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Doctors rally patients in health care fight

SARASOTA — A gathering storm of Medicare cuts and government meddling has left the physician-patient relationship as vulnerable as New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, according to a prominent local doctor who led a health care rally Wednesday.

“People knew about what was going to happen to New Orleans in the (19)20s and the ’30s and the ’40s and on down the line,” said Dr. Robert Knego, a neurologist and president of the Sarasota County Medical Society.

“Sadly, nothing really happened until Katrina hit.”

More than 400 people, including about 30 physicians, attended Wednesday’s Physicians and Patients Unite Healthcare rally to voice opposition to Medicare cuts the doctors say threaten to limit patients’ access to quality care.

Organizers got 316 of the attendees to sign a petition opposing Medicare cuts. It will be sent to Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and George Lemieux and U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Manatee County Medical Society President Dr. Lora Brown emceed the rally, held in a hangar at Dolphin Aviation at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. The rally was sponsored by the medical societies of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Like many of the speakers at the rally, Knego said government-run health care is no cure for what ails the system. Several physicians spoke out in opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care reform proposal.

“There’s about as much chance of them fixing this as there was of them getting ready for Katrina,” Knego said.

A 21.2 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement to physicians went into effect March 1 before Congress delayed the move until April 1. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to push back the cuts until Oct. 1, and the measure will be sent to the House.

The rally’s most charismatic speaker was Dr. David McKalip, a St. Petersburg neurosurgeon who mounted the stage as the theme from “Rocky” blasted through the sound system.

McKalip railed against aspects of health care reform proposals that call for mandatory insurance coverage and government committees dictating how doctors treat patients.

“This health care bill is like the zombie bill,” McKalip said. “It’s a bill that will never die. You can’t kill it.”

McKalip advocated health care savings accounts and the ability of patients to contract with doctors for care not covered by Medicare.

“Don’t think for one minute that Obama and (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi and (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid, or anyone in Washington, seeks to change the status quo,” McKalip said. “They are expanding the status quo by giving more power to the very groups that created the crisis we’re in.”

Dr. Alberto Montalvo, a Bradenton cardiologist, said his profession is already suffering the effects of Medicare cuts. The government has reduced reimbursements for nuclear stress tests, a common diagnostic tool, by 40 percent, he said.

Montalvo said he and other cardiologists begged the Obama administration to reconsider the cuts to no avail.

“He has his own ideas about how to do things, and he doesn’t listen,” Montalvo said.

Several speakers also discussed the need for tort reform. Dr. Aaron Sudbury, a Bradenton obstetrician/gynecologist, said none of Manatee County’s six OB/GYN practitioners have liability insurance because of the cost: $90,000 for $250,000 worth of coverage.

“Would you insure your car by paying 40 percent of its value?” he asked.