Sunday, August 28 , 2016, 9:58 pm | Fair 66º

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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?

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 Rasmussen reports that 58 percent of the public want the president’s health-care plan repealed.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, Opinionfest.com.

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