Insurance Carriers Drop Vegas Clinics Tied to Hepatitis Scare

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Three of Nevada's largest health insurance carriers have suspended contracts with 14 physicians and three surgery centers tied to a hepatitis C outbreak, leading some doctors to worry about a possible shortage of medical care.

Representatives of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Sierra Health
Services and Cigna HealthCare said Thursday that the contracts were
suspended or terminated after they received information from the
Southern Nevada Health District about six hepatitis C cases linked to one of the surgery centers affiliated with the Gastroenterology Center of Southern Nevada.

The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada is believed to have spread the potentially deadly blood-borne virus by reusing syringes and vials of medication.

Some doctors worry that taking 14 gastroenterologists out of the
mix exacerbates a shortage of these physicians.

Assemblyman and doctor Joe Hardy estimated that the 14 doctors
who worked within the Gastroenterology Center group represent more
than one-third the gastroenterologists in southern Nevada.

He said the large practice served a majority of patients who had gastrointestinal problems.

"Without the 14 physicians, it's going to be a real difficult time for patients in Las Vegas," Dr. John Gray, a Reno gastroenterologist, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Gray said his practice was contacted by a Sierra Health executive this week about providing medical services in Las Vegas.

According to the American Medical Association, Nevada has 2.5
gastroenterologists per 100,000 residents, well below the country's
ratio of four gastroenterologists per 100,000.

Sierra Health insures roughly 650,000 Nevadans between its Health Plan of Nevada, Senior Dimensions and Sierra Health and Life plans. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield insures 317,000 Nevadans. Cigna HealthCare insures approximately 100,000.

Leigh Woodward, a spokeswoman for Cigna HealthCare Arizona-Nevada, said the company issued termination letters to the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada group on March 3.

She said Cigna members have access to ambulatory surgery centers
and roughly 30 gastroenterologists within 25 miles of the terminated endoscopy centers.

"We are aware that some gastroenterologists (not affected by the terminations) in Las Vegas are not accepting any new patients and that there is a capacity issue," she said.

Though the majority of the physicians have privileges at most southern Nevada hospitals, it is unclear if they are still practicing medicine. None have lost their medical licenses.

Dr. Dipak Desai, majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, has voluntarily agreed to quit practicing medicine. The other physicians within his group have been asked by Tony Clark, executive director of the state Board of Medical Examiners, to do the same. They have not agreed to do so.

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-03-28-08 1329EDT


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