Women Outraged Over Rittenhouse Doctor’s New Membership Fee

“The healthcare system is broken,” says the center’s CEO. “Elitist bulls**t,” says a patient.


The Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center has been taking care of the medical needs of Center City women — and exclusively women — since its opening at 1632 Pine Street in 2008. Most of the women who went there loved it. And what’s not for a woman to love? An all-female staff. Same-day sick appointments. Quick callbacks from the doctors. But last week, the practice instituted a policy that has some women furious.

The office sent its patients a marketing e-mail blast, entitled “Membership Has Its Healthy Benefits.” What followed was an explanation of Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center’s new “membership based program” and a special offer inviting women to join for $99, a discount from the regular annual fee of $199. But hurry! The offer expires at the end of June!

The same day that the email was sent out, robocalls were also made, encouraging the women to sign up.

Women who became members would be “privileged” to same-day sick appointments, longer appointment times “with the promise of unhurried care,” and quick callbacks. Yes, the same things that the women were already used to getting.

“Now they want me to pay for the same service,” says Anne*, a 40-something self-employed patient of the center. “If it weren’t for the fact that I love my doctor there, I would leave this practice immediately. I am outraged by this elitist bullshit. It suggests that someone who can’t afford this fee will receive a lower level of service from their doctor.”

The email also promised that members would be entitled to one “complimentary annual healthy benefit service,” including a “mindfulness meditation session” or nutrition assessment. But Anne wasn’t budging. “I don’t need any of that bullshit,” she says.

Katie*, a single mom who works for an arts organization in Philadelphia and who has been a patient for a few years, echoes Anne’s sentiment and says that she’s currently shopping for a new doctor.

“I am not paying money for the privilege of being around these people,” Katie says. “Somehow they think that $99 is a good deal. I’m already paying a $30 co-pay every time I go there, and that’s using insurance that comes out of my paycheck. And I am loathe to imagine what my experience will be like if I don’t become a, quote, member. I can’t come in right away when I’m sick. I can’t get a quick callback. It’s the thing that doctors should be doing anyway. It’s a bait and switch. It’s insulting and gross.”

Other patients that I spoke to were similarly unenthused.

The center’s CEO, Robert Saltzman, says that he fully expected this reaction but points out that there have also been rave reviews. He also claims that whether a woman is a member or not, she’ll still be seen the same day if she is “really sick.”

But it’s not hard to imagine that a really sick woman who can’t afford to pay to be a member will be bumped in favor of a not-so-sick woman who paid her dues. Or, what’s to stop the office from instituting various membership tiers? $199 gets you same-day service, but for a special “Medical Lite Membership” at $75 we’ll be sure to get you in within a week. But those truly committed to good health can opt for the $1,000 membership for immediate walk-ins, and we’ll even throw in a set of Ginsu knives.

The office sent out another email to patients on Friday, with testimonials from four women only too happy to pay the $99 introductory rate. Saltzman declined to reveal exactly how many women have signed up, but says that the response has been “robust.”

“The health care system is broken,” he says. “The problem is that the insurance reimbursement model does not support having a practice where you get to see your physician every time — not a nurse practitioner. And it doesn’t support having a practice where the physician can spend the amount of time with you that you need. And so we implemented a modest fee to cover services not covered by the insurance companies.”

Saltzman’s model comes out of a study of the center’s business performed by a group of Wharton MBA students.

“They came up with this being a viable way to continue to offer this very high level of service to your patients at a minimal price point,” he explains, adding that there are other medical offices around the country doing the same thing — just not in Philadelphia. “And have you seen our Yelp reviews? We have the highest rating of any medical practice in the city.”

But Katie remains unswayed.

“It’s this weird luxurization of things,” she observes. “Like an airplane. You used to go on a plane and they would feed you and check your two bags, and now you have to pay for every one of those things. The center’s defense is: We have to pay for all of these people and for this office. So where’s all the money that’s coming in going? It’s appalling and classist.”

* Not her real name.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

POLL: If your doctor asked you to pay a membership fee, would you pay it?

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  • Basil St George

    Some pay $1,650 a year into MDVIP to retain a PCP. That ontop of workpaid health insurance.

  • DTurner

    I don’t really understand the frustration here, other than the frustration that something that was originally free might end up having a price tag affixed to it. Even bastions of more equitable healthcare service, like Germany, have supplemental plans that people can shell out for. It seems logical that if you create a system where costs cannot rise within the insurance model that those costs would need to be distributed somehow.

    Granted, you could question whether the money flowing through the insurance system is actually being reasonably proportioned, but that has little to do with the healthcare provider.

  • Christine Gallagher

    Thank you for posting this today. I had forgotten to switch practices as a result of their incompetence on my wedding day. I posted on Yelp too.

    • Christine Gallagher

      Mind you I probably would have paid the yearly fee if they actually kept their records straight and I received proper care.

    • Orangeade

      Who waits till the day OF their wedding to fill a prescription? And you’re mad at them?

      • Christine Gallagher

        Someone that has an emergency health situation arise the day of her wedding that require medication. And it wasn’t the first time they couldn’t find information in my file. Obviously if I needed a refill on a prescription prior to my wedding day i would have had it refilled earlier.

      • Faith

        totally agree…haha

  • The Silent Majority

    As reimbursements for physicians go down one can expect this sort of things to become commonplace. Actually, this is already commonplace in other cities. We’re ruining the best healthcare system in the world with frivolous lawsuits, insane billing code requirements, greedy insurance companies and government interference. The free market made this the best system in the world. That, I’m afraid, is over.

    • ncmathsadist

      What planet are you from? America’s health care is number one in one aspect: its ridiculous cost. It is over twice as expensive as the next most expensive system [Switzerland]. Otherwise it is middling to poor for most people. Look at health outcomes vs. the rest of the OECD 40.

  • lawyer7658

    What’s the big deal? This medical practice apparently has a premium product — their excellent service — and they are raising their price to reflect that. If BMW raises their prices, no one complains. You either decide their premium product worth the price, or you buy a Ford instead. If you think this medical group is not worth what they are charging, then go find another doctor and stop whining.

    • Frank


      • lawyer7658

        Hah! Frank you gave me a good chuckle. What does it mean to have a “fake” userid?

    • ncmathsadist

      Sock puppet.

      • lawyer7658

        That’s your argument?

        • Mike

          And this is your argumentative question?

          • lawyer7658

            Give it up.

  • Lisa

    I would pay far more than this for the amazing care I’ve received at Rittenhouse Women’s Health! I’ve had experiences with other doctors where I feel rushed, not heard, and like a number, and I feel very fortunate to have found this practice. The are trying to stay financially independent (by not being affiliated by any particular hospital) which in today’s medical system is very hard to do. It may not be for everyone, but I’m glad that they are trying to carve out an alternative vision. Luckily, folks who don’t agree can find a different practice (or not sign up).

  • Caitlin

    I’m a patient at Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center and can honestly say it’s the best care I have ever received from any doctors office I have ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot!) I can email my doctor at any time and often get responses in 24 hours, I can call to make an appointment and they can get me in that week (not a month later like most), if I’m sick I always get same day appointments without a problem and I always get personal follow up calls from the doctors themselves, not their assistant or nurse. They also have a pleasant staff and the all female environment is a huge benefit as you feel you can fully confide in your doctor and they understand some of the same health issues you may be going through.

    I also work at a non-profit where we have a membership structure and I understand that a line sometimes need to be drawn to keep providing the same benefits. The membership fee is not even mandatory so nobody should be freaking out. Non-members can still get same day appointments and will still have great care. I pay more for organic products because I feel they are better, I pay more for some clothing because it will last longer, so what’s the difference if I want to pay more to know I will get great health care?

    I never comment on articles, but I will defend RWWC anytime!

  • notbuyingit

    Amazing service? Same day if someone is “really sick”? Someone recommended I give this place a call because I was having a rather extreme rash with swelling appear on my face and neck. It was getting to the point where my eye was trying to swell shut. The reaction wasn’t urgent enough for an ER, but it couldn’t wait 2 weeks to get into the “primary” care doctor we normally use. I was told the earliest they could see me at this place with “amazing service” was in 3 weeks.

  • aud

    doctors in this area have been doing this for years for WAY more than $199/year. I’d consider that a bargain. One of my former bosses paid his doctor in Bala Cynwyd over $3k/year for the privilege of being his patient…

  • Antoinette Marie J

    I was just there Saturday and was told by my doctor that the results of my examination would be posted on the member online portal. Meaning, my treatment results and info are only accessible if I pay an extra $99 per month. Meanwhile I lived without health insurance for years, so costs as a barrier to healthcare are no joke. Meanwhile the entire staff, including my doctor, are already super pretentious and judge mental there. The membership is just another way for them to make their practice even snobbier. I’m out!

    • Jill

      Antoinette, Your results are available online whether you join as a member or not and the cost is $99 / year; not $99 / month. The optional membership fee is just a way to help this practice provide services not covered by your insurance.

  • Member

    Get over yourself. It’s worth it and they deserve it. The fee basically just pays for whichever swank comp service you choose (e.g. micro peel). Insurers barely reimburse primary care docs as it is.

  • ncmathsadist

    This is just another unconscionable way of bleeding people for money. It figures that masturbators in business adminstration would be at the bottom of this. Modern American business is all about greed, greed and greed. Disgusting. I think every patient should drop this practice forthwith. I would in a New Jersey second.

  • Faith

    I have had nothing but positive experiences at RWWC, whether it was at the Center City location or at the Nartberth location. I have seen multiple doctors at the office and all are a joy to be around. I receive outstanding care here and paying this $99 fee will only make my experience here that much more enjoyable. I think the membership program was a smart idea and I joined in a heart beat. Having people fuss about this when it is not even mandatory is ridiculous. I guarantee that you will still receive great care from your doctor. I encourage everyone to try it for at least a year than you can make your remarks about the practice, but until than i would keep the negativity to a limit.

  • Theresa

    The program that Rittenhouse is offering may not be for everyone which is why it has been deemed optional. I am also a patient and just want to clarify a few things for you. All patients (members or non-members) will still have access to the online patient portal to view labs, schedule appointments and discuss private matters with the physician. I actually called Rittenhouse after reading your post to confirm with them. Also, the fee is only a yearly fee, not monthly, which may make a big difference and make you look at this a little differently. By the way, I don’t think you can find a better practice in our city. Count me as a very satisfied customer of this practice.

  • Poytszi

    Ah yes, the med student tells you that he is going into medicine to help people. Sadly, it’s about his wallet. Remember when all doctors offices were closed on Wednesdays? Talk about bad unions!!!

  • Mike

    Ohh wa wa waaaaa.I’ll bet you don’t whine at you cable bill when they offer rates way lower than what you currently pay.Go suck and egg.And while you are at it Suck It Up Buttercup!!!!!!!!!!! I’m happy that most of you are leaving.I think I’ll sign up now,besides more time for meeeeeeeeee and beter service.Thanks.

  • Jackie

    I actually spoke to the CEO, and he assured me that their services will not change for me if I chose not to pay up… Legally they can’t treat me differently. So effectively, what they’re asking for is a donation to support their high salaries. I feel bad for those that paid for the membership without questioning it. I wish I had that kind of disposable income.

  • SickofPhilly

    I would glady pay that fee to get same day sick appointments. The last time I called my doctor’s practice in Center City when I was very sick I was told someone could see me in 2 weeks. $99 seems like a bargain. Good luck to those women who want same day sick appointments elsewhere.

  • nissi-n-philli

    We have come to a fork in the road, when “membership,” out-weighs patient-care. I too am / was a patient, but only through “portal means.”

  • KAS

    In response to someone posting the info below- that is exactly the point.

    In reference to:
    ” I can email my doctor at any time and often get responses in 24 hours, I
    can call to make an appointment and they can get me in that week (not a
    month later like most), if I’m sick I always get same day appointments
    without a problem and I always get personal follow up calls from the
    doctors themselves, not their assistant or nurse”

    Right now this is the case for all patients, and should be. Now if I don’t pay extra, I can expect to not get the treatment they have committed too previously. I hope that people will not subscribe to this- just because other businesses, doctors, etc. are starting this does not make it the right move for a local physician to keep all patients treated equally. You should get the needed attention from a doctor and the insinuation that I will need to PAY for “UNHURRIED Care” is insulting. I really do love my doctor at this practice and the location is convenient for me, but I am EXTREMELY turned off by this. They should check out some facebook threads to see the response to this as well, I think it is overwhelmingly negative and should be.

  • Anonymous

    I was incredibly upset when I received the email, and even more so when my “Dr.” called. I wrote them an email, but I think I’m going to leave, too. Doesn’t it violate WHO’s standards of the right to health? From their website: “The WHO Constitution enshrines the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being.” I understand that politicians couldn’t care less, but we’re talking about healthcare providers!

    Anyway, they’re really not that great. it took months of appointments, referrals, and prescription drugs, before I found out my intense pain was leukemia. It was discovered from a simple blood panel that my hematologist ran. The only reason I went to see most of the specialists is because I suggested it to my doctor, not vice versa. My doctor has called me once since my diagnosis 5 months ago. Yes, the healthcare system is broken. But it’s also because healthcare teams like this are not truly invested in each patient.

    Don’t believe the Yelp reviews. Philly’s a big city; you can find better doctors than that. I’ve met a lot of them over the course of my treatment.

  • Shayna

    I think people need to get over their selves, and I mean the patient’s. The doctor has a medical practice and has the right to set a price for the care she gives. If you don’t want to pay it, go to a free clinic or regular doctor’s office. But then don’t expect the same service, level of care and attention that the practice that charges a fee does. Those of you who wine about insurance and $30 co pays, remember, you pay your insurance company, a billion dollar corporation, NOT to your small town doctor. $30 copay doesn’t cut a RN’s hourly wage. Really, you demand good medical care but you don’t want to pay a person what they charge. I don’t get the disconnect, unless you think the doctor does not have a right in America to charge a price for what they think there care is worth. Besides, no one is holding you to paying any fee. Shop around, be a educated consumer, and go to another doctor cheaper… or see a Walmart Clinic NP…but don’t be surprised if you get what you pay for.