Though they wouldn’t have time to read the 2400 pages that are in it, though they had no real say in its contents and may even have been opposed to it, physicians all over the country are finding themselves bogged down by questions about the new health care reform law. Like most people, their patients are afraid of change. Some want to know if they will still be able to see their doctor. Others want to schedule surgeries before they even need them, out of fear that they may not be covered later. All of these questions are reasonable concerns, considering the relative vacuum of information on the practical implications and implementations of the new law. Nevertheless, they’re already starting to bog down some practices.
I see 30 to 50 patients in a day, and it is the subject of conversation more than half the time,” said Dr. Roger W. Evans, a cardiologist based out of Wichita who visits patients throughout much of Kansas. They ask him important questions, but he doesn’t know himself, so he’s unable to answer them. “We’ve had to add an hour or two to the day because patients want to talk about it.”
The rumor mill isn’t helping anything. All sorts of fear-filled propaganda is floating around, warning of some very unlikely things. One of them is the notion that the IRS will be the agency that will be monitoring and managing health care procedures. Of course, such rumors are so unlikely as to be ridiculous, but when your patient feels his well being or very life is on the line, those fears need to be addressed. And it’s eating up time and energy.
Questions seem to be most common in states where the people were opposed to the legislation in the first place. Joseph R. Baker III, president of the Medicare Rights Center, reports that the volume of calls about the bill as moderate, but the level of confusion is high. He compared the questions they field to those caused by Medicare’s adding prescription drugs in 2004. “Some benefits in the short term, like closing the doughnut hole,” he explains, and continues to reveal that those aspects which may have a negative impact, such as “lower reimbursement to providers, will happen over a number of years.”
Mostly, it’s a matter of easing the patient’s fears. This, too, is part of being a physician.
The simple truth is that much is still being determined, still being implemented, and most of those changes are a long ways off. Hopefully the barrage of questions will be short-lived. It’s likely that people will soon see that the sky isn’t falling in quite yet and stop worrying about it. The thick irony is that doctors who weren’t given a voice in the design of the program and may not have supported the details of it, are now being expected to comfort their patients, calm their fears, and know what the bill says.