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Health officials: Reform is 'big step'

SPECIAL REPORT: HEALTH CARE IN HUNTINGTON

Hospital administrators grateful for change to system, but skeptical plan will meet all of its goals.

July 21, 2010|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series about the effects of the Obama administration's health-care reform on Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley health-care providers and their patients.

Dr. Peter Anderson sometimes goes for days in Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center's emergency room without treating an emergency. It's not for lack of patients.

Anderson, the director of the hospital's emergency department for 35 years, has seen increasing numbers of people check in with ailments that traditionally would be handled by a family doctor. Instead of X-raying ankles or stitching wounds, he examines chest pains and bladder infections while the suture tray goes untouched.

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The reasons for that are usually twofold: Most of the people packing Anderson's facility either can't afford insurance or can't get a doctor's appointment soon enough.

The health reform signed by President Obama in March, which will expand insurance to nearly all Americans, aims to lighten the load for emergency rooms by diverting more people to the doctor's office. But Anderson is skeptical about how that will work. He pointed to media reports about overcrowded emergency rooms in Massachusetts after the state passed a health-care reform package similar to Obama's in 2006, and said that with only so many doctors to go around, he wouldn't be surprised if many of the new people on the insurance rolls head straight to his doorstep.

"It's hard to say that, with this new health-care system, there is going to be a decrease in the emergency department," Anderson said.

A prescription for uncertainty

Anderson is not the only one in town — including even reform supporters — wondering how well the White House's health-care fix is going to work.

Some hospital administrators in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley have expressed gratitude for the government's attempt to fix what they consider a badly flawed system, but also wariness about whether the reform can meet all its goals. And nearly everyone seems to agree on one point: The changes Obama signed into law will not be the last ones needed for America's health-care system.

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