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Florida patients deserve access to choice

Steven R. West
My View

The rising cost of health care and growing concern over access to care is on the minds of patients, physicians and policy makers both at the state and national level. While health-insurance premiums continue to grow each year, patients are left with less cash in their wallets and fewer choices when seeking the medical care they deserve.

In Florida, a bill was passed during the 2009 legislative session that will provide patients with greater choice and access to the physicians and services they need. Unfortunately, big insurance has launched a campaign to vilify SB1122 using shameful tactics and misleading patients with lies.

Here is the truth: When a patient visits a doctor who is considered an out-of-network physician, they may choose to assign their benefits to the provider so that the insurance company pays the physician for their services. SB1122 requires insurance companies to honor the patient's choice and send the payment directly to the physician, rather than route it through the patient. This will create less hassle for everyone involved and allow physicians to spend more time and resources on direct-patient care, making this legislation a true victory for patients.

The support for this common-sense legislation among the health-care community has been remarkable. The fact that the Legislature recognized the need to secure patient access to care by overwhelmingly passing this assignment-of-benefits legislation is appreciated and demonstrates their commitment to making health care more accessible in Florida.

However, this victory is now in jeopardy due to special interest groups. Funded by big insurance, they are making unsubstantiated claims and instilling fear in Floridians by threatening job loss, rises in health care premiums and ruined credit. These claims are simply not true.

Most insurers, like Humana, adopted the policies outlined in SB1122 years ago and have not seen any negative impacts because of them. In fact, they see it as a way to offer real choice and best care to the customer. They see it as an added benefit to both patients and physicians and as a way to increase an individual's access to the care they need most.

The entire health-care community urges Governor Crist to ignore the fear tactics employed by the insurance companies and protect Florida's patients by signing SB1122.

·  Steven R. West, M.D., a Ft. Myers cardiologist, is president of the Florida Medical Association. Contact him by e-mail at stewest@comcast.net.

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