PISCATAWAY, New Jersey. When Len Ullman’s mother needed brain surgery, he says the hardest part wasn’t dealing with the fear that the operation wouldn’t be a success, “it was the bill I was stuck with afterwards.”
The total came to over $200,000, not including itemized “extras” such as hospital “johnnies,” diagnostic tests and meals, “which were terrible,” he adds sheepishly. “I ate some of mom’s leftovers.”
“I’m sorry, this coupon has expired.”
The shock of that experience led Len, an accountant, and his pal Marlon Mergen, a real estate developer, to take an accelerated course of studies at a medical school located in Grenada, the Caribbean island that the U.S. invaded in 1983.
Unaccredited Grenadian medical school
“There’s got to be a way to make money in this business,” says Mergen, who lost a number of commercial properties to foreclosure in last decade’s economic downturn. “They say you don’t want to hire a surgeon who only does one brain operation a year. Well, duh–you’d get more volume if you’d lower your prices.”
So the two formed “Two Guys Who Are Brainsurgeons,” modeled after the popular “Two Guys” discount department stores that were a fixture of New Jersey retailing during the 1970’s, and after six months in operation at three locations and over 850 procedures on two sides of the brain, they believe their business plan has been borne out, although they are exhausted by the calculations.
“A lot of your fussy surgeons are hung up on academic qualifications and cleanliness,” says Ullman. “You can re-use those latex gloves, and we don’t put the scalpels in the dishwasher until the end of the day, when we can run a full load.”
That sort of gimlet eye on overhead has allowed the two guys to bring the cost of removing a brain tumor down to $199.99, and there are discounts available for weekend operations, when most prospective patients would rather be dulling their consciousness with alcohol.
“A lot of people laughed at Henry Ford when he built an assembly line, but everybody’s driving a car these days, right?” Mergen laughs as he runs a credit card through the practice’s “point of sale” terminal located near the drive-by pickup window.
“Hold on, I want to use that skull saw again.”
And how about patients–are they satisfied with the results?
“The service was good–really quick,” says Stan Wyzirmonski, a retired actuary who is being wheeled out to his wife’s waiting mini-van for some well-deserved rest and recuperation. “And you can’t price the beat. It . . . uh . . . much hospital less than the checked I cost.”