Doc Camarata struggles to stay open

John Scarffe
Editor
The Mountain-Ear

Barbara Lawlor
During the past year, the Columbine Family Health Care has suffereddrcamarata
some challenges and met them, managing to continue to offer medical
assistance to Nederland/Gilpin area residents. Actually, Doctor Mike
Camarata is the only physician in the Peak to Peak corridor.
Last week, Dr. Camarata received a letter from United Health Care
terminating their insurance contract, which means that Dr. Camarata
will be considered out of network for town employees. By the end of the
week, a few more insurance companies sent a similar notice. The loss of
coverage in Nederland will have a devastating impact on about 300 of
the Columbine Health Center’s patients. The bad news has Camarata and
his employees scrambling to find ways to keep on going, to continue
medical service to patients, especially seniors, in the area.
What at first seemed like a win-win situation ultimately turned into medical and legal nightmare which could shut down the clinic. 
It began in 2009 when Dr. Camarata worked out of chiropractor Cathy
Valens office in the back of Doc Joe Evans building. At this time, many
people in the mountains were looking for a resource to obtain medical
marijuana cards enabling them to purchase marijuana for medical
reasons. It didn’t take long for the community to hear that all they
had to do was come up with a condition that warranted relief from pain,
sleeplessness, anxiety or cancer symptoms.
“I got a bunch of business cards,” says Camarata, “and a local
dispensary scooped them up and handed them out and the phone began
ringing off the hook. It was all word of mouth and soon I got the
reputation as the marijuana doctor, which was not my intent.”
It was his intent to start a clinic to fill in the hole that was left
when Doctor Maurice Fauvel and his wife Dr. Susan Morrison shut their
doors. In August of 2010 Fauvel asked Camarata to buy the Columbine
Family Health practice. It was a great idea, perfect for Camarat’s goal
of serving the needs of the community. However the money had to be
there.
As months went by, the funding to reopen the clinic in the old
building came in from bunches of people wanting marijuana cards. They
came in with cash and there was a line out the door. Some of the
regular patients became upset that Camarata was dispensing marijuana
cards.
“What most people didn’t know is that the income from the mj scrips
were allowing him to care for indigent patients.
“I actually felt that giving out the cards was keeping people out of
jail. I really tried to bring my mj patients in at different times than
other patients.”
Even senior citizens were seeking the relief that marijuana gave to arthritis sufferers, post surgery patients and many emotional and mental afflictions. Business was booming and the clinic was filling up with other alternative therapists and healers. 
If a doctor reaches a certain number of medical marijuana cards, it is reported to the Colorado Medical Board by the Colorado  Department of Public Health and Environment. They looked at the charts of some patients. There were two complaints about narcotic prescriptions; of improper prescribing of narcotic drugs that triggered a hearing with the Colorado Medical Board on August 17, 2012.
“I was scared to death,” says Camarata, “I thought I was going to lose
my license. After the hearing, we entered an agreement that I was not
to prescribe marijuana cards or narcotics, but I could do everything
else. I was put on probation and allowed to continue my practice.”
One of the conditions of that agreement was that Camarata had to undergo a full assessment ordered by the medical board, of  his medical knowledge, which is oing to cost a chunk of money. 
The Columbine staff says they are, for a brief interim period, going
to continue to see United patients and charge only the co-pay they
would have received. Medicare still covers Camarata’s patients, but
those with secondary insurance providers may end up feeling the effects
of the situation.
Columbine office manager Kathy Spratford said, “It makes me cry, but
don’t panic, we are working it out. Patients are invited to call us
with their insurance questions.”
As unfortunate as the crises is, there is nationwide chaos in the medical business. ¬†Secondary insurance carriers are dropping reimbursement to physicians by two percent. The Boulder Medical Center doesn’t take Medicare anymore and the health givers are being squeezed from all directions. There is an international shortage of primary care physicians.
What can the public do to help? Spratford suggests that people write
letters to their elected officials, letting them know their concerns. A
deluge of letters has to get their attention. “We need to have people
who are close to officials tell them their needs.”
Last week Camarata had lunch with the Gilpin County and Clear Creek commissioners who asked him to come to their offices once a week. Right now, patients needing to see a doctor have to go to  Evergreen and volunteer drivers are needed to offer transportation. Both Camarata and Spratford say that plan would not be sustainable and they are just taking things a day at a time right now.
Spratford says that patients with secondary insurance coverage might be better off without it, especially seniors on fixed incomes. She suggests that they contact  the Boulder County Aging Agency representative Keith Carr at 303-258-3068. He is in the NCC office every Monday and Wednesday and will be able to offer advice about insurance coverage.
In the near future, however, Columbine can’t keep up with the
overhead, the cost of keeping the clinic running. He says he wished he
could just see patients and not have to worry about money. He says they
wo old hade closed already except for a no-interest loan from a private
person.
In the last few months, the clinic has laid off three and a half
employees and the other employees don’t have health insurance. Hours
have been cut.
“I love my job,” says Camarata.
“I care for everybody,” says Spratford, “But I am extremely worried
about the seniors.”
She suggests that maybe someone who can afford it could sustain Camarata to continue to care for the seniors. At the moment, everybody, the therapists who make up the alternative medicine practices, still have a job, but they are all sacrificing hours. 
Doctor Camarata and his staff at Columbine are working to keep the
health center going, but they need help from the prople they serve.
Losing our doctor would have a huge impact on the entire community.
Spratford says, “Thanks for sticking with us.” The phone number to
call with questions is 303-258 -9355.

Barb these are the corrections # Dr. Camarata will be considered out of network for town employees.  (they will still have United insurance)
##for brief interim period

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