A few billionaire techies are putting money into Seattle’s Qliance Medical Management, a company experimenting with direct-pay medical clinics that operate outside the usual medical insurance system.
The company is announcing that it raised $6 million from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, computer baron Michael Dell and Drew Carey, the comedian, actor and co-owner of the Seattle Sounders.
Also pitching in are Second Avenue Partners, New Atlantic Ventures and Clear Fir Partners. The firms invested earlier in the 4-year-old company, which has now received $13.5 million and runs three clinics in the Seattle area.
Instead of accepting health insurance payments, Qliance charges patients monthly membership fees ranging from $44 to $84 to cover primary and preventive care such as checkups, vaccinations and minor fractures.
Chief Executive Norm Wu said the company wasn’t looking for backers that are household names. It’s in the process of raising a much larger amount to fund a national expansion, but Bezos, Dell and Carey heard through the grapevine about the company and wanted to get involved.
Wu said he used to work as a consultant for Dell in the late 1980s, and Bezos and Carey heard from other Qliance investors.
“This is a stepping stone,” he said. “What we’re particularly happy about is we’ve got people who’ve been very successful developing transformative business models who can immediately relate to what we’re doing.”
Qliance plans to use the money to keep growing in Washington state, where Wu expects to double employment from its current 60 people over the next year, and to develop the company’s technology platform. It operates clinics in Kent, Mercer Island and downtown Seattle and is considering new locations on the Eastside, in North Seattle and in Eastern Washington.
The national expansion should begin with a clinic in California next year. Wu said Qliance has been especially encouraged to expand by unions that are large purchasers of healthcare for their members.
UPDATE: I heard from a former Qliance subscriber concerned because she had been billed more than the $44 to $84 range the company provided in its press release. It turns out there’s also a higher tier of services that costs up to $129 per month.
Here’s an excerpt of the explanation I received from a spokeswoman today:
Qliance has two levels of service – Qliance Level I and Qliance Level II. The core service level (Qliance Level I) ranges from $44 to $84 a month.
The Level II service also includes bedside hospital coordination (your doctor will visit you and make regular rounds at the hospital if you’re there for a short or extended stay) as well as after hours access to your specific provider (whereas the Qliance Level I after-hours access coverage is shared among all Qliance providers). Level II costs max out at $129/month for seniors.