Seattle-based Qliance is closing its clinics, affecting some 13,000 patients who participated in its subscription-based model for primary care.
Qliance Medical Management, aSeattle-based chain of clinics that provided basic medical treatment on a monthly membership basis, closed Monday after a decade of providing low-cost and insurance-free primary care.
Qliance, considered a pioneer of that medical model, told patients in an email that limited services will still be available for the next 30 days.
The closure will affect 13,000 members between primary-care and emergency-care services. Qliance’s physicians will independently continue to provide primary care for now in a program serving Seattle firefighters.
The company attracted early attention because it had been backed by big-name investors including Jeff Bezos, Zillow Chairman Rich Barton, Seattle Sounders owner Drew Carey, entrepreneur Michael Dell and Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.
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Dr. Erika Bliss, Qliance’s CEO and co-owner, said in an interview that it “ran up against overwhelming financial difficulties and was unable to continue.” She said the company could not get enough bridge funding to get it to when new contracts would be able to come in.
Because the health-care system is “hostile to change,” she said, “it has been literally an uphill battle the whole way.”
Last year Bliss and Qliance President Cheryl Kilodavis bought the company from its investors in a management buyout. Bliss estimated the money invested in the company before the pair bought full ownership was around $30 million.
The company’s model offered unlimited primary-care service for a monthly fee, as well as virtual urgent-care services. Erika Bliss founded the company in 2007 with her cousin Garrison Bliss, who left the company a year and a half ago to open Bliss MD.
Qliance claimed its system was consistently saving members as much as 20 percent on care. Because it was not handling insurance billing, the lack of insurance allowed for more money to be invested in care and less in administrative costs.
Staff were warned several weeks ago of the possibility of closure, but the decision ultimately was made over the weekend by Bliss and Kilodavis.
Since buying the company from investors, Erika Bliss said she feels she has perceived more double talk and hostility against direct primary care. She and several colleagues will be opening up their own practices and inviting Qliance patients to follow them. Many of these will operate under direct primary care.
“A lot of us don’t want to go back to the fee for service world. We spent too much time in a world where we get to do the right thing for our patients and not have to play the game in the insurance world,” she said.
Sarah, a Qliance member from Seattle who didn’t want her full name used, said it offered her the best medical care she had had in years. In her two years as a patient, she said, she actually felt the doctors took the time to get to know patients. They helped walk her through medical issues and tests, including cancer screenings.
Sarah said she was upset to learn of the closure but held no hard feelings for Qliance.
Bliss said many of the patients she has spoken to are distraught, and some have been in tears at the closure. Qliance is trying to assist patients in finding new health-care options, she said.
Erika Bliss said that in addition to opening her own individual primary-care practice, she plans to continue to be a vocal advocate in health-care reform.
“I’m not giving up. I went into medicine to change the health-care system for better. There’s still a lot of work to do. I plan to carry on and make a lot of noise,” she said.