Special Report: Are East Texans putting the brakes on health care spending?

EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - Joey Murphy is only 40 years old, but he feels like he's in the body of a man more than twice his age.

"Yeah, I'm paralyzed on the left side, all the way down," said Murphy. He has to lift and hold his left arm or it will drop to his side and hang.

Two and half years ago, the Lufkin catering business owner had a heart attack. Then last year a stroke.

"I can't walk and it's going to be months before I'll be able to walk again, even I do walk," said a man who once owned and operated an Apple Springs barbeque restaurant. Now, he's in a nursing/rehabilitation center for his physical therapy.

Murphy blames himself for not taking his medicine and ignoring doctor's orders. He felt alright at the time, plus with no insurance, he just didn't want to spend the money.

"Paying $120 a visit, you know, they want you to come once a week, that's tough, said Murphy.

Paying for health care is difficult for a lot of Americans. Health spending increases for 2010 and 2009 were the lowest in 51 years, according to health surveys.   Here in East Texas, it's reflected through fluctuating hospital admissions.

"It is a nationwide issue," said Tim Hayward, Nacogdoches memorial hospital chief administrator.   "If you look at hospitals nationwide, and as I talk to CEO's nationwide, we're an industry under attack."

Physicians, such as Dr. George Hugman, feel the pinch in operations.

"Individual physicians, like we have here in Nacogdoches and Lufkin, they get hit more directly by those issues and are having to come to grips now."

Hugman sees solo practices turning into group practices. He's watching others leave all together.

"A lot of physicians who may have expected to practice late in their 60's are now looking at retirement early," said Hugman. And it's those doctors who you rely on most for primary care, that is if you seek medical care in the first place.

"What may have been a $20 co-pay, is now $45 co-pay and that can be a deterrent," realizes Hugman.

"It impacts your visit numbers. It impacts our follow-ups," said physician assistant Bonnie Ryan. Ryan believes the clinic she operates in Etoile could help balance the books due to its lower charges for health and preventive care.

Yet she knows patients have other expenses. "When it comes down to feeding your children or paying your electric bill versus getting your annual prostrate exam, people are making those choices," said Ryan.

Today Joey Murphy regrets the choice he made about his own health care, more so for his wife and family than for himself. He begins to sob when he thinks of the sacrifices they have made.

" It is hard," he sighed.

The man now reminds others his age, no matter the cost, to take care of your health.

" Take your medicine and do what the doctor says," are his last words before directing his wheelchair back to his room.

Are health care costs causing you to put off medical treatment? Let us know on our ktre.com web poll.

In addition,we want to hear from you on KTRE's Facebook page.

Perhaps you put off your own health care before other members in your family, or you're putting off a treatment or medical test. Maybe your doctors are working with your financial needs. Join the discussion. What you have to say is important and could help your East Texas neighbors.

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