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Reeder: Honored physician isn’t with the program

Published: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – Regular readers of this column know there are not a lot of things that Gov. Pat Quinn and I agree on.

But Quinn’s selection of Dr. Russell Dohner as grand marshal of the Illinois State Fair Twilight Parade is worthy of praise.

Dohner is a physician from Rushville who provides his services at a rate of $5 per office call.

He’s a beloved fixture in west-central Illinois. In fact, to hear some talk, he borders on being a living saint.

I’ve been hearing Dr. Dohner stories since I was a little kid. He was my Grandpa Chet and Grandma Wanda’s doctor. And he has helped countless other folks in his rural community for almost 60 years.

“No one embodies the state fair theme of ‘Where Illinois Comes Together’ better than Dr. Dohner,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. “His example of service and concern for everyday people have brought the people of western Illinois together for almost six decades. We are honored to have him lead the parade that kicks off this year’s fair.”   

Also in the governor’s news release, it was noted that the announcement of grand marshal “follows Governor Quinn’s recent signing of a law that enacted the largest increase in health insurance coverage in state history, one of the Governor’s 2013 legislative priorities and a key part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.”

It’s interesting that Quinn would link Dr. Dohner with his own efforts to expand the state Medicaid system.

After all, Dr. Dohner doesn’t accept Medicaid. Or private insurance.

Just his $5 fee for a typical office visit.

“We don’t do a lot of paperwork – except when we do a physical or something like that,” Dohner told me. “But that’s medical paperwork – not billing paperwork. Our philosophy is pretty simple. We don’t charge very much, so we expect patients to pay when they are seen.”

Like many physicians, Dohner has figured out that all the billing paperwork is not just a major inconvenience, but a distraction from the real business at hand – making people well. Instead of having his nurse filling out government forms, he has her helping patients.

And yet Quinn is using the good doctor’s legacy of service as political cover for his massive Medicaid expansion and to promote Obamacare.

I asked Dohner what he thought of Obamacare, and he said he didn’t know enough about it to comment. But like most folks – on both the left and right – Dohner wants low-income folks to receive quality medical care. He has just found a way to do it without government involvement.

Here is how Dohner’s longtime nurse, Florence Bottorff, explained the decision not to accept Medicaid:

“Dr. Dohner just gave it up because it was too much of a hassle. It takes one employee just to handle all of those records. People don’t realize how much paperwork there is to do after a Medicaid patient leaves the office.”

Dohner is hardly alone in his contempt for the program that Quinn has worked so hard to expand. In fact, 35 percent of all Illinois physicians don’t take new Medicaid patients, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Illinois is the eighth worst in the nation in that regard.

It just goes to show you, giving someone Medicaid is not the same as providing them with access to health care.

Fortunately, there are dedicated physicians such as Dohner who have found a way to help sick people without government interference.

After all, more government doesn’t always mean more service. That is a lesson Quinn would do well to learn. 

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org. Follow his work on Twitter @scottreeder.

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