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Health Care Dispute Leaves Doctors Without Pay, Patients Without Records

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RALEIGH — The concept sounds simple: let doctors take care of patients and business experts run their offices. However, the agreement that local doctors struck with MedPartners turned sour.

Thousands of patients were stuck in the middle of the dispute, and some patients are still suffering.

"All of a sudden, I'm left up in the air without anything, without any resources about how to find [my doctor] or who else to get a hold of," says Laura Landsiedel, who found out that her doctor's office shut down when she called to have a prescription refilled.

She was stuck without a doctor, and without medication she has to take every day.

"I called my pharmacy and they said I couldn't have the prescription because I needed a doctor's approval," Landsiedel said. "I said, 'I don't have a doctor and my new doctor can't see me for a month, but in this time I need medication,' and she said, 'I'm sorry, I can't help you.'"

Landsiedel's doctor at Raleigh Family Physicians was one of 20 operating under the name North Carolina Medical Associates (NCMA).

The NCMA doctors were managed by MedPartners, a company that ran the business end of the doctors' practices. But the NCMA doctors were forced to declare bankruptcy when MedPartners stopped paying their salaries.

"We saw this as a major shift in the policy of the state of the doctor-patient relationship," saysN.C. Attorney General Mike Easley.

Easley stepped in to referee the dispute that left 60,000 Triangle patients without doctors.

"So the doctors wanted to leave, and their contract said if they left the practice, they'd have to move someplace else," Easley said. "So they couldn't see their patients."

Under pressure from Easley's office, MedPartners agreed to let the NCMA doctors set up new practices.

In the meantime, patients - including Pam Phillips - were told to transfer their medical records to their new doctors. But MedPartners held on to those records; sometimes for months.

"I waited three, four weeks and called again," Phillips said. "Still, they did not have our records."

It took four months, three written requests and finally, help from the attorney general before the Phillips' records were finally sent to their new family doctor.

"It's a real scary situation to me that something so vital as your medical records can suddenly almost evaporate and you don't have immediate access to them," Phillips said.

When the Phillips' records finally did arrive, they only dated back three years.

"What good does three years do a child, who needs all their immunization records and things like that," Phillips said. "Or again, for adults with all the baseline things you start having done in your 30s."

Phillips plans to keep her own copies of her family's records from now on. Like many Triangle patients, she has learned the hard way that your health care may not always be there.

Despite the settlement reached between MedPartners and NCMA, some of the doctors are still not practicing medicine.


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