When Next Level CEO Dr. Juliet Breeze founded her company in 2013, she was focused on impacting cost and access for individuals with acute health care problems. Nearly a decade later, the company has grown to 22 clinics across Houston and recently launched Next Level PRIME, a direct primary care model that employers can purchase for a low monthly fee to provide free health care to their employees.
“We started out as a fee-for-service urgent care and we still do that,” Breeze said. “That allowed us to put locations up and have a lot of coverage. Adding this direct payment model to an already existing framework made it less scary and easier to implement ... Now we’re able to use that framework to implement this new model.”
The origin story for Next Level began 10 years ago, when freestanding emergency rooms were popping up on every corner across Houston because residents needed health care options on the weekend or after hours.
“When I visited one of those places myself, I was made acutely aware of the cost of that type of care,” Breeze said. “Next Level was born out of frustration with the fact that there wasn’t an easy, cost effective way of taking care of my family’s needs for things that weren’t life threatening.”
In addition to its growth in Houston, Next Level also has 15 new locations planned for expansions into the Beaumont, Austin and San Antonio metros. Part of the company’s growth is due to Next Level PRIME, since many employers have offices in several of the state’s major cities in addition to Houston.
“It became obvious to us that here we are with a great number of urgent cares across the city, with a lot of convenience for people, so wouldn’t it be cool if we could provide something similar—primary and urgent care available to people for free,” Breeze said.
Through PRIME, which launched in January 2021 and now has 12,000 members, companies of all sizes across Houston can join and receive urgent care, primary care, telemedicine services at no cost for their employees, along with free coverage for labs, splits, casts and immunizations at any Next Level location.
During her time working in the health care industry, Breeze discovered multiple reasons for why this type of model works, including the public health aspect—people for whom care is free actually come to the doctor regularly.
“They enjoy the opportunity to use health care and they are more compliant with their visits,” Breeze said. “If we see a diabetic in a fee-for-service world, and every time they come in they have to pay a copay and an extra amount for labs, they tend to drag out visit frequency, even if they want to take care of themselves. Nobody wants to spend money that way.”
The direct primary care model is not only more affordable and a healthier option for patients, but it also makes health care costs less expensive for the employer, Breeze said. Next Level’s medical providers also like the concept because they do not spend time begging for services to be rendered or talking to patients about how expensive a lab may be. Plus, on the patient side PRIME members can get a physical on a Sunday or get their diabetes taken care of on a Thursday evening—all benefits a traditional primary care physician’s office open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday cannot typically offer.
“Lots of things make it streamlined and less expensive to provide care in that way. I think we have a very broken system because the fee-for-service model encourages sick care,” Breeze said. “It encourages people to have to pay more, and that’s not necessarily the right way to approach it.”
With the expansion to San Antonio and Austin this year, Next Level now has an opportunity to serve regional companies with more of a Texas presence, both through the traditional urgent and acute care services along with PRIME.
“We’re really ready to prove that we aren’t just a Houston sensation,” Breeze said. “All of our staff and people managing the clinics will come from those areas. We are very aware that health care is local. Part of the magic and what happened with us in Houston is that we’re very devoted to the community. We want to help the people who live here. That’s what I want to recreate in these different locations.”
For any employers considering making a change to their benefits package, Next Level provides a performance guarantee to help employers to feel less nervous about making the jump to PRIME. The company ensures the utilization as a group is more than the cost the client paid for membership; if it is not, Next Level will refund the difference at the end of the year.
“Employers are often really afraid to make changes to their benefits plan because it’s so important right now to attract and retain good employees,” Breeze said. “But even if this program didn’t save them a dime, it may be worth exploring for the sole benefit of providing a very unique benefit for employees to take good care of themselves and their families for no money.”
To find out more about Next Level PRIME, visit https://www.nextlevelurgentcare.com/next-level-prime/.
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