STRAIGHT TALK: Health care maze frustration

Steve Stefanides

I've never had much need to see a doctor during my lifetime, but in the last couple of years the occasion has arisen. I only now have begun to understand the frustration some feel in navigating the nuances of health care that will undoubtedly play a part in the next chapters in my life.

Let me start by saying we live among some of the most wonderful medical services in the nation, if not the world itself. I have to scratch my head when an acquaintance says, "I going back up North to have my knee replaced." The same applies to hips, rotator-cuff repairs, heart issues or any of the many ailments that avail themselves as the years progress.

If someone doesn't have family here, it's understandable why they might wish to go North to be closer to those who can help with the recovery. We have excellent rehab facilities right here in Collier County.

It does become fairly evident that you must be willing to become your own No. 1 health care advocate early on. Researching the issue online becomes one way to better understand your options and provides you with a much better understanding of what you may be facing.

Unfortunately, the days of physicians spending a great deal of time with you and having a well-developed bedside manner seem to be slowly evaporating. With their workload continuing to increase and the demand for their services exploding as the baby-boomer generation starts to come of age, you can understand how their time is consumed. Couple that with the inordinate amount of paperwork that gets created by a system that accounts for 17.9 percent of the nation's total GDP and you have an idea of how large the industry has become.

Recently when I was referred to a specialist, I spent about 45 minutes making out paperwork for the office. About 40 percent was patient-related and the other 60 percent was dedicated to the economics of health care.

When I finally got to see the health-care providers, they began asking me the same questions I had dutifully answered in the paperwork. When I mentioned it was all in the folder they were holding, they smiled and nicely told me, "We don't get a chance to read that."

I've also found trying to traverse the prescription-drug jungle a bit challenging. Just last week my insurance provider told me a medicine I'm on would no longer be covered and to advise my general practitioner to change to a secondary drug. The initial drug I was on cost $30 for a 90-day supply, the new medicine would be $90 for a 30-day supply. Even the pharmacist was scratching his head on this one.

After consulting with the pharmacist and my doctor, we decided I'd pay out of my own pocket and stay on the original. If the physician was OK with it, my wallet was also satisfied for the tune of $240 every 90 days.

I sincerely believe that everyone should be able to have access to affordable health care. It is something that sets us apart from undeveloped nations and should be a given in a nation that leads the world in so many endeavors.

We have some of the finest health facilities in the world, but we also have some of the most burdensome regulations and bureaucratic mazes for both providers and patients to follow. There has to be a simpler way to provide the quality services that Americans have grown up with and come to expect.