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DONNA KAUFMAN: Boutique medicine is an unhealthy trend

On March 12, a popular Pacific Grove medical office sent letters to more than 4,000 patients notifying them that 1,100 of them could convert to a membership option. The others would need to find new doctors. The membership fee would be $840 a year and payments would be required before appointments could be scheduled after April 1.

That didn’t leave much time for nearly 10 percent of the population of Monterey and Pacific Grove who see doctors in this office. This new “Club Med” practice warned that patients who don’t sign up may miss the boat on health care in Monterey County.

I am a small business owner who offers health insurance to employees. Our plan’s premium has increased more than 20 percent over the last two years. If we were to pay the additional membership fee, our payout to access a general physician would increase another 13 percent. What’s next? Will there be a membership fee to access the gynecologist, dermatologist, or urgent care facilities?

So what is offered through the membership model at this medical facility? Access to a physician 24/7 is promised. Consultations for acute medical problems will be scheduled within 24 hours. Patients need never wait longer than 45 minutes or they will pay you! Treatment plans for chronic diseases will be personalized, and acute medical issues will receive personal communication with a hospital-based treatment team, or possibly a home visit by the doctor.

It appears as though their membership package is built to support those with chronic or catastrophic issues, and doesn’t offer me much more than the standard services I expect from my physician.

The cost of healthcare

Monterey County health insurance premiums continue to be among the the most expensive in California. Although premiums through Covered California may be more affordable, few local doctors accept Covered California plans. In an acute situation, out of network expenses may seriously affect a patient’s total financial liability.

I was relieved to learn that Community Hospital (CHOMP) accepts all Anthem policies (including Covered California), and was then discouraged to learn that CHOMP’s contracted physicians might not accept these plans and may bill separately for out of network services.

A recent Harvard study found that medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcy, representing 62% of all personal bankruptcies, according to an article in Investopedia. It also said, “One of the interesting caveats of the study shows that 78% of filers had some form of health insurance, thus bucking the myth that medical bills affect only the uninsured.”

Although health insurance is more accessible, health care on the Monterey Peninsula is increasingly unobtainable. We all share responsibility for finding a solution. Our elected officials have a responsibility to be hard-fisted and demand that insurance carriers provide consumers with affordable premiums and physicians with fair compensation. Our doctors have a responsibility to service the needs of the community and to strong-arm insurance carriers for payments rather than their patients.

As residents, we have a responsibility to keep health care accessible to the community. For most residents of the Monterey Peninsula, membership medicine isn’t an option.

Donna Kaufman is a social entrepreneur, business strategist, and environmental planner. She is co-founder and chief strategy officer of NatureFootage.

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MarElmerine (Ann) Sherman Flint, a passionate advocate and fighter for peace, justice, and women’s rights, succumbed to a lifelong heart condition on Wednesday, March 4, at her home in Pacific Grove. Many Monterey Peninsula residents will remember Ann for her many thoughtful and opinionated letters to the editor, her passionate dedication to causes, especially those that affected the “underdog,” and her spirited enjoyment of Giants baseball. She was just shy of her 96th birthday.

She was born on March 13, 1919, to Albert and Josephine Sherman in Indianola, Iowa. She was delivered at home by a doctor who rode on horseback through the snow to be present for her birth.

Her life spanned the winning of voting rights for women, the stock market crash of ‘29, the Great Depression, World War II and the marches for voting rights in the ’60s, through to today’s political issues such as the Arab Spring, global warming, pay inequality, discrimination and racial profiling, all of which she ardently tracked, read about and wrote about.

Ann graduated from Simpson College in Iowa and earned her master’s degree from the University of Alabama. She pursued a profession as a speech pathologist and later was a professor of speech at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She also studied law while living in Kansas City, Kansas.

She moved to Pacific Grove in 1981 after retiring from her position as a speech pathologist for the Kansas City, Kansas, School District. In the Monterey Peninsula she found a vibrant, enriching, and nourishing community that offered many new friendships and many opportunities for rewarding activity. She spent her retirement years volunteering at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and the Monterey Museum of Art and acting as a docent for Robinson Jeffers Tor House in Carmel. She was an organizer of discussion groups and book clubs, and was active in local causes such as the construction of low-cost housing for seniors in Pacific Grove. She was an enthusiastic and adventurous traveller, counting most of the United States and Europe, Russia, China and Australia as places she explored.

Ann was married for 26 years to Richard William Flint, who died in 1978. She is survived by her son, Richard William Flint II and his wife, Shirley Cushing Flint, of Albuquerque, N.M., her daughters, Suzanne Flint of Sacramento and Jane Ann Flint, and her husband, Jim Mayer, of Oakland; and her grandson, Jesse Rueben Flint DeKoven of Pt. Richmond. She is also survived by a sister in law, Eleanor Sherman, nieces Dian (Rich Saito) and Tobi (Dan Brown); and a nephew,  Jim Sherman (Jill); seven great-nephews and great-nieces; and three great-great-nephews or nieces.

She was preceded in death by her brother Jim Sherman of San Jose.

Contributions to libraries are encouraged.

Proprietor’s note: While I was editor of the Monterey Herald, Ann Sherman Flint was my favorite letter writer, even when she had occasion to scold me for editing lapses, which occurred more often than I would care to admit. Being corrected by Ann was better than being complimented by many others. This obituary was provided by her family.

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