Local doctors mixed on healthcare reform

June 22, 2009 5:47:23 PM PDT
Houston doctors are worried about what healthcare reform will mean for their patients and their bottom line.The talk is that in President Obama's healthcare plan doctors will get more patients and less money, but the thing everyone fears, healthcare rationing, is supposed to be off the table. Not everyone believes that though.

You will hear about best-practice guidelines, those are treatment guidelines doctors will be expected to follow, and there's uncertainty because no one knows what the final plan will look like.

Dr. Robert Van Zant is worried about what healthcare reform will mean to him and other family doctors.

"You're going to see doctors who can just quit. Doctors in their 50s and 60s faced with increasing burdens, increasing demands. See 50 a day instead of 20, running through like a cattle run, we're going to quit," said Dr. Van Zant.

Even though no one knows exactly what the final health care plan will look like, there are other problems worrying many family doctors.

There's one big concern in Texas: we're already short of family practice doctors. Some have said we need a third more family practice doctors today.

"Family practice only attracts about 10% of a graduating medical school class and frankly that's because the pay is lousy and the idea of a rich doctor is long past," said Dr. Van Zant.

Dr. Pauline Rosenau, a professor at UT School of Public Health-Houston, said, "Doctors are very worried that they might see their income reduced with this new healthcare reform."

She also said reform is long overdue.

"Overall it will probably be a wash. They'll see a few more patients and get paid a little more because the numbers they see will be increased," said Dr. Rosenau.

However, Van Zant worries President Obama is setting the stage for healthcare rationing.

"We'll have to tell our patients you can't have that test and blame it on us instead of blame it on him," said Dr. Van Zant.

Houston doctor Ian Butler is a specialist, a pediatric neurologist who is optimistic about the coming changes.

"I don't think the man and woman and child on the street are going to put up with that sort of rationing because they've experienced non-rationing," said Dr. Butler.

He was a physician in two national healthcare systems, Australia and the U.K.

"The concerns people have are very real, but I think they can be dealt with. You make sure you have enough MRIs that you have enough surgeons to do the surgeries so you don't have a six month waiting list," said Dr. Butler.

What would healthcare reform mean for researchers in the medical center? We're told it won't really affect them. Houston researchers are getting a substantial amount of money from the stimulus package.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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