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Special to the Civic Association By: Tim Pallesen

Two Doctors

The nation already has a shortage of doctors. Many are leaving their practices because of cuts in their Medicare reimbursements.

Now the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare mandates health insurance for another 30 million Americans. Will there be enough doctors in years ahead to care for Palm Beach residents?

The impact of Obamacare on patients, doctors, and hospitals will be examined at a Feb. 19 community forum sponsored by the Palm Beach Civic Association.

“Many doctors are saying they can’t keep their doors open to Medicare patients,” forum moderator Dr. Michael Dennis, a Civic Association Director, said.

“They are retiring from practice for a variety of reasons. One reason could be the new regulations, oversight and reporting requirements,” said Mike Stein, co-chairman of the Civic Association’s Health Care Committee that organized the forum.

A survey of Florida doctors last October by Forbes magazine showed 27 percent will refuse to accept new Medicare patients because of Obamacare’s impact on fees.

The Affordable Care Act imposes new regulations that doctors must follow. Unnecessary testing is discouraged. Doctors must be aware of current research to support their procedures.

“There’s going to be more stress because of more questions about whether they are doing it correctly with the best knowledge and equipment,” Dr. Dennis said. As the need for doctors increases, many doctors who serve Palm Beach residents have cut back on their patient load by establishing what is known as a “concierge” medical practices.

A doctor with 1,500 patients typically cuts back to 500 patients who pay an annual fee to assure they will have a doctor available 24 hours a day. Concierge doctors might appear to be the solution in Palm Beach where most residents can afford the annual fee that ranges from $1,500 to $2,800 here.

But much remains to be known about Obamacare before its major provisions go into effect in less than a year. Responsibilities of several regulatory panels are unclear. The fear is that concierge practices might not be allowed.

“What stops the government from saying everyone must be treated equally?” asks Richard Bernstein, a health insurance expert who will be a panelist at the Feb. 19 community forum.

Another panelist, West Palm Beach internist Dr. David Dodson, will give a doctor’s perspective on Obamacare. Other panelists will be Mark Nosaka, the CEO at Good Samaritan Medical Center, and public policy attorney Judith Goodman.

The Civic Association is sponsoring the forum to inform Palm Beach residents how Obamacare will affect them directly. Informed citizens can respond to possible changes such as Medicare benefits and access to doctors.

Dr. Dennis applauded the goal of Obamacare for doctors and hospitals to work smoothly together to improve health care at less cost. “We must reward health care providers for keeping patients healthy, modernize facilities to efficiently utilize procedure and minimize errors, and reduce unnecessary treatments by improved coordination,” he said.

But so many questions remain to be answered. “The challenge at the community forum will be to stick to the facts that we know now,” Dr. Dennis said.