How will health care reform impact USF?

USF student Chad Rudnick loves children. That’s why the junior decided to pursue pediatrics.

But a new health bill is promising sweeping reform in the medical field, leaving Rudnick with nothing to do but wait.

“Almost 2,000 pages and I would only imagine a handful have actually read it,” Rudnick said. “The bill is so complex that we can’t really say for sure what’s going to happen … I’m cautiously optimistic that this will have a positive affect for patients, physicians and our nation in general.”

President Barack Obama signed the controversial health care reform bill Tuesday that will provide 32 million Americans with insurance provided by the federal government.

A portion of the bill will allow students to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.

That’s beneficial for students who refrain from purchasing health care because of high costs or dependence on their good health, said Jay Wolfson, a health policy expert from USF College of Medicine.

“All Americans will be covered by something,” he said. “Personally, I think it would make more sense to put people to work … and make it more of an enterprise instead of just giving away benefits, that probably would have been far more effective and economically productive.”

Wolfson estimated that more than 50 million people in the U.S. are uninsured, which includes illegal immigrants, unemployed and people who chose not to purchase health care.

Despite uncertainty for medical students, the bill is a step in the right direction for everyone, said Charlotte Woods-Hill, a senior majoring in pediatrics.

“I know the bill isn’t perfect, but we have provided … Americans with coverage,” Woods-Hill said. “We’re helping elderly people pay for their prescriptions, and we’re making it impossible for insurers to deny people coverage based on pre-existing conditions.”

The bill will be funded with the help of a 3.8 percent tax on investment income – targeted at families earning more than $250,000 per year and $200,000 for individuals – and a 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services.

The taxes will help create jobs, Rudnick said, and educational opportunities for primary physicians and general surgeons starting July 1, 2011, the bill says.

“That’s exactly what we want,” he said. “There is a growing problem in Florida where there are fewer residency spots than medical students.”

Many fear that doctors and professors may opt to leave the medical field in the face of future uncertainty, Wolfson said. But he said that will probably only be among older physicians on the brink of retirement.

“What we’re doing with this bill is basically stuffing more people into an already crowded restaurant and expecting the wait staff to feed them and give them drinks in a timely fashion,” he said. “The problem is we’re running out of food and drinks, and there’s not enough room, and the air’s getting kind of stuffy.”

Doctors will see smaller reimbursements – money paid to physicians by insurance companies – from treating patients under the government health plan.

“If one patient is on Medicare and one patient is on private insurance with the same diagnosis, the doctor may get more money for seeing that patient with private insurance for no other reason than the fact that they have private insurance,” Rudnick said.

If doctors begin to treat more patients who are covered by Medicare, they will receive less reimbursement and will be unable to run private practices, Wolfson said.

Specialty physicians, who are likely to see fewer patients than primary physicians, will bear the brunt.

“Reimbursement organizations are mandating cuts in specialized health care reductions by up to 31 percent,”Wolfson said. “That’s a pretty big kick.”

The upside is that since many will use government health care, more jobs will be available for primary care physicians.

Woods-Hill said that should be better promoted to medical students.

“Something we talk about from the student side of things is loan forgiveness programs,” she said. “There are ways to make primary care more attractive to students by reducing the debt burden that we come out of medical school with. We don’t know much about the programs that are out there, and I imagine they are underutilized.”

Despite effects on pay for medical professionals, Woods-Hill said she predicts students will see little change in the quality of the service they receive.

Wolfson, however, did not feel as optimistic.

“People are expecting that someone is going to give them a pill and fix them, a shot and cure them, or give them plastic surgery rather than having them go out and lose some weight,” he said. “We have a bunch of irresponsible, lazy people in our culture, and no form of health care will change that. That’s the bottom line.”