When an Insurance Company Holds the Patient Hostage

I’ve mentioned several times before that doctors are not good businesspeople and that the current state of the health reimbursement system is a mess. One reason it is so messy is that it is all about business and not about care. In this country, the basic teaching of medicine is that “continuous care” is the gold standard. This essentially means that when you see one doctor they are your doctor who knows you and they are the doctor that you will continue to see (if you are happy with your care). This patient-doctor relationship is the rewarding one that allows a physician to see you grow from a child into an adult into an elder. Similarly, it allows the patient to have that one person who they can trust to govern their health. The only thing that could end such a relationship was either the patient or the doctor ending it. Most typically, it lasts until the patient either passes away or the doctor retires and sells his practice to another doctor.

Enter the enemy – the insurance company. Nowadays, that type of relationship is almost non-existent. It is the insurance company who works on the patient’s behalf to enter into the patient-doctor relationship. If your doctor does not have a contract to provide care to that insurance company’s patients, then you cannot see that doctor unless you switch insurance companies. Thus in some respects the insurance company holds the patient hostage. The insurance company owns the patient, and the doctor can only see the patient if the insurance company allows this.

Recently, a doctor in the area was ill and needed to take 2 months off of work. He wanted other doctors to cover his patients and see them while he was gone. Unfortunately, all of those patients had one type of insurance that few doctors had a contract with. Thus those patients could not be cared for.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how messed up the whole thing is. Curiously, they are still teaching “continuity of care” in medical school. Soon they will be replacing that class with Economics 101 for dummies.

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