Medical leader
details minority issues

By Helen Altonn

Health disparities among minority populations remain a major issue for the National Medical Association after more than 100 years, says the new president, Dr. L. Natalie Carroll.

Medical director of the Regional Physicians' Network in Houston, Carroll was inducted last night during the association's annual convention in Honolulu, succeeding Dr. Lucille C. Norville Perez.

The organization represents 26,000 to 33,000 African-American physicians. About 3,500 are attending meetings this week at the Hawai'i Convention Center. The delegation, including families, totals about 8,000 visitors.

A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Carroll said in an interview yesterday that the NMA will try to address issues raised in an Institute of Medicine report about a failing health system with delayed and inaccessible care and medical errors.

"We also are concerned about the survival of the position as practitioner in the community," she said, pointing out that physicians are plagued with increased medical liability and overhead and decreased government and private insurance payments for seeing patients.

Their costs are not being covered because of a flawed federal formula used to calculate reimbursements, she said, explaining base payments depend on how many patients a doctor sees in an hour.

This system is beginning to affect larger medical organizations, such as health maintenance organizations, as well as practicing physicians because they cannot see enough patients to recover their costs, she said.

The association is concerned that this environment will foster medical mistakes, she said, adding that it plans to talk to legislators and the American Medical Association about the situation.

"It affects all medical populations," she said. "And when these kinds of things are crucial in the general community, they are more crucial in minority populations."

The results are losses to the economy and less health care in poorer communities where people are not very mobile, she said.

Native Hawaiian health care representatives were among those discussing the problems with convention delegates this week, she noted.

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