By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA - Jeremy Durfee was paying a pretty penny for health insurance, and didn't feel he was getting much in return.
When he talked about his medical-dollars conundrum, he found out he wasn't the only one with crazy stories about healthcare costs.
"I told my wife, 'What is going on?'" he said. "'We're paying $15,000, $17,000 a year for medical insurance, and we're still paying for everything.'"
The longtime entrepreneur did what made sense to him; he hatched a business idea - membership-based primary healthcare centers stretching across the nation. Now he's one of about a dozen upstarts at the University of Central Florida's Business Incubator at the Daytona Beach International Airport, 601 Innovation Way. He's launching Healthy You Medical and Wellness Centers from there.
"Healthy You Medical and Wellness is a primary-care and wellness center we'll be opening all over the United States with a focus on preventative maintenance and wellness services," he said.
On board as the chief operating officer is Angela Franceschi. She said her medical career has repeatedly shown healthcare is often far more expensive than it needs to be, because too often cost-conscious people are getting treated on the backend of problems. That's the time expensive surgeries and medications are needed, instead of less costly treatment options.
"I've been a nurse for 25 years, and do consulting now," Ms. Franceschi said. "We truly believe - the team Jeremy pulled together - we have a very deep feeling and agreement that it's not acceptable these day and age in these United States for someone not to have healthcare. It's baloney."
Mr. Durfee had what he called "very good insurance" when he was working in the Washington D.C. area. That was a big help when his 9-year-old daughter, Jules, was born. Then the family moved to Florida in 2004, got an insurance policy that was supposed to help cover pregnancy, and son James was born. He's 6 now. He was large, so doctors opted for additional medical assistance to deliver him. The Durfee's price tag for the pregnancy?
"I believe close to $17,000," Mr. Durfee said.
Later came his wife's, Jamie's, routine operation for a medical condition not related to her pregnancy.
"We paid for the whole surgery," Mr. Durfee said. It was about $25,000.
Followed less than a week later by a letter from the insurance company.
"I got a letter from my insurance company that said, 'To better serve you, we're raising your rates to $20,000,'" he said. "I said, 'What? You haven't paid for anything.'"
Sheer economics forced the family into an uncomfortable choice. They had to drop the medical insurance and seek alternatives. Mr. Durfee called doctors' offices and negotiated prices before visits, but still ended up with medical sticker shock when he got bills.
Mr. Durfee said Healthy You will be affordable to members because it'll give them predictable costs and focus on the services that prevent bigger medical bills down the line. It's all built around his experiences.
"When we looked at what we used and needed, it was primary care, as a young family," he said.
Healthy You is still raising capital and plans to open its first centers in California and Texas the first quarter of next year. Mr. Durfee believes it will spread rapidly from there.
"Our goal, within five to seven years, is to be the largest provider of primary healthcare and wellness in the United States," he said.
If successful, that'll translate locally into Volusia County jobs.
"Our immediate impact would be between 10 and 30, and that could grow over time as we scale the company," he said. "Most of those jobs would be more than $50,000 [a year]."
The business incubator celebrated its first anniversary recently. In 2010 the Volusia County Council approved $1.4 million to renovated a 10,000-square-foot facility to house it. Additionally, the county gave the university $750,000 to run it for three years.
"The business incubator is a place to start a company," Doris "Connie" Bernal, site manager said. "The entrants have a lot of resources to work with here. They have professionals who help them with a number of areas."
Healthy You recently celebrated its first anniversary at the Incubator. It moved in September of last year. Mr. Durfee said the Incubator has been a big help to the company he started in 2009.
"We've met business experts," Mr. Durfee said. "We've met funding people. To have the endorsement of the UCF gives us credibility in what we're trying to do."