Hospitals, Payers

ER docs fight back against Cigna ‘TV doctors’ ad (watch)

“We’re asking the insurance industry to give us and our patients fair coverage for value,” said Houston ER physician Dr. Alison Haddock.

Cigna has been running this humorous commercial for a couple of months, featuring actors who have famously played physicians on TV over the past four decades.

According to NBC News, this ad stars: Patrick Dempsey, who was Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd on “Grey’s Anatomy”; Lisa Edelstein, who played Dr. Lisa Cuddy on “House”; Donald Faison, who played Dr. Chris Turk on “Scrubs”; Noah Wyle, who played Dr. John Carter on “ER”; and perhaps the current, living dean of TV doctors, Alan Alda, widely known as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce from “M.A.S.H.” (The original dean, Robert “Marcus Welby” Young, died in 1998.)

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“I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just a TV doctor,” Alda said, while dressed in surgical scrubs.

But the actors did have a serious message: “We’re partnering with Cigna to help save lives,” Wyle said. Edelstein finished his sentence by saying: “by getting you to a real doctor for an annual checkup.”

This video has been viewed nearly 1 million times on YouTube since Sept. 8, so it’s definitely proven popular. But real physicians at the American College of Emergency Physicians are not impressed.

On Tuesday, Irving, Texas-based ACEP released this parody of the Cigna ad, featuring actual ER doctors:

“I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m a board-certified, residency-trained emergency physician,” one practitioner, ACEP immediate past President Dr. Jay Kaplan of New Orleans, said.

“If I had to treat a bleeding patient, it wouldn’t faze me a bit. Nothing does, except maybe insurance companies,” added Dr. Ryan Stanton of Louisville, Kentucky. “They’re the worst.”

Dr. Jose Torradas of Stockton, California, continued on that theme. “Now, thanks the insurance industry, emergency care is covered less and less and patients are paying more and more,” he said.

“We’re asking the insurance industry to give us and our patients fair coverage for value,” added Houston ER physician Dr. Alison Haddock.

Granted, emergency care often is seen as the most expensive kind of care, and it makes economic and health sense for insurance companies to encourage preventive care and ER alternatives like urgent care. But sometimes a medical emergency is truly an emergency.

study by the National Institutes of Health, published in the journal PLoS ONE in 2013, found that the median cost of an ER visit for any of 10 outpatient conditions in the U.S. was $1,233. “Emergency department charges for common conditions are expensive with high charge variability,” that study said.

For its part, ACEP directed MedCity News to statistics indicating that emergency care accounted for less than 2 percent of the $2.4 trillion spent on healthcare nationwide in 2008.

“Cigna, and others like them, are exploiting federal law [EMTALA] to reduce coverage for emergency care knowing emergency departments have a federal mandate to care for all patients, regardless of their ability to pay,” ACEP President Dr. Rebecca Parker said in a prepared statement.

“We encourage all patients to investigate what their health insurance policy covers and demand fair and reasonable coverage for emergency care,” Parker added. Emergency physicians are there for their patients 24 hours a day, every day of the year. We can’t say the same for the insurance industry.”

Photo: Flickr user Mark Coggins