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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Physicians Speak Out on Healthcare Reform

It’s a side of the healthcare reform debate that is seldom heard. Physicians at a recent town hall meeting at Northridge Hospital Medical Center strongly voiced concerns with a system they said is driving them out of practicing medicine, and sent the message that healthcare reform won’t work if doctors don’t want to be doctors anymore. One after the other, they lined up to give impassioned speeches about the financial strains to their practices caused by fewer reimbursements; the burdens of excessive administrative work required of them, and the constant threat of malpractice litigation, among other things. “I’m here speaking before you because unfortunately I’m one of those young physicians in the area thinking about quitting medicine, “said Dr. Larry Kyle Gambrell, an otolaryngologist practicing in Mission Hills. “I don’t like working under the HMO system I don’t like facing liability issues. I have a new family…I don’t see options,” he said. A system where doctors can’t afford to be doctors is collapsing under its own weight, they said. Neurosurgeon, Dr.Asher H. Taban, who has practiced for nearly 33 years, said he’s had to pay taxes out of his savings for the past five years. Keeping his office open in Northridge costs between $300-$400 dollars an hour and he’s only getting reimbursed for a fraction of that. “For the past year and a half Medicare has not paid me a single penny,” he said. The financial burden on him and his family lingers despite being well regarded and even “famous here in the hospital,” he said. The Medical Director of Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Hooshang Semnani, M.D. raised his voice, lined with anger and outrage at times, while driving the point across that physicians should not suffer any more cuts under a new healthcare reform plan. “I have to work three times as much to make half the money that I did ten years ago,” he said. Despite the increasing cost of practicing medicine as a result of rising malpractice premiums, rents, staff salaries, professional membership fees, license fees and costs needed to comply with the various regulations; many physicians like Dr. Semnani are receiving less payment for an office visit than they did ten years ago. Without the ability to unionize or join forces to lobby Washington, Dr. Semnani was skeptical that physicians could stand a chance against who he called “the big guys”, including pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance companies and HMO’s, in reform efforts to lower escalating healthcare costs. “Physicians fasten your seatbelts,” he said, adding that doctors will likely suffer even more financial hardship under a reform plan approved in the Obama administration. Dr. Saied Dallalzadeh, a pediatric gastroenterologist in Encino, spoke about facing lawsuits even after saving the patient’s life. “They are degrading doctors here in this country, we want dignity for doctors,” he said. Dallalzadeh also said doctors should not be harried with reimbursement issues, and the system should recognize that different medical situations require different medical skill levels and amounts of time with patients. “Doctors should be able to spend as much time with patients as is needed, especially when dealing with complex medical problems. I spend an hour and a half providing care for a patient, I get reimbursed $19 dollars,” he said. Other doctors and nurses that participated in the meeting spoke about the importance of addressing the growing shortage of primary care doctors due to the lower remuneration. The town hall meeting to discuss healthcare reform was moderated by Michael L. Wall, President and CEO of Northridge Medical Center. “I’ve been here ten years I have never heard the passion from doctors that I heard tonight,” he said. Town Hall Meeting The town hall meeting featured a panel discussion on healthcare reform including: Patricia Suarez, Chair of the Northridge Hospital Community Board of Directors; Bruce Ackerman, President and CEO of the Valley Economic Alliance; Bill Gil, President and CEO of Facey Medical Foundation; James Lott, Executive Vice President of the Hospital Association of Southern California; and Stan Lyles, SEIU/UHW, Contract Specialist, who was representing the Labor Unions. Gil pointed out major structural flaws to the healthcare system including the lack of coverage where 50 million uninsured people are a tax to communities more than government; that the lack of efficiency in delivering healthcare that is driving up costs; and the lack of integration in healthcare systems. From a business perspective, Ackerman said companies are “struggling with the spiraling cost of providing healthcare insurance to our employees,” and are also concerned with the time lost when employees get sick because of unhealthy practices. “We’re interested in a system that maximizes care for patients in the community,” said Suarez, adding that the ingredients for health reform must include “fairness, prudence and a little compassion.” Lyles called for access to healthcare for all. “If you lose your job after working for a company for 20 years and you have a pre-existing illness, you can’t get insurance coverage,” he said. “We need cost containment,” Lott added. “Currently we spend 16 cents out of every dollar on healthcare. If we do nothing, by 2025 we will be spending 25 cents out of very dollar.” Health care premiums have grown four times faster than wages in the last eight years; healthcare spending has doubled over the past decade; and the high cost of healthcare causes a bankruptcy in America every 30 seconds, according to healthcare facts provided at the meeting.

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