2009-02-13 / Columnists

Eye On Physical Therapy

Commentary By Dr. Tim Rohrs

Having recently seen the movie SiCKO from director and filmmaker Michael Moore, I was left with feelings of frustration, sadness and anger. I can understand those people who find Mr. Moore's films biased, left leaning, liberal and stunt filled spectacles, but the truth is, aside from the overbearing showboating, his facts are correct. This film finds Michael Moore's attention turned to healthcare in America; and boy is it a mess. The film chronicles the current state of those insured and uninsured in the United States today.

From my own perspective, I can say that as a healthcare provider and user, the cost of healthcare for my staff and family goes up every year and the reimbursement we receive goes down just as frequently. In August 2004 the cost per month for a family health insurance policy with HIP was approximately $550.00. By December it had went up to $800.00 per month and when the New Year started it was up to $1100.00 per month. Fast forward to December 2008 when Blue Cross Blue Shield was $1400.00 per month and the January bill was $1960.00. I could see if my plan was fantastic with a low copay, but our copay is $40.00 per visit. These insurance companies are smart; make the copay so high that patients will not use their benefits or only use them for serious illness because the copay is so absurd. The frustrating part is that one might think that these increases in cost to my company and others would either increase payments to doctors and healthcare providers, but that is not the case. The average reimbursement over the course of the seven years our office has been open has decreased by 19 percent. Imagine the outrage and indignation that would occur if teachers or police or fireman suffered a 19 percent pay cut across the board. Their respective unions wouldn't stand for it. So if payments to doctors and physical therapists have been slowly decreasing and the price to patients has been increasing, where is all the money going?

Well, in 2005 the CEO of United Health Group, William W McGuire, earned 124.8 MILLION dollars and for the previous five years the CEO earned a whopping 342 MILLION dollars. Meanwhile, in 2007, according to a United Health Group press release, "United Health Group (NYSE: UNH) achieved record revenues and earnings in 2007. Revenues exceeded $75 billion and were supported by expanded operating margins and strong earnings growth."

Sadly, it is the patient who suffers, not only through increased premiums for insurance, but in decreased care. Treatments, tests and other healthcare services which should be covered are often denied, with the hope that the patient won't fight the decision. Every patient that doesn't complain to their human resources department about their insurance company's denials means more money in the bank for the insurance company. It is heart wrenching to watch the patients who have lost loved ones due to the cold and callous money grubbing, and penny pinching insurance companies in the film.

One would think that our representatives in government would be on the lookout. Unfortunately, they seem to look out for themselves first. The Medicare Part D Prescription Plan was passed and signed into law by President Bush. The Medicare Part D plan will hand over $800 billion of our tax dollars to the drug and health insurance industry. According to the Congressional Budget Office, for the tenyear period, 2006 through 2016, the projected spending is $848 billion. "The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2008 to 2017," Congressional Budget Office, January 2007 said, "The health industry gave $14 million total to the eleven elected officials largely credited with negotiating the bill. Pharmaceutical company PACs (Political Action Committees), employees, and their families gave more than $3 million in campaign contributions to (those) eleven elected officials." It would seem that our congressmen and woman, senators and the president are in the pocket of pharmaceutical and health insurance companies.

Even if you hate Michael Moore's films or lean further right than left, you owe it to yourself to see this film. Universal healthcare in America may not be the answer as the film suggests, but it does highlight the inequities of our system, those that are left behind and the obscene greed of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. With today's economic climate, those that are left behind may include us.

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