In My Opinion: Weighing in on Affordable Care Act delays

In your opinion, how is the medical community being affected by the extended deadline to sign-up for plans under the Affordable Care Act?

Just when I thought nothing could cause more of a stir among physicians and patients here at our local clinic than the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, along came the Act’s delayed implementation and the obligatory enrollment extension.  It has proven to many of my colleagues that nothing makes failure look so bad as dragging it out to the point of nausea.  This harsh judgment, in the end, will be proven wrong.

In the run-up to ‘Obamacare,’ which is still a dirty word to many in my medical community, patients and physicians alike were naturally nervous about any wholesale change in the way physicians are paid and patients are covered.  ‘Will you still be my doctor?’ and ‘will I still be able to afford care?’ were the questions heard most, next to ‘why did I have to wait so long to be seen?’ . . .  Physicians, who are typically suspicious of government intrusion into the sanctum of medicine, are rightly skeptical of any new medical insurance overhaul (much less one that received little physician input into its design).  This skepticism is compounded when the program is touted as the definitive answer to medical care underwriting, and a shining product of the latest technological innovation (while the public is victimized by such an egregious enrollment rollout).  The question for busy professionals in medicine is, ‘Can a less than auspicious beginning for medical insurance reform still result in a happy ending?’

After all, the expected demise of physician autonomy and patient choice has been grossly exaggerated, as the expression goes.  The reality, which has fairly matched the rhetoric, is that eight million patients have insurance who did not have it before.  This swell in patient population will be most keenly felt in the precincts of family practice and internal medicine, where new patient enrollment in our area already has had a noticeable uptick.  Long predicted drops in visits to specialty physicians under the new system have not occurred, and they aren’t likely.  Although the shuffling of patients between doctors continues to occur, it cannot be attributed to the Affordable Care Act.

Certainly, problems have arisen: Patients on the same or a similar plan are occasionally quoted wildly different rates for the same or similar treatments and procedures.  Doctors argue a lot remains to be ironed out, including much-needed Medicaid expansion, with the hope and promise of receiving assured and consistent funding from Washington.  Yet, Obamacare may turn out to be a long-term success story.  Waiting room wait times may once again become the number one topic of conversation between doctors and their patients.

Dr. Edward Lubin
Board-certified Pain Medicine Physician,
Gessler Clinic Pain Medicine Center, Winter Haven;
President of Medical Staff, Winter Haven Hospital

We are hopeful that many individuals have chosen to access health insurance through the exchanges.  With insurance, people have more access to the healthcare services they need.  This creates the potential for an increased number of newly insured patients who are visiting doctors, obtaining preventive care, and using more hospital services.  It is too early to know how the exchanges and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act will ultimately impact our hospital and other providers.  What we do know is that providing high quality care and the best possible experience for patients will always be our priority.

Andrew Howard
Chief Executive Officer,
Lake Wales Medical Center

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