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Reexamining health care: Tigard couple opens low-cost clinic

Operators of Tigard clinic are slashing prices for their patients
by: Jaime Valdez Rob and Cecilia Tilley’s new health care clinic opened quietly Nov. 1. The couple hopes that the affordable health care practice will create “a new paradigm in medicine.”

TIGARD - Cecilia Tilley wants to change the world.

'We want to start a new paradigm in medicine,' she said matter-of-factly while sitting at her newly opened health clinic on Pacific Highway. 'That's our thing.'

Upset about the expensive state of health care in this country, Cecilia Tilley and her husband Rob recently opened the aptly named Affordable Health Clinic near downtown Tigard.

The family practice promises to provide health care services at about a third of the cost of most other practices.

Where most trips to the doctor end up costing uninsured patients hundreds of dollars, a trip to AHC costs about $65.

'We all need to pitch in a little more, and not worry about chasing every dollar,' Rob Tilley said.

Rob Tilley worked for 17 years as an ER physician and believes that the health care system in America needs serious work.

'From a business perspective, the model of health care is crazy,' he said. 'Nobody would design a system like that. What has happened is that it's evolved…and this monster has grown. We all know it is out of control.'

After 25 years of trying to work within the health care system, the couple decided to get out.

Cecilia, who worked as a medical technician, puts it bluntly:

'Did it suck the soul right out of us? Yeah, it kind of did.'

AHC is meant as an alternative to expensive medical care, Rob Tilley said.

'This is not what most doctors practice anymore,' Rob Tilley said. 'People pay thousands and thousands of dollars a month for their beautiful waiting rooms and a staff of people and beautiful buildings, and I thought 'Can't we just open up the doors and see patients?' So that's what we do.'

'We just try to work with people'

Over the last few decades, physicians have started to leave family practice to seek out more specialized medicine where they can make more money, Rob Tilley said.

At the same time, hospitals are charging patients for services that they don't need, he said.

'When you have an EKG done at a hospital, often they can't interpret it for you right there,' Rob Tilley said. 'You have to come back later so they can charge for another repeat visit. And then they charge you to read the test.'

It's that mentality that the Tilleys hope to get away from.

Their clinic specializes in serving the uninsured and underinsured, Cecilia Tilley said, but people with insurance are welcome too.

'Why pay $300 a doctor's visit when you can pay less than $100 here?' Rob Tilley said. 'That's 2/3 cheaper because we don't have the overheads.'

The price comes from the small operation the Tilleys run: There is no staff; only Cecilia, who runs the front office, and Rob who sees patients.

The Tilleys have even sold their home in Newberg so that they can move closer to their practice and keep costs low.

'We're just try to work with people,' Cecilia Tilley said. 'Set up payment plans. Whatever.'

'What we needed to do'

The Tilleys had originally planned on moving to India and working to improve the health care system there when they retired, Cecilia Tilley said, but after a trip to the local pharmacy they decided there was an immediate need much closer to home.

'I had to go pick up some medicine and I went through the drive-up window and there was a family in front of me and I could hear the woman say 'That will be $53. Do you have insurance?' and the man said no,' Cecilia Tilley said. 'He turned to his wife and she looked in the backseat where her two children were and she hung her head. Then she looked at the teller and shook her head and then they drove off.

'I thought 'Oh my God, they paid for a doctor they couldn't afford and then couldn't afford the medicine to get better,' and that's when we decided this is what we needed to do. We don't need to save the world in India. People need help here.'

Rob Tilley said that having an affordable health clinic in Tigard is a win-win, both for the uninsured, as well as emergency rooms, where uninsured patients seek care they can't afford to pay.

'If we can provide care for someone that we see three or four times a year and they stay out of the hospital, everybody wins,' he said.

The clinic opened its doors on Nov. 1. Cecilia Tilley said they have seen only a handful of patients so far, but they will continue to serve the area for as long as they can.

'Maybe it's a bit idealistic, but we hope to make the world a better place,' she said.