As political scrutiny grows, several local doctors question Obamacare
The federal government shutdown, which came about because of disagreements in Congress over the Affordable Care Act, is over and the program has officially started. But the health insurance system more commonly known as Obamacare continues to face criticism on the local and national levels.
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) has ramped up her long-term criticisms of the law, and even Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) has recently questioned its implementation, calling for a two-month extension of the signup period, advocating for the individual mandate penalty to be lifted and criticizing the administration's transparency surrounding the program.
And in Lee County, where an estimated 6,000 people are uninsured, some doctors have their own reservations as well.
"I don't think the public is being told the total truth," Dr. Robert Patterson, who formerly owned The Family Doc in Sanford and now owns Back to Basics Medical Practice, said Monday.
Patterson is one of the more vocal opponents of the program in the local medical community. He avidly uses his Twitter account and the Back to Basics Facebook page to disseminate articles and videos critical of Obamacare. He said his opposition is partially because Obamacare in particular seems misguided and partially because he thinks health insurance in general is a bad system.
"[Health insurance] was supposed to mimic car insurance and just pay for big things," Patterson said. "Not the oil changes, the windshield wipers, things like that. Health insurance was only supposed to pay for big things like surgery. You were supposed to pay for primary care yourself."
His practice doesn't accept insurance, and Patterson said his patients generally still pay less than they would using Medicaid or insurance somewhere else. However, he said, said many of them have received letters since Obamacare began, advising them to pick another doctor who accepts insurance.
Furthermore, Patterson said, health care options for the poor or uninsured already exist through Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), even if there is often a four- or five-hour wait. There aren't any in Lee or Moore counties, but Chatham County has three such sites operated by Piedmont Health, which can be contacted at (919) 933-8494, and Harnett County has six operated by First Choice Community Health Centers, which can be contacted at (910) 364-0970.
North Carolina's 161 FQHC sites served about 450,000 patients in 2011, according to the N.C. Community Health Center Association's website, and provide "high quality medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health and enabling services without regard to a person's ability to pay" or health insurance status.
"Part of Obamacare is it just ignores those clinics," Patterson said. "People can get care, and they've been able to for years. ... Why not support that system, and expand that system, as opposed to creating a whole new system?"
On the other hand, the county's largest medical provider is looking forward to Obamacare.
"Central Carolina Hospital has supported the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) based upon our strong belief that addressing the growing uninsured population is critical to fixing the problems with the way we deliver and pay for health care in the U.S.," a group of public relations personnel from CCH and Tenet Health Care, which owns the hospital, said in an email to The Herald earlier this month. "... We are excited that so many patients will now have access to insurance that can give them peace of mind about their health care."
They further said that contrary to what has been rumored for other large employers, there were no plans to conduct layoffs because of regulations imposed by the law.
Striking a middle ground between Patterson and CCH was Dr. Robert McConville.
McConville, who started the six-doctor Sandhills Family Practice 32 years ago and was the North Carolina Primary Care Physician of the Year in 2001, said he likes the theory of affordable, accessible health insurance — just not the way it's being done now.
"People don't like it being rammed down their throats," he told The Herald earlier this month, after the insurance exchanges first went online. "And ever since I've been in medical school, there's always been a question about whether people deserve health care or if they should pay for it. Conservatives feel one way, liberals feel the other way, and it's always going to be up for debate.
"I would like to see opportunities for people who are uninsurable to be insured," McConville continued. "But we'll see how it plays out. Who knows the cost for the country? We're already in debt, and can we afford this? Probably not."
On Tuesday, the Obama administration official in charge of the healthcare.gov website apologized for its error-filled launch, and CBS News reported that for every one person who has signed up for a new policy so far, three people have been told they can't renew their old policies — to the tune of about 2 million people being forced to part ways with their current insurance policies.