He always arrived in front of the building with a New York City police escort. I’m certain he had them convinced that he was “helping the poor” when in fact he was breaking the law. “The doctor’s here,” said the first floor neighbor who always announced his arrival. Six to seven middle-aged and elderly women would inevitably line up patiently waiting to give him their requests. My aunt was one of those women. She had recently moved into that decrepit building after falling on hard times.
“I need blood pressure pills,” said the second floor neighbor. “Can you give me something for a cough?” asked another. He always wrote down their Medicaid numbers meticulously as he fulfilled their prescription requests. He never took a medical history; never inquired about allergies to medications; never listened to their heart or lungs. There were no patient charts; no labs ordered and certainly no integrity. At the tender age of 15, I desperately wanted to help my aunt so I boldly asked him to write a letter of support to help her obtain public housing. He paused, looked at me incredulously and then replied with a resounding “no!” I knew he was a crook from that moment on but couldn’t convince my aunt. “He’s a good doctor” she replied. “He makes house calls.”
Memories of that experience reemerged recently after a colleague disclosed that one of the specialty hospitals in my community no longer wanted to accept Medicaid patients for obstetrical deliveries. Yet, when the doors to their multi-million dollar facility swung open three years ago and they were desperate for revenue, these same patients were welcomed with opened arms.
For whom does the bell toll? Certainly not for the working poor.