June, 2011

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The Problem With Part Time Doctors

Friday, June 24th, 2011

As anyone who has read either of my two memoirs knows, I’ve worked long hours as a ob-gyn/maternal-fetal medicine specialist, throughout my career. While it’s been a challenge, at times, and I’ve had to juggle like crazy to be the kind of mother my children could always count on, it was the life I signed up for.

I don’t regret my career choices.  Becoming a doctor is as much a calling as a profession.

So, when I read an op-ed by a woman anesthesiologist, which criticizes a recent trend among women doctors to think of medicine as a part-time career, it struck a chord.

This section, in particular, offers food for thought:

Since 2005 the part-time physician workforce has expanded by 62 percent, according to recent survey data from the American Medical Group Association, with nearly 4 in 10 female doctors between the ages of 35 and 44 reporting in 2010 that they worked part time.

This may seem like a personal decision, but it has serious consequences for patients and the public.

Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine.

… The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that, 15 years from now, with the ranks of insured patients expanding, we will face a shortage of up to 150,000 doctors.

When you look at training in the medical profession as a scarce resource, provided to a small number of people, in whose hands others place their lives, you can see that it isn’t the kind of career choice you make lightly. It’s a commitment. And those who don’t feel the need to fully commit, who think of it as a profession in which they can dabble, do a disservice to the patients who need them, as well as to those who would have committed fully to the profession, if only they could have gotten into medical school.

In our do-your-own-thing society, this might seem like a harsh, even an unfair judgment. But medicine isn’t practiced for the benefit of the practitioner. It’s a service to our fellow men and women. And as long as there are so few of us that some people have long waits for needed care, those who choose this profession must be willing to be there when they’re needed. And if they can’t? There are plenty of other professions with lesser requirements.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Desperate Enough For Jail

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

The story of James Verone, who lost his health insurance when he lost his job with Coca Cola, epitomizes the dysfunction in our country’s health care system, until now. Health care reform would have given him access to insurance by 2014. He would have qualified for Medicare in 2017. But he can’t wait — he needs health care today. Because he has a growth on his chest today. And with no other way of getting a doctor to diagnose him and treat him, he decided his only chance was to get sent to prison, where health care is free.

But how would this lifelong law-abiding citizen find his way to prison?

He decided to politely rob a bank – just for a dollar – and ask the teller to call the police:

James Verone … limped into a bank in Gastonia, N.C., this month and handed the teller a note, explaining that this was an unarmed robbery, but she’d better turn over $1 and call the cops. That, he figured, would be enough to get himself arrested and sent to prison for a few years, where he could take advantage of the free medical care.

Just to make sure that no one was confused about his intentions, Mr. Verone made sure to let the teller know that he would be sitting on a couch in the bank, waiting for the police. Before he set out for the bank that morning, he also mailed a letter explaining his scheme to a local newspaper, The Gaston Gazette.

“When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me. This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar,” the letter read. “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”

The next time you hear someone you know say that we should repeal health care reform, I hope you’ll share this blog post with that person.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Are You Taking Advantage of The New Health Insurance Appeals Process?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

One of the big advantages of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. the healthcare reform bill) is that millions of Americans who once had no recourse when their insurers turned them down for coverage, now can appeal. Insurance company turns you down for a transplant? Appeal. Says no to a life-saving procedure? Appeal. Insists that you have to pay for something you believe is covered under your policy? Appeal.

And your appeal won’t be decided by the same administrator who turned you down in the first place. Under the new healthcare reform law, health insurance appeals are decided by an independent decision-maker, one who has no financial stake in the outcome.

This provision can be a lifesaver … but only if you know about it and act on it within the 180-day timeframe permitted.

According to Kaiser Healthcare News:

The provision took effect for most plans Jan. 1. But in response to self-insured plans’ concerns about being able to meet some of the requirements, the government said it wouldn’t require the plans to tell members about their external appeals rights until plan years beginning after July 1. Since most plans start their new year in January, that means they won’t have to notify members about their right to external appeals and how to file them until next year.

However, the government isn’t granting enrollees more time to file appeals, said an official at the Department of Health and Human Services, who spoke only on the condition of not being identified. Patients have 180 days from the date of initial denials to file internal appeals to the plan. If the appeals are rejected, they then have another four months to appeal to outside arbiters.

If nobody tells patients about their rights, this provision, in other words, might not be discovered by the people who need it most until it’s too late.

So, I’m urging you to link to this post wherever you can: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, any and all social networks. Explain the need to be informed. Tell your friends and family: you have a right to appeal. For some, it can be a matter of life and death.

Don’t let the chance slip away.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Something To Prove Wins Top Prize from New York Book Festival!

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I’m thrilled to report that Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy earned the Grand Prize from the judges in “The New York Book Festival,” besting hundreds of rivals in every category for the title.

Although I wish I could be at the ceremony on June 10, 2011, at the Algonquin Hotel, to accept the award, I have a previous commitment. I will be the lead panelist at the “100 Black Men of America Annual Convention,” in San Francisco that day.

My fellow panelists include Terri McMillan, bestselling author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and several other books, radio talk show host Shirley Strawberry, and TV personality Star Jones, best-known for her long-running stint on the popular talk show, “The View.”

Although I won’t be there to accept the New York Book Festival Award in person, you can bet I’ll be there in spirit. I am so honored to have been chosen to receive this recognition, and so very, very grateful to the judges who chose Something to Prove over so many other terrific books.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH