CRESTVIEW — A number of residents say their medical doctors have left the North Okaloosa area, and they are wondering why.
Many shared their experiences with the perceived specialist shortage on the News Bulletin's Facebook page.
“[My] wife's neurologist left. Now we have to play the games with the insurance company to find a new one; all the while she is without,” Gary Jacobs of Crestview said. “She finally got approved for a new one but [we] have to wait until December for an appointment because they are so backed up.”
Jazmine Jones of Crestview said, “I have several specialists, none of which are in Crestview, though it wasn't always that way."
Rick Burkart said that his wife’s gynecologist quit or retired. Burkart said he believes doing so was preferable to the alternative: "deal with 'Nobamicare.'”
That's a commonly held perception, but does it match reality?
Before the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — was passed in 2010, many Americans believed doctors would leave their practices or take early retirement because of the new law. However, this was not the case, and the country gained nearly 100,000 doctors since Congress passed the law, Forbes reported in 2016.
“For the first time, the number of U.S. physicians in their mid-50s (or older) has outpaced the number of physicians between the ages of 35 and 54,” the magazine stated. “Not all of these older doctors are still in practice, but a surprising number have stayed in the workforce.”
In fact, the study found that doctors were reluctant to retire for one major reason — money.
“The sunk cost of being a doctor — the years of training; the enormous student loans — also can take decades to pay off,” the article said. “And physician reimbursement has steadily tightened in recent decades, forcing older doctors to work harder and stay longer if they want to maintain their earlier standard of living or fund ambitious retirement plans.”
So, some doctors are sticking around longer than expected, but some are leaving.
According to a 2011 survey, 70 percent of doctors said they planned to work longer because of the recession; however, now that the economy is in recovery, more of these older doctors are leaving, sparking a jump in retirement rates.
Whatever the reason, residents have noticed that some of their favorite doctors are no longer available, and have tried to come to terms with the possible circumstances.
“Micro-management,” Julie Floyd-Richburg said on the News Bulletin's Facebook page. “Independent physicians [are] either retiring or joining a corporation to get out of paying high overhead.”
Arturo Ojeda said it may be because North Okaloosa Medical Center is one of the most expensive hospitals in Florida. In fact, according to a Forbes study, NOMC is the most expensive hospital in the United States.
Twenty of the 50 U.S. hospitals that charge the most for their services are located in Florida, according to a 2015 study. NOMC is the first on the list, followed by Fort Walton Beach Medical Center at No. 6 and Twin Cities Hospital in Niceville at No. 17.
Has this fact, which some residents have said influences their decision to use the hospital, affected staffing? It doesn't seem so.
"Over the past two years we have recruited 10 new providers to our community covering medical specialties that include pediatrics, family medicine, orthopedics, urology and pulmonology. We have also extended our footprint in the community by adding two additional outpatient clinics to serve the patients in our city,” a statement from NOMC said.
“Like with other industries, the medical field experiences normal attrition due to retirement or relocation. We are fortunate to have an attrition rate that is low and that we can maintain the level of expertise and resources our patients have come to expect.”