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Sunday, November 17, 2013

United Healthcare Cuts ‘Toxic’

To the Editor:

The Fairfield County and Hartford County Medical Societies are to be congratulated for bringing this critical issue to the public’s attention.

I have been in general practice in Bethel since 1975.  As I said at the Town Hall meeting on Nov. 9 (“Doctors protest United Healthcare cuts,” WestportNow, Nov. 9. 2013) ever since the early 1990s when large insurers began to intrude in the healthcare system, medicine has become dominated by their marketplace strategies as much or more than by medical science.

Rules regulating the ordering of CAT scans and blood tests and referrals to specialists and the steady decrease in the services and drugs that insurers will pay have slowly but surely diminished the ability of doctors to treat patients in a humane and compassionate way.

This sad state of affairs continues unabated and insurers emboldened by their freedom from the discipline they so rightly deserve unabashedly keep pushing the envelope As a result, the physician workforce is demoralized and many express burnout because of the excessive administrative and clerical drudgery that insurers force upon them.

Thus although United Healthcare’s dropping of me and over 2,000 other Connecticut’s physicians from its Medicare Advantage plan, without warning or explanation did not surprise me.

So the town hall meeting was the right time and right place to speak out against this social injustice. Clearly, United Healthcare’s reckless and ill-conceived dismissal of physicians forces thousands of elderly patients to scramble to find new doctors.

Many of these patients have chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and have long term relationships with their physicians. Besides the medical care they receive from their doctors they depend on them for emotional support and for guidance in dealing with the complex and confusing treatments and tests that they receive and the frightening insecurities they have about how their diseases will affect their lives.

Making this problem even more serious is that fact that many of these elderly patients’ have spouses and children who have also come to depend on the physicians for advice and help.

Dealing with a sick mother or father who may be approaching the end of their lives or who are simply too frail to live alone is a difficult task. Some family members actually suffer burnout and depression taking care of a sick spouse or mother or father.

The doctor who has a long-standing relationship with a patient and knows the patient’s history and psychological and social background can be a strong source of support and comfort to the family of a sick elderly patient.

The point is that by expelling physicians from their Medicare Advantage plan, UHC has created a toxic situation for patients, their families, and for doctors.

Clearly, UHC either is ignorant of how much patients are frightened by having to leave their doctors and find new ones or they are simply blinded by the need to generate profits for shareholders.

Our lawmakers must not allow UHC or any other health insurer to destroy the humanity and kindness and common sense that must always be the qualities by which our health system is judged.

Edward Volpintesta MD
Bethel, Conn.

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Posted 11/17/13 at 10:30 PM  Permalink



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