Thursday, February 11 , 2016, 1:31 am | Fair 50º

Harris Sherline: Ill Effects of Health-Care Reform on Doctors

Regulation and financial risk can only result in more physicians giving up the practice of medicine — and then what?

By Harris Sherline, Noozhawk Columnist |

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t learn something new about the negative impacts that President Barack Obama’s health-care plan is having or holds in store for the sick and elderly in America.

Speaking to the American Medical Association in Chicago on June 15, 2009, Obama made the following statement: “So let me begin by saying that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health-care coverage — they like their plan and they value their relationship with their doctor. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health-care plan, you will be able to keep your health-care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health-care reform should be guided by a simple principle: Fix what’s broke and build on what works.”

So, what happened on the way to implementing Obamacare?

For one thing, we certainly didn’t get a health-care plan that is acceptable to the American people. Rasmussen reports that 58 percent of the public want the president’s health-care plan repealed.

So, did we simply lose our way? Was it deliberate and a part of the plan all along? Or was it just legislative overkill that most legislators didn’t expect or foresee? Or all of the above?

Whatever the case, each new step in the process of implementing Obamacare exposes more information about the unanticipated or unintended consequences of the president’s health-care plan. And they aren’t good.

For example, a recent Associated Press headline read, “Senate fails to spare doctors from Medicare cuts,” reported that, although the Senate passed legislation to avoid a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, their action was too late to prevent Medicare from implementing fee reductions for the month of June because the House was unable to act on the bill in time.

The president of the American Medical Association said, “This is no way to run a major health coverage program.”

But this situation was just the tip of the iceberg. Offering further insight to the potential disaster that is now unfolding in America’s health-care system, blogger Joseph Scherzer, M.D., recently noted: “There is hardly a week that goes by without some new concern or demand, none of which have to do with learning about medicine. We are caught up in a torrential whirlwind of bureaucratic regulations admixed with a flood of threats.”

Dr. Scherzer further commented: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!”, warning: “Because of government meddling in the practice of medicine and unreasonable, excessive rules, regulations and reimbursement that does not keep up with the actual cost of living, doctors nationwide are already decreasing the number of new Medicare patients they will take. Eventually, all across the country, and already in some states, there will not be enough doctors for all the baby boomers. I predict that because of the expected severe shortage of Medicare providers under Obamacare, our intrusive government will then force the doctors they are abusing to take on new Medicare patients or risk horrific fines if they refuse. And, with the appalling fines discussed below, consider how many physicians are just going to say ‘to hell with it’ and throw in the towel and shut their doors so they won’t have to put up with government’s new socialist, terror tactics. Not only are the president and the Dems bankrupting the country and scaring off doctors, they are ensuring rationing of health care to seniors. Can you imagine what health care will be like for seniors in 10 years after Obamacare destroys the best health-care system in the world?”

Some of the fines that Dr. Scherzer refers to range from $11,000 to $50,000 for such transgressions as making an error in Medicare billings, noting also that the government’s burden of proof is very light. In addition, the definition of “fraud” has been expanded to include “unnecessary” or “ineffective” services, or services that don’t “comply with Medicare requirements.”

Having run a hospital, I can tell you from firsthand experience that dealing with the bureaucratic overkill of Medicare and other government agencies can be enough to make many doctors decide to quit.

Put yourself in the position of your doctor, who must now practice medicine under the continuous threat of financial ruin for such simple mistakes as billing errors. Keep in mind that doctors do not actually do the billing themselves. It’s done by office staff.

The cumulative effect of all this regulation and financial risk can only result in increasing numbers of doctors giving up the practice of medicine.

Don’t be surprised if you call for an appointment to see your doctor one of these days, only to learn that he or she has retired or otherwise given up the practice of medicine.

You can count on it. And who will be there to look after you?

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

» on 05.20.12 @ 05:32 PM

In general this article has a very negative slant and outlines unsupportable statements.  I hope that Noozhawk utilizes better writers in the future.

» on 05.21.12 @ 06:09 AM

It is true that an increasing number of doctors are refusing to see Medicare patients. Obamacare will either lead to rationing or exploding costs for our govt. You can’t subsidize expensive “cadillac” health insurance for 30 to 40 million people and leave the supply of healthcare providers or doctors (supply/demand imbalance) unchanged without severe dislocations to the system. Let’s hope the Supreme Court mercifully kills this turkey before there is any real and/or lasting damage.

» on 05.21.12 @ 03:58 PM

Sherline knows a little about modern medicine. As a “numbers guy” he first came
here to sell out SY Valley Hospital as the first step in Cottage Hospital’s march to
total regional health monopoly.

He was so well rewarded for his efforts that he decided to move his LA/Orange County “conservative” values here permanently.

But even Sherline cannot clearly explain why our nation spends more for private
health care, but gets less back in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, or cost of managing basic health, or insuring against catastrophic illness than 75% of our economic competitors in the EU, Canada, and the Pacific Rim.

Costs, billing, process are all out of control, and have been for two generations.

This is not about Obama or Clinton, Republicans or Democrats, Tea Partyers or
everyone else.

It’s about a system where a single aspirin is billed out at $28, when you get can
a bottle of 450 at Costco for $5.

It’s about a system where a 2-mile non-critical ambulance transport to the ER
bills out at $1,300, when you get get a round-trip to Europe, peak season, for

It’s about getting five different bills for a single surgical procedure, but where
none of the five billing units can explain the actual, specific cost of what they
did, or why the five individual bills total 80% higher than the “combined bill”.

This is totally nuts. Doctors are as frustrated as patients.

The half-loaf Obama has tried is a mild first step toward a clearer, more level
playing field.

It is tiny, compared to what those commies, Nixon and Reagan, had proposed
40 and 30 years ago, when Health Care was still, sort of, a non-partisan issue.

Sherline should get beyond Fox TV sound-bites, and try to contribute some
insightful or innovative idea to fix this mess. If he can’t, then he should button

» on 05.22.12 @ 10:19 PM

When the idiot gives you something substantial to slap down, you should be grateful. After all, he refrained from posting part 3 of his insipid lesson as a “patriarch.”

I am so grateful.

» on 05.22.12 @ 10:49 PM

Yeah, the system we have today is dysfunctional, but that doesn’t mean we should look to the govt for a more rational and cost effective model. It would be hard to see how we could make the present system worse, so why attempt it. There are a number of viable alternatives before we turn over our health care to the federal bureaucracy (the only organization more screwed up than health insurance companies).

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