When patients lose jobs, physicians feel impact
■ Ohio doctors report that visits are down as laid-off patients are dropped from insurance plans and have trouble paying bills.
By Emily Berry — Posted Aug. 24, 2009
Most physicians in Ohio say they have patients who have lost their health insurance and aren't always able to pay their medical bills, according to a survey released in August by the Ohio State Medical Assn.
The OSMA sent an e-mail survey to members and received 559 responses. Physicians could also add comments, which were published along with the results.
Some 70% said they had seen a slowdown in business or an increase in cancellations over the previous nine months.
"Due to high deductibles and limited financial resources, many patients are postponing appointments and tests," one family physician wrote.
More than 90% of respondents said they were seeing more patients who had lost insurance.
"As an obstetrician, I am seeing patients in the midst of their prenatal care who suddenly lose their job and/or insurance," one doctor wrote.
Most respondents -- 87% -- said their patients were having increasing trouble paying medical bills. In response, physicians said they were trying to come up with ways to help patients with payment problems. More than 75% offered payment plans; 58% offered discounts for self-pay patients; 55% offered charity care; and 62% wrote off bills deemed "uncollectable."
Some doctors reported they, too, were having financial problems. A few said they weren't sure how much longer they could stay in business.
"We are struggling to pay bills," one wrote.
"I survive by working 12 hours a day," another said.
"These survey results reinforce the fact that, despite the financial pressures of the practice of medicine, Ohio physicians are working hard to help our patients receive care," OSMA President Roy H. Thomas, MD, said in a prepared statement. "No sector of the economy is immune to the effects of this recession. However, we are trying to work with our patients to ensure continuity of care in this harsh economic climate."
Ohio's June unemployment rate was 11% and more than 14% in the Toledo and Youngstown areas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In October 2008, just before unemployment nationwide began skyrocketing, the rate was 7%. Ohio is one of 16 states with an unemployment rate in double digits, and the rate has been higher than 10% since April.