Emergency medicine physician: Provide a tax credit for free care

LETTER — Posted May 22, 2006

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Regarding "Practice pressures diminish charity care" (Article, April 17): I read with interest your article on physician provision of charity care. I was especially surprised to see surgeons cited as the most likely to provide said care. Being an emergency medicine physician, I can attest that I and my colleagues provide sometimes more than 50% free care. This is not reimbursed by anyone.

Even the doctors employed by hospitals have a decreased reimbursement because hospitals cannot supplement their salaries. And many of us are self-employed or practice in independent groups.

Admittedly, this free care is federally mandated, but hopefully much of it would be provided just because of the nature of emergency medicine, i.e., that doctors don't look at ability to pay before treating a patient in need. I am proud of our specialty for this benevolence, but the result of this is the need to see more patients more quickly.

I also commend my colleagues in other specialties that provide free care to the needy. Because of the decreased reimbursement by payers and increased practice costs, doctors are being squeezed.

That being said, I would suggest federal and/or state laws that would give a tax credit for providing free care. This is especially important if care is mandated, as it is in the emergency department. I would like to see the AMA advocate for such a common-sense approach to the problem of providing care to the less fortunate among us.

Ann Loudermilk, MD, Weymouth, Mass.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/05/22/edlt0522.htm.

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