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Problems show Hilo doctor reform needed


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POSTED: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I am writing to express my views on President Barack Obama's health-care reform. Working in the health-care system as a physician I see a great need for this reform. Forty-six million Americans are uninsured and I am one of them.

The president's three-point program to reduce the cost of health care, guarantee every American the right to choose a plan and doctor and, ensure quality, affordable care for every American is a major step to returning compassion and caring to our health-care system and our country. The tendency has been to treat everyone like a number and dismiss those who could not afford the system.

In 2003, I had to have emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. I tried for three days to resolve the problem by only sipping water as my system was completely blocked. I knew I had to seek help and, frankly, delayed care because I knew I was uninsured. When I went to get evaluated, I was told I needed surgery right away. I was fortunate in that my surgeon gave me professional courtesy; however the hospital bill was $20,000. I tried to make a payment plan with the hospital and was told that I had to pay a certain amount monthly or it would not be accepted. I was unable to comply and my hospital bill has gone unpaid since then.

The other side of the coin is that I had relied on insurance companies and government insurances like Medicaid and Medicare to pay for my services so that I could even begin to pay this and other bills.

In the past 28 years of practice I have had chronic problems with insurances companies not wanting to pay for services rendered, turning around my claims in hopes that I would stop asking for what I had earned. Medicaid, for example, chose to ignore the zero in several $110 claims and paid me $11 on each claim. When I requested a correction, it took several attempts to collect what I had already earned.

The final straw for me was when the Medicare claim processing was changed from North Dakota to South Carolina and suddenly my electronic claims were deemed incomplete and required more settings in the program. I had to call and take a number to be called back in seven to 14 days. There was a major time difference so I would have to get to the phones before noon. I even left a message of what my needs were and the return phone message was not a help. Often they called me back to answer my request when we were closed as they did not realize the time difference.

When I finally got someone to call me back and speak to me on the phone it was seven months before I was able to submit claims to possibly be paid; by then many of the claims were over a year old, so there is a 10 percent reduction for late filing.

I have given up on this system and have now gone to cash. I can finally begin to pay my bills and see the light of day.

My story is not unique; many Americans have dealt with even worse. Truly we must realize that we are all connected and what happens to one of us on this planet affects us all. Everyone deserves to have the basic right to life and this includes health care.

I urge you to support President Obama's health-care reform for the betterment of all.

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Yvonne Conner, M.D., lives in Hilo.