Some say reform likely to change doctor-patient visits

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by JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA

wfaa.com

Posted on March 22, 2010 at 4:23 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 22 at 10:45 PM

DALLAS — The health care overhaul is moving forward, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law on Tuesday.

While it appears — at least for now —  that most people will see little effect from the bill financially, there are a lot of questions about what it will mean for patients and their doctors.

On Monday, there were mixed reactions from North Texas doctors and their organizations on whether this bill will help or hurt health care. One aspect most agree on is that family practice doctors will likely be slammed.

When Ronald Thomas cut his hand Monday morning, he had no problem getting in to see his longtime family practice physician, Dr. Adam Miner.

"They said to come on in and he would work me in," Thomas said.

Getting an appointment might be a lot more competitive once the health care reform bill goes into effect.

"I think there will be people who previously didn't have the ability to access health care who now will have it, and there's going to be an initial upswing in testing and some referrals to specialists," Miner said, adding thatmore people with insurance will result in a potential tsunami of patients at a time family practice doctors are steadily declining.

The number of medical school students going into primary care dropped more than 50 percent in the last decade.

Miner just moved into a smaller office and reduced staff to cut back on expenses. He said unless Congress also increases federal Medicaid and Medicare payments to doctors, many will have to take on extra patients without extra help.

"One way to do that is to see more people, go faster, spend a little less time with each patient," Miner said.

Thomas said he is hoping that his nine years as a loyal patient will count for something when it comes to getting a doctor's appointment in the future.

Some also predict more access to specialists and screening tests might mean patients have to wait months for those appointments.

E-mail: jstjames@wfaa.com

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