By Tiffany Pelt - email
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – After 16 years of serving Lubbock patients, a local doctor is leaving his private practice. He's blaming current flaws with the health care system and the passage of the health care reform bill.
"I have always enjoyed what I do but I cannot do it anymore and continue to struggle to make a living," said Doctor Robert Johnson.
On April 26th, Johnson wrote his patients a letter telling them he was leaving May 28th and that they would need to find a new physician. "I hate to leave my patients but I don't think I can stand the liability of staying in it," he said.
Sixty percent of Johnson's patients are under Medicare. Getting reimbursed for services involving those patients is very little, and with the government threatening to trim those payments even more, Johnson said it's a bill he can't afford.
"That's exactly what's causing the strain. You can't see as many Medicare patients as you can regular insurance patients because they need so much, so it has been a huge part of what makes it difficult to make a living," said Johnson.
Johnson said he gets paid less now than he did ten years ago, and he's often stuck working between 70 and 80 hours a week. "Seeing a patient here is so poor that I have to see too many to be able to provide good care," he said.
With private practice doctors having to see more patients to break even, Johnson said the quality of health care is diminishing as doctors are stretched thin. He also said if the government does cut Medicare reimbursements for doctors, patients will be the ones hurt.
"You can count on the idea that Medicare patients will not be able to find physicians and that physicians will cut Medicare patients from their practices," he said.
Besides Medicare, Johnson said he sees even more problems coming in the next few years with the passage of the health care package. He believes there will be too much regulation by the government and the bill will stifle competition. "Year after year it's becoming less favorable to go into medicine at all and soon the best and the brightest are no longer going to look at medicine as a viable career," said Johnson.
Dr. Johnson said other doctors are beginning to feel the same way. "There are numerous physicians in town who are looking to re-organize or get out of medicine altogether. I know several prominent physicians who are talking about 2, 3, 4 years of practice and then quitting medicine altogether," he said.
It's too early to know the effects of the health care bill, but some providers see the efforts as positive since more Americans will be insured. "I think it's good news, that's allowing families to keep their children on their health plans until their 26th birthday, and will allow new college graduates to remain on their parent's insurance during a very tough economic time," said UMC Vice President Greg Bruce.
In order to provide a secure living for his family, Johnson took a job as a Hospitalist at Medical Center of Plano, and will start July 12th. "I love being a physician. I've always loved it. I've known I've wanted to do this since I was five and it breaks my heart to see the things in medicine that are happening," he said.
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