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Charity care found straining practices in Pennsylvania

More patients are asking for medical care at no cost, and physicians are struggling to meet the increase in requests, according to a report issued Nov. 18 by the Pennsylvania Medical Society's Institute for Good Medicine. "Even though our physician members are doing more for the uninsured and underinsured, many feel they're reaching their limit," said Peter Lund, MD, the institute's founder, and a urologist in Erie. "With the state of the economy, I'm not surprised by this year's findings, and, clearly, this could signal problems ahead." Approximately 80% of member physicians surveyed donated time, resources or both, and those donations added up to a cash equivalent of $400 million, according to the institute. The survey said 57% felt the demand for charitable care had increased; 62% felt levels had become unsustainable. The American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics says physicians should work to ensure that the needs of the poor in their communities are met. If physicians cannot offer this care, they should help patients obtain needed services through public or charitable programs. The institute's survey included more than 400 doctors and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6%. The report is the latest indication that the demand for uncompensated care created by the recent recession may have become too much, not just in Pennsylvania, but for the country as a whole. The American Academy of Family Physicians on May 19 released results of a survey of its members, finding that 66% were discounting fees, increasing charity care, providing free screenings, or moving patients to generic prescriptions. Also, 73% of family physicians said they had seen an increase in uninsured patients visiting their offices. An American Hospital Assn. survey of hospital chief executive officers, released April 27, found that 70% said they were experiencing a moderate or significant increase in levels of uncompensated care. Approximately 53% noted a moderate or significant growth in the need for subsidized services in their communities. The full and original article can be found here: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2009/12/07/bise1210.htm
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