Sunday, February 24, 2002

Docs fed up


Feeling sick? Pack your bags

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        Somehow — maybe while doctors were scrubbing up to perform heart bypass surgery or deliver a baby or give somebody a new hip — the bean counters started calling the shots. Physicians say they're sick of it, especially in Cincinnati.

        Docs say they can make more money in Columbus and Indianapolis than they can here. Heck, they say they can make more money in Findlay than here in Cincinnati.

        They are not making this up.

        Jeff McGrath's company, McGrath Group Management, is a billing service dealing with managed care and insurance companies for 160 physician groups. “I can tell you that payment to physicians here is much worse than in other cities,” he says.

Quality of life

        The latest news is that we don't have enough emergency physicians to staff trauma centers here. One such doctor, Fred Luchette, a highly-regarded general surgeon, has just relocated to Chicago where he says he'll be paid at least twice as much for the same work. Father of four kids still at home, he says,“I want to spend time with my family. I found myself working more hours for less money.”

        Dr. Rob Heidt Jr., a partner in Wellington Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine group says, “It's getting hard to keep good doctors and nearly impossible to bring in new talent.” Insurance companies serving our area pay doctors in other cities — such as Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville — between 15 and 35 percent more than they pay here for the same care, according to Dr. Heidt.

        Jean Siebenaler, a family physician running for a seat on Hamilton County Commission, says it goes back to something called the Iameter study, commissioned by Procter & Gamble, Kroger, General Electric and Cincinnati Bell in 1992.

        “In the quest to lower health care costs, businesses took a hard look at providers,” Dr. Siebenaler says. “Since then, the pendulum has swung too far the other way.”

        What happened, according to Mr. McGrath, is that the health care industry responded by taking low-paying contracts for the volume. “That became a benchmark.”

        Doctors make a lot of money, that's for sure. They make a lot here in Cincinnati, but most of them know they can make more someplace else. And do we really want a bargain doctor rooting around in our innards?

"Moral dilemma'

        More than the usual number of doctors are taking early retirement. My own well-loved gyno is bird-watching in Florida. My brilliant internist said she was tired of filling out forms and fighting with insurance companies and took a job at the VA Hospital.

        Some medical groups now are refusing to sign on with insurers offering low rates. So, their patients have to search for another doctor or pay directly for their health care.

        “This is a moral and ethical dilemma for us,” Dr. Heidt says. “We care about our patients. And their children. We are afraid if something isn't done that people in Cincinnati just won't be able to expect quality care here.”

        We patients have to speak up, squawk if we need to. Pay attention to what's happening with our own health insurance, talk to our human resources departments. There is only one reason, Dr. Heidt says, that insurance companies pay doctors in Cincinnati less than they pay doctors in comparable cities.

        Because they can.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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