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Doctors’ foes unveil poll

By Christine Jordan Sexton
5/28/2009 Health News Florida
Opponents of a bill backed by Florida’s doctors released a poll today that contends Floridians are on their side of the fight. But the Florida Medical Association dismissed the results, saying the poll questions were "skewed to get the answers they wanted."
The new poll, done by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, says that 84 percent of those questioned by pollsters felt it was important to keep doctors inside an insurer’s network to “keep costs down.”
The poll, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, also found that 50 percent of those asked were opposed to the controversial bill (SB 1122), which would change how doctors outside a preferred provider organization (PPO) network are paid.  The bill would require insurers to pay the non-network doctors directly instead of sending the money to the patient, who is then responsible for paying the physician.
At a news conference today in Tallahassee, consumer groups said the side-effects of the bill are what concern them. It would force consumers to pay more for health care by potentially increasing the number of doctors who drop out of PPO networks, said Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group, one of the poll's sponsors. He said the bill creates a "land mine" that Floridians have to "navigate around to avoid suffering a financial catastrophe." 

"Governor Crist ought to veto this bill to protect the people of Florida from this dangeous measure," said Walter Dartland, executive director of Consumer Federation of the Southeast, another sponsor. He said the Legislature should readdress the bill next year and add consumer protections, such as a requirement that providers tell patients what the care will cost if they go out of network.

Florida’s doctors made the bill their top priority of the session. Ever since it passed, opponents and supporters have waged a fierce campaign to win over Gov. Charlie Crist.  Those seeking a veto include the state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida. But the Florida Medical Association has flooded Crist’s office with appeals, and a former top FMA official personally lobbied Crist this week.
The bill concerns how insurers should pay doctors who aren't part of a PPO network when they treat the PPO's members. Doctors want the money sent directly to them; opponents say the insurer should have the right to send the check to the patient. Consumer groups and Blue Cross say doctors will have less incentive to join PPO networks if they can be paid the same way without joining.

The poll of 625 Floridians earlier this month found 82 percent had never received a reimbursement check from a health insurer. And it found 85 percent said they had health insurance, raising questions about whether the poll was representative of Florida's population. That's a far higher figure than studies based on the U.S. Census; Florida's rate of uninsured in 2007 was 20.7 percent overall and among the non-elderly, 24.4 percent -- a rate that health policy experts says has likely risen because of the recession. 

Respondents were asked what they would do if confronted with a $5,000 medical bill and whether that would jeopardize their ability to pay other bills. To another question, 64 percent said they not had a dispute with a healthcare provider and 75 percent said the inability of someone to pay back medical bills should not affect their overall credit rating.

The results are no big surprise to Jeff Scott, FMA general counsel and director of governmental affairs, who said the questions were "skewed to get the answers they wanted." A poll that was manipulated with misleading questions and misleading information, I hope, would hold no sway with the governor," he said.

FPIRG's Ashwell and representatives of the Consumer Federation said the poll is reliable because it was carried out by a professional survey company.
Crist still had not received SB 1122 as of this morning. After he gets it, he will have 15 days to sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.
--Christine Jordan Sexton can be reached at