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Obamacare: Death to Physicians? Suicide Rates Climb Since ACA Passed

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Paper applications are available in lieu of using the HealthCare.gov website at a health care enrolment fair co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the State Employees Association at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire November 9, 2013. |

Chaos and disruptions in medical care have had one tragic and destructive effect that no one is addressing: the deaths of more than 2,000 physicians by suicide since Obamacare was passed by means of strong-arming and bribery.

Physicians in general have a higher rate of suicide than other professional groups and the general public. Women physicians' suicide rates are reported to be up to 400% higher than women in other professions. Male physicians' rates are 50% to 70% higher.

Why are more physicians seeing suicide as their only option? The rising rate since the 2010 Affordable Care Act was passed points to the added regulatory and financial pressures from Obamacare as major factors:

  • need to see more patients per hour to make ends meet
  • lower payments, longer delays in being paid, and declining patient visits due to higher co-pays and deductibles
  • financial stress, a known trigger for suicide, intensified by a 40 % to 50% decline in practice revenues as overhead costs go, forcing many primary-care physicians to close up their practices
  • increasing administrative and paperwork burden, which takes time away from patient care, without the satisfactions of helping patients
  • more generalized "one-size-fits-all" protocols demanded by insurance and government "guidelines"
  • more forms, reports, and regulations that no one understands, but with huge financial penalties and even prison time for making mistakes
  • demonization of "greedy doctors" by insurance companies, government, and media.

Doctors have always been at higher risk of suicide than other professions for several reasons:

  • pressures of responsibility for patients' lives
  • fear of making mistakes that might cost a life or trigger a malpractice suit
  • fear of losing one's medical license and livelihood
  • long hours, time away from families on nights and weekends
  • high rates of unrecognized or untreated depression, alcohol or substance abuse, and divorce due to all of the above

Doctors are human too, and have feelings. I think other critically overlooked factors in the rising suicide rates since 2010 include:

  • the increasing sense that doctors are just a "cog in a wheel," interchangeable with those having less training and expertise
  • feeling unappreciated by patients, who toss them aside like an old toy when insurance plans change
  • frustration with patients who dismiss medical recommendations if "it is not covered by my insurance"
  • loss of autonomy, control, and independence as faceless insurance clerks, bean-counters, licensing boards, and government agencies dictate how, where, and when medicine is to be practiced, with no knowledge of the patient in question.

Physicians are also often their own worst doctors and feel they can handle their own health issues and stress. There is the ever-present social stigma about seeking mental health treatment, but for physicians this is magnified by the fear of being penalized and having their medical license jeopardized if they seek treatment for depression or stress. We encourage others to seek mental health professionals if appropriate, but most physicians are afraid to do so themselves because such treatment must be reported on each medical license renewal application, increasing the risk of losing one's license and livelihood.

Physicians also fear losing hospital privileges if treatment for depression is disclosed. Hospital administrators increasingly use mandated psychiatric treatment as a bullying tactic to remove independent-thinking, patient-focused physicians from hospital staff.

All of these problems, especially the feelings of loss of control and loss of autonomy in one's medical decision-making, have escalated dramatically with the ever-increasing regulatory burdens under Obamacare.

A death by suicide is devastating to families, leaving emotional scars that may never heal. Physicians' family members often have significant support to help with grief and shock, but very little attention is paid to the needs of patients, especially older patients who often have profound feelings of loss, and little support to help them through unexpected loss of a trusted physician upon whom they depended.

Most doctors go into medicine truly committed to helping people who are ill and in pain. Today, doctors are under siege with outside forces preventing them from doing the very thing that means the most: taking care of patients. The sensitive and compassionate ones have an even harder time dealing with denials of care they know their patients need.

The toll on doctors—and then patients—is getting worse daily. Insurance and government bureaucrats had best remember: at some point, we ALL will be a patient—that includes YOU.

WARNING: dead doctors cannot save your life.

Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D. is a preventive and climacteric medicine specialist with medical practices in Tucson AZ and Dallas TX that take an integrated approach to evaluation and treatment of women and men with complex medical and hormonal problems. Dr. Vliet has appeared on FOX NEWS, Cavuto, Stuart Varney Show, Fox and Friends and syndicated radio shows across the country addressing the economic and medical impact of the new healthcare bill.

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