Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

Currently: 92° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

OTHER VOICES:

Getting personal with Obamacare

Another view?

View more of the Las Vegas Sun's opinion section:

Editorials - the Sun's viewpoint.

Columnists - local and syndicated writers.

Letters to the editor - readers' views.

Have your own opinion? Write a letter to the editor.

If you think all doctors don’t like Obamacare, you should talk to a doctor with cancer.

I did. Dr. James Byrnes is a family practitioner, chief of the medical staff at Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., and former president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society.

A year ago, Byrnes, 60, was diagnosed with throat cancer.

Byrnes had health insurance. In fact, he made sure that all his office staff — two receptionists, a licensed practical nurse, a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant — had health insurance. He paid for all their insurance premiums.

“When I started doing it, it was like $250 a month and I thought it was no big deal,” Byrnes said.

But over time, those insurance premiums tripled and he was paying about $5,000 a month to insure him and his staff. Byrnes said he had considered telling his employees that they’d have to pay for their own health insurance, but he couldn’t get himself to do it.

“It would be like giving them a pay cut,” he said.

So in July, he thought it was time he shopped around the insurance market to see whether he could get a plan that was cheaper and better for him and his staff. But now he had throat cancer.

“Without Obamacare, I don’t know if anybody would take me. They could say I’m too expensive,” he said. “But my insurance agent told me that now they couldn’t refuse me.”

The health care law, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is slated to take full effect in 2014. A provision of that law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing medical conditions.

“It bumped up my own rates considerably, but they couldn’t say, ‘No,’” Byrnes said. “And I ended up paying less overall than I did in my prior plan.”

Getting lower premiums for the rest of his office staff more than offset the increase in his own premium.

“We now have better coverage, and I’m spending $500 less a month on insurance,” he said.

Byrnes said he understands why some doctors don’t like Obamacare. Doctors are being compelled to switch their records to an electronic system. For him, he said, that’s an up-front, out-of-pocket cost of about $75,000.

“But we were heading in the direction of e-records anyway,” he said. “It prevents handwriting mistakes, which is a big issue for doctors, and it eliminates language problems. The goal of e-records is to improve quality and reduce errors.”

And one day, it could help coordinate care better with other doctors.

“That would be a major help if we didn’t have to duplicate laboratory work,” he said.

Byrnes doesn’t buy the arguments about the new law bringing a more sinister and intrusive role of government in health care, though.

“Some doctors don’t like a panel that isn’t elected that can determine fee schedules,” he said. “But when you talk about socialized medicine, we already have it. Insurance companies base their reimbursement schedules on Medicare.”

And at Bethesda Memorial, millions of dollars a year in medical care get performed on the uninsured by emergency room doctors who know they will never be paid for what they do, he said.

“We’re well off enough as a country that we should provide basic health care to everybody,” he said. “That’s a noble idea.”

And he trusts the government more than the insurance companies.

“With the government, at least you have a voice,” he said. “You can lobby your congressman and negotiate with your government, but you can’t with a big company. They just say, ‘Goodbye.’”

Frank Cerabino writes for the Palm Beach Post in Florida.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 2 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Personal experience by a physician sure outweighs partisan criticism.

    People would be surprised to see how many physicians support the ACA, across various Physician organizations and websites, as well as universal healthcare, for many of the same reasons expressed by Dr. Cerabino.

  2. Sooner or later you run out of other people's money to spend. Apologies to Maggie Thatcher. When you run out, who's gonna get to decide?