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Obama's ex-doctor: Insurers 'screwing it up'

Chicago physician says companies are telling doctors how to do their job.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- President Obama's former personal physician of 22 years, Dr. David Scheiner, has been very vocal on the issue of health insurance, particularly with his criticism of commercial insurers and how he feels they are meddling with the doctor-patient relationship.

Scheiner has publicly stated his support for a government-run "single payer" system.

CNNMoney.com spoke with Scheiner, with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago's Hyde Park, earlier this week about his experiences and frustrations:

You've said in interviews that insurers are making it increasingly difficult for doctors to do their jobs. Can you give some examples?

I'll give you two. I have a patient with bipolar disorder whose psychiatrist is no longer in her insurance company's panel. She is heartbroken that the insurance company won't pay to let her see the doctor.

I have another patient with obvious sleep apnea. I ordered a sleep study on him. The insurance company knows he needs it but has made life miserable for him. They are making him wait to get their approval, hoping he won't bother with it.

Insurance companies are making it more difficult for doctors to get preauthorization for treatments because they are hoping it will discourage people from getting expensive treatments.

Insurers also tell us what hospitals we can admit patients to and what subspecialists we can refer our patients to. They are telling me how to do my job.

As a doctor, how do you get around these challenges and ensure that your patient still gets the treatment they need?

Well, if you know that an insurance company is going to deny coverage, you word your request in such a way that will be more medically acceptable to them. I try to use certain buzz words that I think will help the patient get approval for a treatment. Insurers have no reason to question what I need for my patient, but they do.

Some doctors complain that insurers won't reimburse them for more than one treatment given on the same day. So they ask patients to come back just so they can bill the insurer for each separate treatment. What are your thoughts?

A doctor who does this is beneath contempt. This is not a problem with insurance. This is goddamn greed on the part of doctors, and also part of the problem.

But reimbursement remains a hot button for doctors who often say they're not adequately paid by insurers. What are your concerns?

Cost of malpractice insurance is one. [President] Obama doesn't believe it's an issue. He's backtracked a little bit on this. He is a lawyer.

Health care costs are going up, wages are stable and peoples' take-home pay is going down. We are on a disastrous graph. The administration is partly to blame. They didn't get the story right.

Why are people so afraid of government in medical care when private insurance companies are already meddling with doctors and consumers all the time? Private insurance companies are screwing it up. You can quote me on that.

Talkback: What is your biggest complaint against health insurers? E-mail your comments and experiences to realstories@cnnmoney.com and you could be part of an upcoming article. For the CNNMoney.com Comment Policy, click here. To top of page

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