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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 7:23 am | Fair 47º


Health-Care Reform Panel Draws a Crowd

Doctors and other professionals discuss industry, overhaul plans

About 400 people packed a health-care forum Friday evening to hear local doctors, financial advisers, health-care administrators and other professionals discuss the current state of the industry and President Barack Obama’s plans for a sweeping overhaul.

The forum was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Tea Party & Culpepper Society and held in a ballroom at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. Similar meetings have been taking place around the country as Americans debate — sometimes heatedly — the need and scope of national health-care reform.

Friday’s panelists all had different ideas about health-care reform, and none was supportive of Obama’s proposals.

“I’m here because I have two hats in this issue — I’m a taxpayer, and I’m a doctor,” said Dr. Paul Aijian, an internist. His concerns about government leading the charge on health-care reform were echoed by other panelists and applauded by the audience.

The current legislation wending its way through Congress would “further hinder access to care,” said Dr. Howard Spang, an anesthesiologist.

Dr. Jason Campagna, also an anesthesiologist, said of reform: “Every presidential administration since (Calvin) Coolidge has tried to tackle it.”

The bulk of the evening was dedicated to written questions from the audience, most of which centered on strategies such as tort reform and defensive medicine, treating the uninsured and controlling medical costs.

Support for the legislation among the medical community, especially the American Medical Association, prompted questions from the audience. None of the panelists who answered were members of the AMA, and Dr. Marco Navetta, an anesthesiologist, noted that only about 17 percent of physicians are members.

Many panelists said doctors and health-care professionals should be the ones to lead the way on reform, instead of government entities that aren’t as involved. But doctors have often felt they had a small voice, Navetta said.

Poor communication among all parties involved in health care — patients, doctors, insurance companies and others — can lessen the quality of health care, he said.

If patients don’t trust their doctors, they are less likely to comply and the quality of care goes down. “We have to find out what we all have in common and move it forward together,” Navetta said.

Defensive medicine has been the norm for so long that it’s almost an unconscious effort, some said. While there are many legitimate medical malpractices, there are many frivolous lawsuits, Spang said.

Dr. Howard Spang, far left, and John Demboski listen as Dr. Jason Campagna answers a question from the audience during Friday's forum.
Dr. Howard Spang, far left, and John Demboski listen as Dr. Jason Campagna answers a question from the audience during Friday’s forum. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Since it’s impossible to quantify noneconomical damages such as pain, suffering or emotional harm, it would be difficult to put a cap on damages, the doctors said. “It makes you even more likely to order an extra test,” Aijian said. “I don’t think you can go to the emergency room with a headache without getting a CAT scan these days.”

Malpractice insurance for staff can be extremely high, even if they never lose a lawsuit. “My mortgage is less than me and my wife’s health plans,” Aijian said.

Although there wasn’t much discussion about the specifics in Obama’s health-care plan, the issue of lowering costs was on everyone’s minds Friday evening.

John Demboski, who counsels small businesses and individuals on how to finance health care, said there’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the cost and financing. “There’s a misconception that there’s a large markup, but insurance companies only make a profit of about 2 to 3 percent,” he said.

Health insurance professional Roger Perry said there are three main groups of uninsured people: the young “invincibles,” those who can’t afford it and illegal immigrants. “As simple as I find (insurance), it scares the death out of most of the consumers,” he said.

The problem of covering the uninsured is a big one. From a physician’s perspective, a patient’s financial status doesn’t matter — a person is a person, the panelists said. However, uninsured people, especially illegal immigrants, tend to come in less frequently but with more critical conditions, hospital administrator Christina Thielst said.

“The costs are higher because they delay,” she said.

Preventive outreach programs, such as a breast cancer van that goes to farmworkers in the fields where they work in Ventura County and the California Healthy Families Program, are seeing bigger and bigger cuts because of the state’s chronic budget deficit, she said.

With some programs getting bad credit, some health-care professionals, such as dentists, won’t always accept those patients, she said.

The discussion turned more philosophical as panelists asked the audience to consider what they want out of their health-care plans vs. what they’re willing to pay for.

One analogy given was car insurance: People don’t expect their insurance to pay for an oil change or flat tire, yet often expect health insurance to cover the whole cost of everything.

While dollars were the main concern, Campagna urged the crowd not to forget what health care was all about — people. “Solutions might look good on paper ... but at the end of the day we’re talking about people,” he said.

David Koppa of Cornerstone Insurance Services said the panel discussed many of the issues his clients have with health care. His company handles both group and individual clients and says many are “very leery of public options.”

A past president of National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors for the region, Koppa said he wished the panel had talked more about the current health-care bill so panelist solutions could be compared with the legislation.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, will hold a community forum in September, although her spokeswoman, Emily Kryder, said details have not been worked out. Capps is out of the country during Congress’ August recess.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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