Some Mississippi doctors say they can't afford to make an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Benefit Plan and Trust, which provides health insurance to nearly 7,000 physicians and their staff, will shut down at the end of year.
Anne Spiers had spent nearly a year on the job as a receptionist at a Gulfport clinic when her health insurance provider quit. It was unwelcome news for a woman five and half months pregnant.
"We're having to switch insurance companies," said Spiers. "Since it is a pre-existing matter, I'm just scared that I'll have to pay out of pocket instead of having insurance that will cover me."
As Spiers worries about the future, Dr. Joe O'Gorman is thinking of how to cover past medical expenses. He's one of several staff members getting calls and letters from collection agencies, asking them to be responsible for unpaid claims submitted to Benefit Plan and Trust.
O'Gorman said he's not an angry person, but "I'm upset. I'm very upset about it, and my credit is good, but it's just one thing that I may have to explain."
Fellow doctor Doug Lanier says something has to change. "I think unless there is some reform in the industry, both insurance and malpractice, we're going to have further significant problems."
On January 1st, the clinic's 15 employees will be under a new insurance provider. In the meantime, they don't feel they can count on their current insurer should disaster make a housecall.
"We're doctors. We see all the disasters and they don't happen on a schedule," said O'Gorman. "If something happened to one my kids, or myself, my wife, it could be financially disastrous."
With all her anxieties, Anne Spiers says the love and support from her bosses and co-workers gives her peace of mind as she looks forward to meeting her new baby girl.
The Mississippi State Medical Association runs Benefit Plant and Trust. The executive director says most of its clients, 25 to 30 of whom are from the Gulf Coast, have or are in the process of obtaining other health insurance.