Dr. Mark Rosenbloom is trying to keep us healthier earlier, but can we afford it?
By Alex Lubischer
At first glance, LIFEFORCE Medical Institute eludes categorization. The Evanston-based practice provides an array of healthcare services including hormone replacement therapy, heart disease detection and a special needs division that offers holistic support to patients grappling with multiple sclerosis.
Its website, however, advertises LIFEFORCE’s more cosmetic advantages, offering to help its clients defy age array of anti-aging breakthroughs. These claims, coupled with the site’s images of a muscled clientele, calls to mind the services of a health club.
When asked to rate his institute on a scale of one to ten, with “one” denoting a health club and “ten” a strictly medical institute, LIFEFORCE founder Dr. Mark Rosenbloom gave a confident 13. “Everything I do is backed by medical research,” he said.
And everything he does can get pricey. Paying via insurance is not an automatic. LIFEFORCE will submit some tests and procedures, but the full amount of the services has to be paid upfront. If insurance will pick up part of the tab, a refund is sent to the patient.
This leaves the LIFEFORCE preventative approach to health and wellness out of reach for most Cook County residents. Its cheapest initial service is a $695 hormone review for women and $895 hormone review for men. Its priciest: a comprehensive health consultation for $3,495 for both men and women.
Still, those who can afford it get their money’s worth. The hormone review alone provides a full blood exam that analyzes hormone levels and triglycerides (a type of fat in the bloodstream whose high levels can increase a risk of heart disease) as well as a number of other health risk factors. This can alert patients of risks up to a decade in advance, leaving plenty of time for prevention. The comprehensive consultation includes a radiological iDXA scan that gives a molecular readout of body composition and a three-to-five hour consultation with Rosenbloom. Patients who opt for ongoing supplements and hormone therapy receive additional consultations and pay anywhere from $495 to $995 per month. The cost for an athletic trainer is additional, though one session does include meeting with a trainer to set up an initial workout regimen.
The program yields results. “I have a 45-year-old patient. She’s had constant Crohn’s disease for 25 years, and now she’s been on my program for about eight months, and she’s in complete remission for the first time in her adult life,” said Rosenbloom, who prescribes informed dieting and exercise in addition to supplements and prescription medication.
Mark Fournier, a 55-year-old avid hockey player, came to LIFEFORCE last summer because he wanted to stay healthy and preemptively combat the high risk of cancer that runs in his family. The program found and corrected a thyroid problem and vitamin D deficiency. He became fitter and healthier. Of his treatment, Fournier said, “Dr. Rosenbloom says, ‘OK. You’re healthy for a 55-year-old; let’s see if we can get you as healthy as a competing 30-year-old.’ He just raises the bar.”
So why won’t insurance companies foot the bill? According to Rosenbloom, the problem roots itself in the amount of time allotted to each patient. For a typical patient, Rosenbloom spends two to three hours reviewing the lab results and detailed health history before determining a patient-specific plan. He’ll then spend up to another three hours with the patient, going over everything in depth, from medication to diet and exercise.
“If I claim from insurance, they’ll give me an ‘extended patient visit’ at $125 bucks,” said Rosenbloom, whose time spent with each patient far exceeds the $125 compensation. So payments most often come out of the pockets of patients who can afford this pioneering treatment without the aid of insurance.
The key to making LIFEFORCE’s prevention-as-treatment methods accessible to the general population hinges on establishing types of protocols that could be followed by family practice doctors. Rather than health plans and treatments tailored specifically to each individual patient, there would need to be a formation of 10 to 15 different protocols that could be applied to various patients, dependent on need.
“The way it’s practiced now, it’s too time intensive. It’s not going to be available to the general public because they can’t afford to pay a physician for five hours,” explained Rosenbloom, whose higher-end treatment is currently available only to higher-end patients. In the future, he insisted, “there will be ways to simplify this.”
Insurance-funded, doctor-prescribed treatments that focus on prevention could save billions of dollars yearly. “Ninety percent of our healthcare dollars are spent in the last few years of life, when quality of life is really, really poor. If we, insurance, society as a whole, just spent one-tenth of that toward prevention 20 years earlier, it would save a lot of money,” said Rosenbloom.
This would require a fundamental shift in the way that healthcare is delivered, which, Rosenbloom explained, would be resisted by the status quo. “Heart disease is about a 400-billion-dollar-a-year industry that is projected to rise to 1.2 trillion dollars a year in the next 20 to 25 years. Heart disease is something that some people say is 90 percent preventable,” said Rosenbloom. “The problem is, if a lot [fewer] people get heart disease or cancer, then there’s a lot less money spent on drugs or hospitals.”
According to Rosenbloom, a majority of what the healthcare industry calls prevention is actually early detection. “What you need is true prevention, which is going one step earlier and keeping the disease from ever occurring. There’s very little in medicine that does that. The only practical solution I see now is for the insurance-buying public to be very aware of how important true prevention is – not early detection – and to be willing to pay a slightly higher short-term premium in order to protect their longer term health.”
Upon closer inspection, LIFEFORCE delivers noteworthy wellness and prevention programs which, far from lacking merit, simply fall outside the parameters of what is deemed medically necessary by today’s healthcare and health insurance standards.
Rosenbloom is forging a new path into the future of healthcare; one in which a physician’s duty preempts treating sick patients by keeping them healthy in the first place. For now, however, Rosenbloom’s high standards come at a high price.