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Boro health advocates to Obama: Don’t forget us

Queens residents, doctors and legislators have a message for President−elect Barack Obama: In the midst of an economic collapse and two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, do not forget about healthcare.

More specifically, borough residents who gathered at the Forest Hills headquarters of the Queens County Medical Society for a health care forum Dec. 23 said that when crafting the new health care platform, the Obama transition team should look into providing universal health care, creating more oversight of HMOs, allowing doctors to collectively bargain with insurance companies and mandating that HMOs be nonprofits.

The Obama transition team had sent notices to health and medical groups across the country, asking the groups to take recommendations on health policy from community members at forums during the week before Christmas.

Employees of the Queens County Medical Society are now compiling the recommendations from the approximately 30 people who attended the meeting and will be sending them to the Obama transition team before the new year.

The society is a group that advocates for state and federal legislation that would benefit the approximate 1,000 Queens doctors who are members of the organization.

“Physicians are very worried about the increased cost of doing business here in Queens,” said Janine Regosin, executive director of the society. “Malpractice premiums are through the roof, and physicians’ reimbursements just keep being cut. The doctors and private practices are having trouble keeping their businesses viable. They have to see 40 to 60 patients a day just to make ends meet. The idea of doctors on the golf course and driving big, fancy cars just isn’t happening here in Queens.”

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows), who had a representative at the forum, said he hopes the input community members gave via the meeting will help to mend what he called a broken healthcare system.

“Most doctors practice in either small groups or as individuals, so they are completely overwhelmed and out−leveraged when it comes to dealing with HMOs,” Lancman said. “They have no bargaining power whatsoever. HMOs engage in large−scale abusive practices, such as lowering the fees doctors can charge without doctors being able to do anything about it, assigning patients to different HMOs and health plans without doctors having the opportunity to have anything to say about it and delaying payments to doctors. It’s really unbelievable; it happens in Queens and everywhere.”

Regosin and Lancman said state lawmakers need to look toward reforming healthcare as well.

“There are a number of bills I’m co−sponsoring which would require timely payments from HMOs to doctors and would prohibit HMOs from altering the contract that they enter into with physicians,” Lancman said.

Lancman is currently crafting legislation that, if passed, would establish a list of healthcare services that would not require pre−authorization.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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