My name, as well as two others, was called by the man wearing blue scrubs. The three of us, all strangers, gathered our personal belongings from the waiting room and followed him down the hall. As we marched along, he stopped at various doors and directed each of us to step inside different ones and have a seat; he’d be “right with us.” When he entered my exam room a few minutes later, I realized this was the doc I’d come to see.
“I can’t really afford to pay extra assistants any more and can bring people back myself,” he replied to my surprised comment. I was impressed with the way he multi-tasked without losing the smile on his face. “Just like most businesses, my practice is down by about 30 percent.” He told me he works six days a week just to get by and may be looking for other career options in the future. This off-the-record doc is not alone. Investor’s Business Daily reported (Sept. 15, 2009) that hundreds of thousands of practicing doctors (45 percent) would consider quitting if Obamacare passes.
I’m a fan of physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners for sinus infections and strep throat, but for serious and complex medical conditions, I want to be treated by a board-certified doctor. If docs start retiring or becoming golf pros and travel agents it will take months to get appointments, our time in the waiting room will be much longer and some of those who treat us may have a language barrier preventing us from accurately communicating our conditions.
Docs working more for less
I got the same story from my gynecologist and ophthalmologist, as well as my family practice physician. They seem to be working longer and harder than ever, for less income. They all agreed that there needs to be changes to our health care system, but none thought the proposed plan would adequately do the trick. Doctors don’t want to get pigeon-holed about politics, they’d rather just be able to give good patient care, but this issue is forcing them to speak up.
“Doctors, while professionals primarily concerned about our patients, are also small business owners,” Dr. Harry Watters said. “We have employees who deserve good wages and benefits, but if we can’t afford to pay them appropriately, our practices suffer.”
Watters, who has practiced gynecology and obstetrics in Chandler since 1983, believes the proposed plan will result in many doctors closing their practices.
“The brightest and best students won’t choose medicine as a profession, adding to the demise of health care in the U.S.,” he continued.
There are myriad reasons for the financial challenges medical practices are facing. Dr. Frank Caserta, a Tempe ophthalmologist says, “I collected 65 cents on every dollar billed just 10 years ago, but now that’s down to only 43 cents on the dollar.”
And things are likely to get worse. All U.S. doctors are slated to take a 21 percent decrease in their Medicare rates by Jan. 1, unless Congress takes action.
“I lose a giant chunk of time and money every year just fighting with insurance companies about bills they are contracted to pay,” said Dr. Roger McCoy in Ahwatukee Foothills. “This makes it difficult for me and stressful for my patients. What other type of company could get away with those kinds of business practices?”
While the American Medical Association (AMA) has come out in favor of the president’s health care plan, McCoy is quick to point out that its membership is a mere 29 percent of doctors in the U.S. And not all members support the plan as evidenced by those defecting from the AMA. Many doctors believe that insurance and tort reform would go much further to improve our health care system than anything currently proposed.
Is our system perfect? By no means. But from what I understand, the proposed plan will cause an increase in the cost of insurance to the 85 percent of us who are currently insured and will reduce services to seniors via decreased Medicare benefits. It seems that most doctors don’t like this plan, the majority of voters don’t like this plan (according to recent polls) and we’ll see what kind of convictions those in elected offices have in the upcoming weeks.
Regardless of your political affiliation or interest in politics, the future of our nation’s health care hangs in the balance. Ask your own doctor and do some independent research to learn how this will affect you. Find out how many (or few) people will actually be helped by the proposed plan. Then talk about it with friends, neighbors, co-workers and, especially, your elected representatives. Pray that those making the decisions won’t cast votes based on politics, but on conscience and wisdom in the best interest of everyone.