The new federal health care bill may decrease the number of Connecticut’s uninsured, but a recent survey found that residents with health insurance are already having trouble finding a physician and more than 20 percent of physicians are thinking about leaving their practices.
A Connecticut State Medical Society survey released last week found that 28 percent of internists and 26 percent of family physicians are not accepting new patients and on average patients wait 18 days for a routine office visit.
The survey of 498 primary-care physicians also found that 25 percent of family physicians and 22 percent of internists are considering a career change because of the practice environment in Connecticut. Almost 25 percent said they were unsure whether they would move out of the state in the next five years.
Dr. Robert McLean, a New Haven internist who has been practicing since 1994, said he’s not contemplating a career change, however, he would like to spend more time with his patients and less time filling out paperwork.
One day last week McLean said he saw 22 patients, dealt with 25 refill faxes, and had to advocate on behalf of five patients so they could continue to take the medication he prescribed.
The latest insurance hurdle for physicians like McLean is preauthorization for medication.
He said proving to insurance companies that a patient has been prescribed appropriate and necessary medication has become time consuming. He said often the formulary of medication approved by insurance companies changes from year to year based on the number of discounts the insurance company can get from the pharmaceutical company. Helping his patients continue to get access to the medication they need has become a hurdle for his practice.
About half of the physicians responding to the survey also reported that obtaining a referral to a specialist has become more difficult over the past three years.
“Practicing medicine today differs dramatically from the way these physicians were trained,” Matthew Katz, executive vice president of the Connecticut State Medical Society, said. “They are spending more than 40 hours a week providing direct patient care before they start dealing with insurance-company red tape and other bureaucratic issues.”
Dr. Sandra Caboneri, a pediatrician, said the survey also found that pediatricians are happier than physicians caring for adult patients.
“It’s proof that physician satisfaction is not about money,” Caboneri said. However, she suggested that loan forgiveness programs for those studying medicine would help make sure there are enough primary-care physicians to serve the state’s population.
Sen. Jonathan Harris, co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said surveys like this one help legislators make public policy decisions and “give us information about what’s happening on the ground on a day-by-day basis.”
He said he’s frustrated that the national debate and health care reform seems to have forgotten about the issue of access to quality care.
“This shows we need to do a lot more,” Harris said. “We need to simplify the process and determine how we can get rid of some of that red tape that’s preventing us from getting the care we need.”
The survey will officially be published in the May issue of Connecticut Medicine.