Doctors are Treated like Cyprus Depositors

Setu Mazumdar, MD, likens the situation in Cyprus to what physicians in the U.s. face, particularly emergency physicians who are forced to see patients without being paid for their services.

You've no doubt heard about the financial situation in Cyprus, unless, of course, you've been continuously working shifts in the hospital or have been on call for a week straight. (Some surgeons I know do this and I have no idea how they can function. Perhaps I'm just a weakling!)

I've actually found some similarities between that situation and what doctors experience in this country.

Let me explain.

What amazes me is how this island nation, which has a population of about 1 million, can cause such havoc on the financial system and international stock markets.

Now if you're paying attention to this and shifting your investment portfolio around — or you have a financial advisor who is taunting you about all this — it's likely you don't have much, if any, investment plan to begin with.

Besides the impact of Cyprus on financial markets, the most interesting part of this situation is how its government is confiscating bank deposits.

Two weeks ago the Cyprus government wanted to simply take (or should I say steal?) part of everyone's bank deposits. Then the government targeted larger (or should I say “evil rich”) depositors with a plan to simply freeze their accounts.

You might think “what does this have to do with doctors in the U.S.?”

Well, the confiscation of your services as a physician started decades ago and continues to get worse as the years go on.

In emergency medicine — my specialty, though I haven't worked an ER shift in years — we have to face what is probably the biggest unfunded federal mandate called EMTALA, which stands for the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

I affectionately call it the “Emergency Theft and Larceny Act” since it forces doctors to see patients without getting paid.

EMTALA also affects other medical specialties because if we admit patients who pay us nothing, then it's likely the surgeon, hospitalist and others won't get paid either.

So let's see. We made a “deposit” by investing our time and money into our education for over a decade and then, again, sacrificed our time to save someone's life and the total payment for this is $0?

And to make matters triply worse, we can still get sued, and we don't get a tax deduction or credit for the services we provided for free?

And we accepted this type of deal? Does this make any sense? Where's our bailout?

Is it any different than depositing money into a Cyrus bank and letting the government simply take it?

Yes, I know you might think this is callous. But c'mon. You deserve payment for the services you provide.

And, yes, I know you might say, “But we're dealing with people's lives!” If that's the attitude, then you always should work for free and get paid nothing, right? Simply stop accepting payment from EVERY patient you see. Let’s see how long you’ll go on doing that.

Quite frankly you deserve a hell of a lot more pay for the valuable services you provide as a physician.

EMTALA is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There is a whole bunch of other ways doctors like you and me are strung up like puppets on someone else's stings.

Which brings me to my next point.

When you get your financial life in order, and reach a point where you are financially independent, you can start making “withdrawals” in the sense that you can stop or at least reduce the confiscation of your services.

You work on your own terms again — when you want, where you want and with whom you want.

So stop making deposits and start making withdrawals.