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PAMELA IRWIN : HMOs: 'They Didn't Care; You Were Just a Number'

September 21, 1993

For many years, Pamela Irwin had private medical insurance that paid for 80% of her care. She went to whatever doctors she wanted.

Then her husband's employer changed to an HMO plan that paid 100% of the bills.

"That made a big difference in money," Irwin says.

She soon regretted the decision.

At the HMO clinic, Irwin saw a different doctor each time. One, she said, missed lab results that showed she had a kidney infection. A nurse caught the error.

"I said, 'That's it.' I've seen every doctor in this place. They didn't care. You were just a number," Irwin says.

Several months into a pregnancy, Irwin ditched the HMO and found an obstetrician she liked. She paid all the doctor fees, plus her hospitalization, out of pocket.

It took months to pay her bills, but Irwin concluded that good health depends on a relationship with a single doctor.

"I tried the model of seeing a different doctor every time. I told myself, 'People do this. He's a doctor. He'll do the right thing. I don't need to have a relationship with him,' " she says. "But now I think it makes a difference . . . When you have a doctor for a long period of time, they remember things."

Now, Irwin pays for medical care for herself and her three children. She carries an insurance plan that only covers catastrophic care.

Irwin moved to Nevada but continues to see her Los Angeles gynecologist.

"He knows me. He knows my body. It's worth it to drive to Los Angeles and pay the money. You can't buy good health."

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