Friday, August 14, 2009

What do doctors think?

A couple of weeks ago, during a routine checkup with my cardiologist, I asked one of his nurses what they thought of the proposed government health care program. She gave me a guarded answer, a politically correct answer, which only left me wondering what the medical community really thought of the plan.

This week, we received word that there would be a public forum on health care in our city, hosted by several highly regarded local medical professionals. We, along with a few hundred neighbors, attended.

The meeting was friendly and orderly. The doctors did not really promote any particular position. they told us a little about their practices. About their relationship with insurance companies and with the government.

One doctor, an OB-GYN, who also holds a law degree, told us of a patient who came to his office. His nurse spent about fifteen minutes with her. He spent about 30 minutes with her. He conducted a medical exam which he did not describe. Some time later the woman came back to his office. She had received an advisory from her insurance carrier (It may have been Medicare, I don't remember if he said) that the doctor had been reimbursed exactly $32 for her visit. She was so ashamed at this underpayment, she tried to give the doctor $100 cash. He had to inform her that accepting her payment would be against the law and could cause him to lose his license to practice medicine.

Eventually he also shared the fact that his individual annual medical malpractice insurance premium was $40,000. Imagine! Almost $110 a day, every day, as a hedge against being sued over some alleged mistake. Judged a mistake by whom?

We also learned that only a small per cent of doctors belong to the A.M.A., so we realized that positions taken by the A.M.A. should not necessarily be regarded as the position of all or even most doctors.

And, though no one said it, we came to believe that being a medical doctor is not necessarily always a lucrative career, often consisting of more sacrifice than reward.

Microphones were provided and a number of attendees offered comments or questions. A couple of people, one an elderly man who identified himself as a lawyer, defended the government plan. Everyone else expressed opposition.

The doctors didn't comment on policy - or politics - they just answered questions when they had answers, and let the people talk.

When pushed by questioners, however, they all admitted that House bill HR3200 would destroy their practice if fully implemented.

If you hear of such a forum in your area, I would urge you to attend. If we are going to change medical care, we should hear from the people providing that care.

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