2004-05-06 / Savvy Senior


Dear Savvy Senior,


Not long ago, I went to see my doctor about some ongoing problems with my back and he told me I had degenerative disc disease and recommended surgery. I was a little surprised but I think he knows what he’s talking about. My wife, however, is insisting I get a second opinion before going under the knife. I’m not sure why I need one, though. I’ve been seeing this doctor for several years and I have learned to trust him. But my wife keeps pushing. I told her I don’t want to pay for an unnecessary medical visit, but she won’t budge. Any thoughts?

Degenerated and Waiting

Dear Degenerated

I’m going with your wife on this one! Ask yourself, "What have I got to lose?" A second opinion can buy a lot of peace of mind for both your wife and you, and second opinions are your right as a patient.

Second Opinions

There are any number of things to consider in getting a second opinion, such as who to see and who pays. The whole question of second opinions may seem to challenge your original doctor’s diagnosis, but that’s not the way you or your doctor should view it. Think of a second opinion as a backstop, because, while most doctors are right much of the time, mistakes are made.

Remember that medicine isn’t an exact science. In fact, here are two health studies that prove it:

• The Institute of Medicine reports on two studies show that at least 44,000 and perhaps as many as 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors, which would place medical errors in the top 10 causes of death in the United States.

• The National Patient Safety Foundation found in a survey that 42 percent of people believed they had personally experienced a medical mistake at some point in their lives.

Who Pays?

If you are under Medicare Part B, they will pay for a second opinion just as they pay for other doctors’ services that may be necessary. They usually pay 80 percent of the approved amount and you pay the other 20 percent, after meeting your $100 de-ductible. That’s a pretty good price for peace of mind. Medicare will even pay for a third opinion if the first two differ.

Most Medicare Managed Care Plans also guarantee the right to a second opinion, but some plans will require a referral first from your primary physician. If you have private insurance, it could get trickier. You’ll need to check with your insurance provider to see if second opinions are covered.

Find a Doctor

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for a referral. Most won’t be offended. In fact, they should en-courage it. If you want to find a doctor or specialist on your own, a good place to start is by contacting your local medical society. Here are some other helpful resources:

• Medicare offers a toll-free number 1-800-633-4227, to help you locate a specialist, or visit www. medicare.gov

• The American Medical Association can help you search for a physician by name or by medical specialty. Visit wwwama-assn.org or call 1-800-621-8335.

• The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP): A national, non-profit medical association that provides health and medical information and a national doctor directory. Visit http://familydoctor.org.

Savvy Tips

• Be sure to tell the second doctor about your original diagnosis, the course of treatment recommended by your primary physician, as well as any tests you have had.

If they disagree, seek that third opinion, or go back to your original doctor for further consultation.

Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.

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