North Idaho physician believes he has a better way to deal with health care costs

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Dr. Loel Fenwick says his health care plan could save both consumers and government agencies millions of dollars each year.

“He seems to have closed the door on private sector options, before the door was ever really opened …”

That’s what one north Idaho physician, Dr. Loel Fenwick, is saying about Gov. Butch Otter. He says he has tried to speak with Otter repeatedly in the past two years to discuss his ideas on health care, but neither the governor nor anyone from the governor’s staff will meet with him.

Not so, says the governor’s staff. “Dr. Fenwick did, indeed, get a response from us,” Otter press spokesperson Jon Hanian told IdahoReporter.com when contacted about Fenwick’s claims. “The governor was unable to meet and discuss health policy with Dr. Fenwick before the election, and now the governor is busy preparing for the State of the State address, so this isn’t a good time either. Dr. Fenwick may not have gotten the response he wanted from us, but he got a response,” Hanian noted.

In fact, says the governor’s office, it is aware of Fenwick’s ideas because it sent a representative, Tammy Perkins, to hear a presentation of his Dec. 7 in Boise. “Dr. Fenwick never requested a meeting with a member of the governor’s staff, but Ms. Perkins was in the audience when Dr. Fenwick spoke, whether he realized it or not.”

Fenwick is an obstetrician who has practiced medicine in his native South Africa, in England and in Spokane. A resident of the rural Bonner County community of Coolin, Fenwick has teamed with Dr. Richard Sugden of Wyoming to create the Fenwick-Sugden Healthcare Plan. Fenwick claims that it could save both consumers and government agencies millions of dollars each year, and he’s been traveling throughout the U.S. speaking about it.

“What we’re proposing is a pilot program that returns control of health care to families and their doctors,” Fenwick told IdahoReporter.com. At the heart of the Fenwick-Sugden plan are privately held escrow accounts that enable individuals and families to save and pay for contingencies such as death, disability, accident and illness. During his Dec. 7 trip to the Capitol in Boise to present his plan to legislators, Fenwick noted that the private escrow accounts operate “alongside” private health care insurance.

“We need to allow insurance companies to get back to the business of insuring people,” Fenwick says, but believes “we no longer have a health insurance system. It’s more reasonably a health prepayment system.”

While Fenwick acknowledges that the Fenwick-Sugden plan is similar to the concept of Health Savings Accounts (HSA), he claims that destructive government policy has detracted from that concept as well. “HSAs have been around for a good 16-18 years or so,” he says, “but Congress has placed so many mandates upon them that they have become less effective. We’re getting back to the original intent of HSAs, but we’re also calling for more transparency with how people’s money gets spent, who gets paid and what people pay for with their health care dollars.”

Fenwick says he has found enthusiastic audiences with the governors of Virginia and Wyoming. “We’ve also had some very productive meetings with governors’ staffs in Louisiana, Georgia and Texas, and we’ve met with receptive legislators in Utah and Missouri,” he says.

Yet through it all, the Idaho physician says he can’t get through to his own governor in Idaho.

“I suspect that Gov. Otter has been pressured to not meet with me, because the insurance and hospital industries have very powerful lobbies in Boise,” Fenwick noted. “The insurance industry in Idaho seems afraid of what we’re doing, but their real threat is in Washington. I’m trying to free-up the insurance industry so it can get back to doing what it was meant to do, but the goal in D.C. is to get rid of private insurance and move to a fully government-run health care system.”

Fenwick estimates that Idahoans could save millions every year in health care costs with his plan, and suggests that the savings would impact individual households, employers and state government agencies. “The free market works, if we let it,” he says.

When the Legislature convenes in January, Fenwick may find support for his plan. State Sens. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, do not favor Otter’s call for a state-based health insurance exchange (as a means of complying with federal Obamacare mandates), and have called for free market, private sector solutions for improving health care. And the entire Idaho Farm Bureau Federation called for both of these agenda items, as well, in a detailed policy statement it released during the first week of December.

“We can’t afford to continue with the world’s most costly and inefficient health care system,” Fenwick tells IdahoReporter.com, “and we’ve got the solutions that can help. But every Idahoan should be asking their governor why he refuses to even have a conversation about those solutions.”

Documents obtained by IdahoReporter.com show there has been email dialog between Fenwick and staffers of the governor. In one message, dated Sept. 13, Fenwick contacted former Kootenai County Commissioner Katie Brodie, who at the time was functioning as a northern Idaho special assistant to Otter. Fenwick sent Brodie an outline of the Fenwick-Sugden health care plan, and requested to meet the governor.

On Sept. 21, Fenwick received a reply to this inquiry from Perkins, senior special assistant for health and social services at the governor’s office. Perkins acknowledged receiving the Fenwick-Sugden document, but told Fenwick that the governor would not make any decisions on health care policy until after the November election. “The governor will give your recommendations a more thorough review at a later date,” Perkins told Fenwick, but offered no further specifics.

That was followed by Perkins attending the Fenwick presentation on Dec. 7.

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