.

For patients who can't afford that monthly fee, Patel said they're still welcome to come to his practice, but they'll see a nurse practitioner instead of him.

Patients like Amy Culver, who decided to go with this program, said it's been the best decision for her and her family.

"The doctors are just shoveling you through," Culver said. "To know that if that was my husband or it was me and we had an advocate by our side, how do you put a price tag on that?"

As for Munoz, she said she loves Dr. Patel, but she just can't afford to pay him $200 a month so next time she'll be seeing a nurse practioner.