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For this entrepreneur, attitude trumps access at West Suburban Hospital

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The Affordable Care Act brought more affordable access to medical care, which was good news especially for many entrepreneurs who are responsible for paying for their own health care. But apparently, increased access does not always equal quality care. This is the story of one Chicago entrepreneur who lost health insurance and became a Medicaid recipient. The entrepreneur asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

I had been with my doctor for more than ten years. Both of my parents had been with him. When I lost my part-time job and could not afford health insurance, I learned that I would qualify for Medicaid. When I called my doctor, at West Suburban Hospital Medical Center, for an appointment, I was told by his receptionist, "You're on public aid. We don't take public aid".

After several calls, I located a group of doctors at West Suburban Hospital Medical Center, and was assigned to a doctor. When I met with her, we reviewed my medications and looked at changes that could be made. She seemed very knowledgeable and took the time to explain treatment. However, after meeting with her, I did have a specific question about the medicine side effects. I left messages but no one returned my call. After several calls, I asked the nurse who answered the phone, if she could answer my question. Her reply to me was "Just Google it. That's what I would do anyway."

At my next appointment., the doctor and I talked for 30 minutes about the change in my medications because I was having some side effects from the one medication I was taking. As I was due to see her in one week, she said to stay on the the medication I was taking. Just as I was about to leave the office, my doctor came in with two test orders, a referral, and a prescription change, saying that her supervisor had decided I should take this blood pressure medication and not the other medication we had just spent the last 30 minutes talking about. I asked why this was changed? I asked what the side effects could be? I was told that it was "a low dosage and I should just think of it as blood pressure medication". My time was up and I was ushered out of the office. The decision to change medication was made in less than ten minutes.

I did 'Google' the drug I had been prescribed as the nurse suggested, and I talked to the pharmacist at Walgreens. I tried to call my doctor and her supervisor who had changed the medicine from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.; neither of them answered calls or pages or responded to messages left. My only question was why was the prescription changed and how was it different? As an insured patient, this question would have been answered in the office, or the phone call would have been answered or returned.

My doctor had also written a referral to a pulmonologist, to have my lungs tested, as one of the issues I was having was being short of breath. I called the office to schedule an appointment.

The girl who answered the phone said, "It's looking like four weeks until we'd be able to get you in."

I said, "Really? Four weeks?"

She said, "Let's see if we can get you in sooner. What insurance do you have?"

I told her "Medicaid."

She answered, "We are talking approximately four to six weeks to get you in here."

I asked, "Do you take Medicaid patients?"

"Well, right now, if those people show up, we have to take them."

I haven't heard anything. I am scheduled to go back for an appointment with my doctor in April. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to deal with the shortness of breath and the headaches. I don't know if I'm taking the right medicine or the right dose. I am taking the medication originally prescribed by my doctor as what she said in our 30 minutes made sense to me. My blood pressure was going up just making the calls trying to reach the doctors. I survived cancer when I was insured. I don't think I would survive now.

Is this what happens to Medicaid patients? The Affordable Care Act is a good beginning but what needs to change is the attitude of healthcare professionals who need to listen and respect their patients regardless of income. It's everyone's responsibility to make sure that access to healthcare means access to quality healthcare. Gone are the days when we blindly accept what the doctor says without question.

My stories are usually about entrepreneurs and artists, brilliant creative people who change the way we look at the world. Hopefully, this entrepreneur's story will make some difference.

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