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PHYSICIANS URGED TO GET INVOLVED IN REFORMS

Medicine is a sinking ship that can be saved with the "power and know-how" of organized physician groups, the president of Utah Medical Association told his colleagues Wednesday.

"There is no question the reform in the current health care field is essential. We know the system better than anyone else. Medicine can be saved," Dr. Quinton S. Harris said, addressing UMA delegates, politicians and American Medical Association leaders.Encouraging UMA members to get involved in reform, Harris outlined the problems that are creating an "unmerciful onslaught on medicine - almost to the point of causing the medical profession to cease to survive."

Interference from government programs is killing the medical profession with a "continual barrage of threats, denials, rules, regulations and mandates." He criticized President Bush for promising a government that spends less, regulates less and taxes less, yet imposes more and more restrictive government programs.

"Why should the government take care of those who are financially able to pay for it? Why not have a means test for each medicare recipient and let us use tax money to take care of those who are not financially able?"

Insurance companies, he contends, have a distorted concept of their role. "Their manipulative system covers only those who are well and once a costly illness develops, the patient is dropped from coverage," he said.

Poor reimbursement by medicaid and medicare has created a silent boycott by physicians who cannot afford to see these patients. "The net effect is to push these patients into the emergency rooms where excessive costs are generated for the specific problems that could be taken care of much cheaper in physicians' offices," said Harris.

Because insurance companies reimburse "gimmick" procedures more than the work of primary care physicians, internists are being driven into bankruptcy or early retirement. Politicians talk about increasing access for the uninsured and doubling the medicaid rolls. "What good will that do when there aren't enough primary care physicians to take care of the present situation?"

The concept of "managed care" is a farce, he argues. It limits reimbursement to physicians, but the money saved is merely used to line the pockets of the administrators of the system.

Cost of drugs has become outrageous. In the past 10 years, the price has jumped three times the general price of inflation. In the past, the cost of a drug was determined by the cost of research and development plus marketing and profit. "Now it is determined merely by what the traffic will bear."

He blames the rise in prescription costs to "cost-shifting." Third world countries receive the same drugs at a much cheaper cost - even though it is manufactured by the same company. Americans are paying for the losses in foreign countries.

Antitrust laws are stifling the medical field, he said. The laws must be changed, he said.