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Thoughts and Hallucinations

Op-Ed piece on looking for a Medicare doctor

Medicare? Start Looking for Docs
Mike Agar
Santa Fe New Mexican, 2/19/2012, pg. B-5

The other day I was wandering around looking for a doctor that would take a new Medicare patient. A tree surgeon was interested and an ornithologist who ran an anger management clinic for piñoneros said we could talk. It got me to thinking about JFK’s famous line, “ask not what your country can do for you.” In spite of what he said, I started asking. Private physicians can’t afford to run a business on Medicare payments. I get it. Do I have a right to ask for more than this?
The Declaration of Independence says I’m entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m not happy in my pursuit of a doctor. Contrary to court arguments now ongoing, we have had a national medical plan that we’re required to pay into, since 1965, right about the time I started work. I still do pay in, part of what my self-employment tax on net income covers. I’m 66, healthy, gracias a Dios, but the day will come. I have found a clinic I can use with my Medicare card in Albuquerque, but I wouldn’t mind having my own primary care physician closer to home. I mean, my mechanic knows my aging car and that makes a difference. It's not working out with physicians, though. I’m ambulatory red ink. When I show up, accountants avert their eyes.
The government Medicare webpage says there are 16 general practice physicians who will take new patients within 25 miles of my zip code. That doesn’t seem like a lot in the Santa Fe metro area. I guess I could start making the rounds and work the web to see if there are any evaluations. I wonder if any of them have dropped out by now? I wonder if that small economically irrational list have figured out how to make enough money in new ways, or maybe they’re saints who are morally committed to the elderly, or maybe they need patients because they’re new, or maybe they’re not that good?
How about the other part of JFK’s speech, “ask what you can do for your country.” How could I help fix this? How about some ideas that work? Out here on the ground it’s not hard to see a few possibilities. How do we get this “ground-truthing” back up to the fearless leaders when most of us don’t run a PAC? And then how do we get them to take action when they’re warm and cozy inside their corporate and government bubbles? As I used to say in my college days, it’s like trying to get faculty to do something about student parking. I’m not sure what I can do, except keep on taking my senior multivitamin and low-dose aspirin and follow the advice of a bumper sticker I saw a few years ago: “America’s Health Policy: Do Not Get Sick.”
We, the people, most of us anyway, don´t want a handout from a micro-managing nanny, nor do we want a world run by cold hearted plutocrats, but we do want possible solutions where our energy might produce results. I can’t build my own CAT-scanner. I could try lying down on the digital scanner in my office I guess. What my country should do for me is make it possible to find a local primary care physician, especially after I’ve paid my premiums for forty-some years. Medicare is as bad as the insurance companies. It’s all about their bottom line, not our health.

Mike Agar used to work on public health issues back east. Now he is one.

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