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Doctor: Health care reform is needed

BRADENTON — A local oncologist warned community leaders Tuesday that the state of health care in the United States is driving physicians out of business.

Dr. Cornelius Turalba, a panelist at a Leadership Manatee Alumni health care forum, said paltry Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements from the government, combined with rising malpractice insurance costs, are jeopardizing the practices of private doctors.

Turalba said he has gone without a paycheck for five of the past six months so he can pay his employees and treat patients who can’t pay.

“I work like a missionary,” said Turalba, a past president of the Manatee County Medical Society. “I see patients who don’t have insurance, and I treat them anyway.

“I think doctors are still doctors. They want to do what’s right for the patients. ... The problem is Medicaid doesn’t pay.”

About 35 community leaders attended Tuesday’s luncheon at the Bradenton Country Club to discuss health care reform legislation passed by the House and under debate in the Senate.

Other forum panelists included Manatee County Health Department Administrator Jennifer Bencie Fairburn, Sally Tibbetts, Rep. Vern Buchanan’s press secretary; and representatives from the AARP and a health insurance company.

Organizers stacked four reams of paper on the dais to represent the size and complexity of the legislation. The lively debate lasted about 90 minutes, 30 minutes longer than scheduled.

With a price tag approaching $1 trillion, health care reform legislation aims to provide health insurance to about 30 million people who lack it, crack down on insurance practices that deny or dilute benefits and contain growth of spending on medical care.

Tibbetts said Buchanan, R-Sarasota, voted against health care reform in the House because of its cost, proposed tax increases on the wealthy and small-business owners, and government takeover of health care in the form of a public option.

She said health care reform must tackle the threat of lawsuits doctors face while trying to treat patients.

“I don’t see how you reduce the cost of health care without addressing tort reform,” Tibbetts said.

Bencie Fairburn said the best way to rein in health care costs is to promote “wellness and prevention at the earliest age possible.” She pointed to the United States ranking 36th in the world in infant mortality as evidence that Americans need to take charge of their own well-being.

Turalba agreed but wondered if trusting people to live healthier lifestyles is realistic.

“People are not responsible,” he said. “In general, a lot of people do not listen. There are a lot of people at fault in this.”