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If your insurance plan doesn't pay well, will your docctor stop seeing you? Maybe. Posted: February 1st, 2013

By Beth Orenstein

Beth Orenstein is a freelance medical writer from Northampton, Pa.

Some patients may be reluctant to switch health insurance plans if it means they have to switch doctors, too.

Their loyalty may not always be reciprocated.

In a survey of commonly faced ethical dilemmas, WebMD asked more than 24,000 doctors from across 25 specialties: "Would you drop insurers that don't pay well even though some longtime patients would probably have to stop seeing you?"

Twenty-seven percent of those responding said "yes," 41 percent said "no", and 32 percent said "it depends."

Doctors give reasons for answer

Comments from those who said "yes" included:

  • "When I lose money seeing patients and I can't pay my staff, I have little choice."
  • "Patients leave us all the time for the same reason."
  • "Most of the time, I would continue seeing a patient, but there is a practical reality of not being able to stay in business."

Other doctors in the survey say they would not accept new patients whose insurance reimbursed at low rates, but they would never drop their longtime patients because they switched to a poorer-paying of the health insurance companies.

A few other doctors say they consider it a obligation to take care of those patients and would write off their fees if the patient's health insurance didn't pay adequately.

Second insurance dilemma posed

In another insurance related dilemma, the majority of doctors surveyed said they would never overstate or falsify a patient's condition when submitting claims or seeking prior authorization to their medical insurance just to get the services covered.

Seventy-five percent of the doctors said overstating a patient's condition is never acceptable while 13 percent said it was and 12 percent said "it depends" on the patient's circumstances.

Overstating claims seen as theft

The doctors who were opposed to overstating claims said it was a form of stealing and that anyone who did should lose his medical license.

However, at least one doctor said he saw nothing wrong in "accentuating negative symptoms" if it meant the patient were able to get the services he needed covered by his health insurance.

Other ethical dilemmas posed

Doctors also were asked about end-of-life care, performing abortions against their religious beliefs, romantic relationships with patients, and whether they practiced defensively to avoid being sued.

The survey was conducted online by a third party for WebMD's Medscape from August to September. Doctors who were surveyed represented a variety of specialties including cardiology, urology, internal medicine, OBGYN, pediatrics and orthopedics.