VENTURA COUNTY: Medical Group’s Closure Brings ‘Chaos’
Monday's closure of Family Health Care Medical Group has created "utter chaos" and an "administrative nightmare" for doctors and insurance providers, while 50,000 patients have been cut off from their physicians, the Los Angeles Times reports. FHCMG shareholders have formally voted to dissolve the group and file for bankruptcy. The filing may take place later this week, according to FHCMG spokesperson Mari Zag. The medical group's decision means that payments owed to physicians may be delayed, and the eventual payments that are made may only add up to "a percentage of pennies on the dollar," Zag said. Of the group's 850 specialists and primary care physicians and 45 staff doctors, 130 indicated that FHCMG owes them a combined $2.5 million, according to Mary Carr, executive director of the Ventura County Medical Association. Several former staff physicians with FHCMG were "trying to quickly regroup" into several physician-run clinics, but no formal arrangements have been made yet.
Meanwhile, executives at Blue Cross of California and more than a dozen other HMOs have been trying to determine how many former FHCMG patients could keep their doctors and how many would need to switch. Blue Cross estimated that at least 5,600 of its 34,000 patients affiliated with the medical group could keep seeing their regular doctors. Blue Cross representative Michael Chee said, "It's a really frustrating position to be in. We'll do everything we can for our members." Letters informing patients of their options were being mailed today. Some of FHCMG's staff physicians said they would try to keep seeing their patients on a volunteer basis. However, Carr said, "It may be that for a number of weeks, the only patients that will be getting care are patients with chronic cases or emergencies. Patients who need preventive care and elective procedures may need to wait." Fielding numerous complaints filed by physicians, the California Medical Association blamed the Department of Managed Health Care for not saving or at least temporarily sustaining the group. CMA spokesperson Peter Warren said, "[The department] need[s] to be a middleman in this crisis. These closures are going on around the state constantly now, and they must have a plan to help patients during the crises" (Talev/Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 10/18).