Can't keep you doctor under Obamacare? Try simply finding a doctor in CA
Congratulations! You have successfully signed up for a truly excellent plan on the Covered California website!
It's a really, really great plan. Really. Now, good luck finding a doctor who will treat you.
After overcoming website glitches and long waits to get Obamacare, some patients are now running into frustrating new roadblocks at the doctor's office.
A month into the most sweeping changes to healthcare in half a century, people are having trouble finding doctors at all, getting faulty information on which ones are covered and receiving little help from insurers swamped by new business.
Experts have warned for months that the logjam was inevitable. But the extent of the problems is taking by surprise many patients - and even doctors - as frustrations mount.
Aliso Viejo resident Danielle Nelson said Anthem Blue Cross promised half a dozen times that her oncologists would be covered under her new policy. She was diagnosed last year with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and discovered a suspicious lump near her jaw in early January.
But when she went to her oncologist's office, she promptly encountered a bright orange sign saying that Covered California plans are not accepted.
"I'm a complete fan of the Affordable Care Act, but now I can't sleep at night," Nelson said. "I can't imagine this is how President Obama wanted it to happen."
To hold down premiums under the healthcare law, major insurers have sharply cut the number of doctors and hospitals available to patients in the state's new health insurance market.
Now those limited options are becoming clearer, and California officials say they are receiving more consumer complaints about access to medical providers. State lawmakers are also moving swiftly to ease some of the problems that have arisen.
"It's a little early for anyone to know how widespread and deep this problem is," said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "There are a lot of economic incentives for health insurers to narrow their networks, but if they go too far, people won't have access to care. Network adequacy will be a big issue in 2014."
One patient got coverage after years of being denied due to a pre-existing condition. Unfortunately, when she needed a specialist, she couldn't find one that would take Obamacare plans:
She jumped at the chance in early January to visit a primary-care doctor for long-running numbness in her arm and shoulder as a result of bone spurs on her spine. The doctor referred her to a specialist, and problems ensued. At least four doctors wouldn't accept her health plan - even though the state exchange website and her insurer, Health Net Inc., list them as part of her HMO network.
"It's a phantom network," Berumen said.
We got wind of this problem early on when many California doctors complained that they were listed on the exchanges but weren't accepting patients covered under Obamacare. No one knows how their names were added to the exchanges but it must have been news to them when patients began calling and were told they were out of luck.
It's probably only a matter of time before states start passing laws that all doctors will have to treat any patient with any insurance plan that asks. This will be especially true for new Medicaid patients who are having problems finding a doctor to treat them in the big cities. They are still flocking to emergency rooms and that won't change anytime soon.
The more the people - including doctors - resist, the more coercive becomes the state.