Bartering for Health Care

November 11, 2013


It’s a sad fact that nearly 49 million Americans live without health insurance while millions more scrape by with lackluster coverage. With the Affordable Care Act getting off to a rough start and months to go before its full implementation, the nation’s underinsured must often make due with the limited resources at their disposal. In fact, according to Consumer Reports one of the cheapest and most common ways for people to get the care they need is to barter for it.

For instance, the magazine’s in-house medical advisor Dr. Orly Avitzur recalls one patient who could no longer afford pool therapy to treat his chronic back pain. The doctor suggested that the man volunteer as a therapy assistant in exchange for free use of the facilities, an arrangement that the pool manager agreed to. Dr. Avitzur says he has brokered similar deals with carpenters, hairdressers, and even a chimney sweep. Bartering for medical care has historically been limited to rural areas where it wouldn’t be strange for a patient to pay with assets like chickens or firewood. But now the practice is gaining traction across the country in a number of varied forms.

The annual O+ Festival in Kingston, NY, attracts dozens of artists and more than 40 bands who perform over the course of the weekend. In addition to the festivities, though, the participants also receive free medical care. Although no strict medical procedures are performed on site, people can receive routine physicals, dental exams, and referrals to other doctors. Meanwhile, the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in New York City works with creative professionals to help them barter for everything from emergency visits to surgical procedures. Outside of the Northeast, the Bono Barter Clinic in Arkansas allows patients to trade “something that you’ve made, grown, or produced, or a service that you provide” in exchange for treatment. While obviously this is not the ideal way for a health care system to operate, at least bartering provides additional options for those who would otherwise be unable to find relief.



  1. Is the process of bartering services for services a relatively new phenomenon?
  1. Why does government often have a problem with any bartering system?


Source: Consumer Reports, “Bartering Can Be Healthful,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2013. Photo courtesy of Kelly Piet.