Use 'em or lose 'em: QMG prepares for end-of-year health care rush

Nancy Morley, left, gets her glasses fitted after adjustments by Quincy Medical Group optitian Deb Seibert. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Dec. 3, 2012 10:12 am Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Patients have begun rushing to doctors as the year winds down to take advantage of health benefits, either having satisfied the deductible amount on their insurance plans or enjoying extra money remaining in flexible spending accounts.

Quincy Medical Group annually prepares for the end-of-year surplus of patients looking to make the most of their elective medical care. Dale Wiseman, director of optical services, has watched patients funnel into QMG's various providers seeking to spend the last of their flexible spending account and grasping whatever more they can of a satisfied deductible.

As one calendar year turns to another, flexible spending accounts evaporate and deductibles roll over. While Wiseman said QMG has posted signs reminding patients about the pending turnover, he said many wait until the last week in December to make the most of their benefits.

"A lot of time now they're spending time on Christmas and holiday spending and purchasing and what have you, and then all of a sudden, it hits them that they've got to get this done," Wiseman said.

Wiseman said QMG's optical office in years past has worked with patients up until the very last hours of the year. It's not uncommon to for patients to call at 3 p.m. on New Year's Eve and ask how late the office stays open. Often, those patients use the remainder of their flexible spending account by ordering a spare pair of glasses or a speciality pair for a hobby or sport.

"We get everybody accommodated somehow, someway, but it is a major rush," Wiseman said. "Just like Black Friday, the week after Christmas is flex spending time."

John Ernst, who operates an insurance company in Quincy, said maxed-out deductibles push patients to pursue medical services they might not have gone after immediately. Paying a smaller percentage because of an exhausted deductible encourages medical care and consequently packs many QMG doctors' schedules throughout December.

"People don't always want to run to the doctor until they've satisfied their deductible," Ernst said. "If you call a lot of the doctors now, they're booked."

Once a deductible is reached, Ernst said most will pay just 20 percent of the cost for a procedure. Consequently, December becomes the month to have moles removed and hernias addressed. These types of procedures can typically wait with only minor discomfort to the patient, and many opt to hold onto that discomfort until they've reached their deductible. Harboring a hernia hurts, but for many, holding on to that extra cash that follows the wait is worth the pain.

"A lot of time a hernia can be put off a little ways with some discomfort," Ernst said. "A lot of time people have a hard time cutting lose of those money."

While the QMG optical services fill prescriptions and complete eye exams during this busy time, many other departments at the clinic boom too. QMG's podiatry and orthopedic offices handle more requests from patients this time of year. Even Wiseman has joined in the chaos from a patient's perspective. With his deductible nearly fulfilled, he's squeezed in a sleep study before 2013.

Wiseman advises patients to be proactive about scheduling these services. While contacts and glasses can be filled at the last minute and even online, an eye exam to update the prescription requires an appointment. A doctor can only perform so many exams in the last week of the year, and those who procrastinate may not find an appointment.

"It's one of the most hectic seasons for us and around the country as well," Wiseman said. "People they just put it off, and they could have spent it in October or November the same way, because there wasn't quite a rush."