Health Team

Chapel Hill doctor becomes cheerleader for health law

Posted January 2, 2014

— Although still too early to gauge the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the nation's health care system, one Chapel Hill physician says the law will be a game-changer for his patients.

Wednesday marked the first day under the law, which Congress passed in 2010, that most Americans were required to have health insurance. People who don't sign up for coverage by March 31 will have to pay a penalty on their taxes.

Dr. Sam Weir said the goals of the law will mean a lot to UNC Family Medicine Center, where about 2,000 patients – 11 to 12 percent of the clinic's total – have no insurance.

"Yes, there are problems (with enrollment), and they need to be fixed, but, my goodness, this is a huge change, and it will be a big help for a lot of my patients who are currently uninsured," said Weir, co-director of Chapel Hill clinic.

He put those thoughts in an email to the White House in October, when the enrollment website was under fire for extensive and repeated technical problems.

President Barack Obama mentioned Weir's email during a Dec. 3 speech in Washington, D.C., about the Affordable Care Act.

"It was a huge shock, huge shock," Weir said Thursday.

He acknowledged that the enrollment system is tedious. Even with UNC staff help, it takes about more than two hours to navigate the process.

UNC Family Medicine estimates only a small fraction of patients have made it through so far, but the center keeps working to increase coverage and decrease patients putting off preventive care.

"I have many patients who say, 'I'm going to postpone that. I don't think I'm going to get that mammogram' or 'I'm going to wait to get that test, doctor, because I just don't have coverage right now,'" Weir said.

In reading part of Weir's email publicly, Obama noted that the health care law will change that outlook for many Americans.

"That’s the difference that the Affordable Care Act will make for many of Dr. Weir’s patients," the president said, "because more than 100 million Americans with insurance have gained access to recommended preventive care like mammograms or colonoscopies or flu shots or contraception to help them stay healthy – at no out-of-pocket cost."

That difference doesn't work for all of Weir's uninsured patients. Some fall into the coverage gap in North Carolina, which elected not to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income residents.

"They can't get Medicaid, and they don't qualify for subsidies because the way the law was written, and that's very unfortunate," said Tim Smith, a program research associate at UNC Family Medicine.

Weir said he expects a lot more well care visits from those who do qualify for subsidies.

"We're going to continue, I think, in the next few months to see increased demand for the services we provide," he said.

To meet demand, the clinic plans to expand. It also will hold an "enroll-a-thon" from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 25 to get more people signed up for coverage. For more information or an appointment, people can call Smith at 919-545-3440.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Nope Jan 3, 2014

    The real blame falls on the employers who have found a reason to raise deductibles or cancel coverage to make a higher profit. That is what happens when you give a business control and assume that they will do the right thing. The right thing is higher profit.

  • Bealzebub Jan 3, 2014

    Yeah the problem is I'm one of their (UNC) insured patients. I just got booted off my PPO coverage to a high deductible plan by my employer. Right as I will probably need surgery soon. I have bough the best insurance I can for almost 20+ years now. And now when I need it and after all those years of paying in I get kicked in the groin. All ACA did was take us in the middle class and force us to take on the costs of insuring the lower classes. Basically my insurance got worse and more expensive to give somebody else coverage. This is NOT what I was told would happen. Obviously the middle class got had again. Democrats sold us on making things better by playing Robin Hood. Only problem is the uber rich have purchased enough politicians to ensure they don't pay for it. So in reality they robbed our pockets to pay for the poor. AGAIN. And then the Democrats will go work for Monsanto or like Clinton go back to a Mansion in New York. Rich themselves and immune from the changes they made.

  • AliceBToklas Jan 3, 2014

    Glad he's not my doctor.
    --Disabled Vet

    I'm happy for you. If I was in search for a new one I'd certainly give him a visit. Sounds like a sane perspective to me.

  • European American Jan 3, 2014

    Attempt and possibly fail, or never attempt at all. Which would you choose?

  • dollibug Jan 3, 2014

    There is NO WAY THIS CAN BE LABELED AS *SUCCESSFUL*. Healthcare was NOT ready to be rolled out for the public. It has many problems which will take a long time to be fixed. Something is very WRONG when million of insurance policies were cancelled because they did not *QUALIFY* to be in line with *Obamacare*. It was then said that these insurance policies can be *reinstated* regardless. This does NOT take a smart person to know that there is something NOT QUITE RIGHT about all of this. It ain't over yet. There will be *LOTS OF SURPRISES REVEALED*.

  • baldchip Jan 3, 2014

    Only in Chapel Hill!!!

  • GOPtakersSociety Jan 3, 2014

    At least a corporation does something besides take.

    BitCoin Trader

    like what? details please......everything that a Corporation does has one thing in mind....Maximize profits to their shareholders, not their employers, not the city or towns their in, not for the better good, but their shareholders ...period

  • jackjones2nc Jan 3, 2014

    Sad to see so many attacking a doctor because our President acknowledged his letter. Upon reading the article, the doctor simply favors people having insurance for healthcare.

  • junkmail5 Jan 3, 2014

    My people who work in the ER tell me it's the same people going to the ER now that went before obamacare but now the working people are paying for it - wasone

    uh.. they were ALREADY paying for it.

    Who do you think covers those unpaid ER bills exactly?

    NC isn't much of an example though- since there was no medicaid expansion here the very poors situation didn't change AT ALL January 1 so that they're not seeing a change is unsurprising.

    These people should go to the doctor not the ER.

    And if the GOP hadn't blocked the medicaid expansion, they COULD HAVE.

    Thanks for reinforcing that point though!

  • edandsusan Jan 3, 2014

    Chapel Hill doctor becomes tool for health law