Sitting in an urgent care parking lot weighing the cost of treatment, I imagined a better option: a Betterment Center | GUEST COMMENTARY

Recently I cut myself dicing mushrooms for a stir fry. My first thought, as I saw the blood welling on my hand was: Wow, that is really red.

The second thought was: I wonder how much this is going to cost.


When I went to the local urgent care center, I found out they did not take my insurance. It would be $250 dollars out of pocket if I wanted to see their doctor. I had precisely $424.76 dollars in my bank account and was unsure whether this was worth parting with half of it.

My other options were to wait days to see an in-network doctor, or sit for hours in the emergency room. I couldn’t sit in the emergency room for hours even if I wanted to; I needed to get to work to pay for my health insurance. As I mulled over my options in my car and put Neosporin and Band-Aids on my hand, I gazed out onto the parking lot and daydreamed about something better.


I would call this the Betterment Center.

The Betterment Center would be a place where you can come to get a nurse to look at basic bruises and cuts, colds and upset stomachs. There’s no worry about insurance; the Betterment Center is free and open to all.

The Betterment Center makes it so people who do not have insurance are not waiting until ailments become critical before they are checked out in the emergency room, saving millions in tax payer dollars in the process. The Betterment Center keeps people from going to the hospital for minor concerns. Here nurses can prescribe people over-the-counter basic medicines like Tylenol, cough drops, antihistamines; everyone gets $500 a year of basic medicine supplies from the Betterment Center.

But pivotally, the Betterment Center is proactive. While it has resources to help with bruises and cuts, here nurses can also prescribe people long walks or yoga. With the prescription of more exercise comes vouchers for classes the Betterment Center runs directly or that can be used for reduced prices in local gyms and fitness centers. The government will also pay you for the time you spend working out, up to 80 hours per year. This is not the government being nice; people who do not exercise on average cost the health care system $2,500 more than those who regularly get in 30 minutes of walking five times a week.

Nurses can also prescribe fresh food, a prescription that comes with up to $150 a month in vouchers that can be used solely on fresh produce. At 4 p.m. every Sunday, when the farmers market closes, the Betterment Center holds the Secondary Market where any of the unsold produce can be gotten for half price.

The Betterment Center has a line of computers that host modules on health-related topics: basic nutrition, personal accounting and finance, basic cooking, personal hygiene, sex ed. All of the basic things a family or a school is meant to teach, but some missed the lesson. Plus, the government will pay an hour of minimum wage for each module a person completes.

The local running club meets here, so too does the Zumba for those above 50. Every Monday local restaurants showcase a healthy recipe for people to cook, and there’s usually free samples afterward. Tuesdays is Teen Night, where there’s chats about sex and relationships, and there’s always an enormous bowl of brightly packaged condoms and tampons for teens to take. Wednesdays are for expectant mothers and dads to learn about child care, and Thursdays are for those over 50, while Fridays are for mental wellness talks, and all are welcome.

One day, I hope you see the Betterment Center. Maybe it emerges from a closed down restaurant, or an empty store in the mall, the imagining of something better than what came before. For the greatest country on Earth, we have too long been caught up in competing against each other to realize we’re all overweight and stressed. Work will only ever demand greater efficiency; we need to demand a world built where we can be well.


Rachel Jaffe ( is a science fiction writer, environmentalist, and COO and Co-founder of Paradigm LABS.