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Health care flier kills doctor-patient relationship

SPRING HILL — Jim Heltsley was leaving his chiropractor's office last week when he saw the flier.

The subject: health care legislation.

It was a copy of an e-mail Helts­ley had read on the Internet, and he thought it contained a lot of falsehoods and misrepresentations.

He was offended. So he walked back to Michael Moss's office and confronted him.

Exactly what happened during the face-to-face clash is not clear.

Heltsley says he used a calm voice and no profanity. But he says he did make clear to Moss his belief that personal views and professional settings do not mix.

Moss acknowledges he "lost it" and asked Heltsley to leave. He says Heltsley tapped him on the forehead with the flier and got into his personal space, which Heltsley denies.

What is certain is this: As the contentious national health care debate played out in the doctor's office, a friendly, five-year relationship was destroyed.

After about 30 seconds, Moss told Heltsley he could no longer be his doctor.

An unhappy Heltsley left.

Now, he can't believe what happened and thinks what Moss did was wrong.

"I got fired by my own doctor," he said.

• • •

Moss, 44, is a teddy bear of a man with a quick smile. He describes himself as politically independent.

A golden Hindu goddess, a gift from a friend who traveled to India, sits in one corner of his office. Photographs from his last hiking trip to Montana hang on the walls.

He says he sees more than 100 patients a day. And in the past few months, many of those patients have begun asking him about health care legislation.

They're worried, he said.

One asked him if there were plans in the new bill to "cull the elderly," as elephant herds are culled in Africa.

"I've been thrust into my own town hall meetings," Moss said. "I'm not a politician. I felt a concern and maybe a moral obligation to help them understand."

He says he has been trying to learn as much as he can about the proposed plans.

"I was like a mad scientist until 2 o'clock in the morning, watching this stuff on Fox News," Moss said.

He's read parts of one of the reform bills, looking up legal jargon on Wikipedia to educate himself.

The e-mail in his waiting room, which has been widely circulated on the Internet, has 52 lines that it says are from the proposed health care legislation.

It says that the proposal is "worse than you can possibly imagine" and urges people to verify the information and contact their lawmakers.

It also says:

• "Govt will have real-time access to individual's finances & a National ID Healthcard will be issued!"

• "YOUR HEALTH CARE IS RATIONED!!!"

• "PROHIBITION on ownership/investment. Govt tells doctors what/how much they can own."

Moss says he was just trying to help inform his patients.

"Some of my patients are small-business owners. They are worried health care reform might prevent them from achieving the American dream," he said.

Moss feels badly about what happened with Heltsley but says he was verbally attacked by one of his patients.

"It breaks my heart," Moss said. "I was so hurt inside of myself. We had a relationship for so long."

• • •

Heltsley, 67, is a Vietnam veteran and retired social studies teacher from Ohio. He grew up in a home where his father read the daily newspaper cover to cover. He is a Democrat.

An avid reader and news junkie, Heltsley has always been politically active. He calls himself probably the most political sixth-grade teacher Ohio ever had.

He helped negotiate teacher contracts and spent several years serving as vice chairman on the teacher advisory health care consortium for his school system.

But his politics stayed out of the classroom, he said, and he thinks they should stay out of professional work environments — like doctors offices.

"Ethically, why would you put one of these papers out?" he asked, referring to the copied e-mail. "A lot of people might be offended by this."

Heltsley is also worried that Moss is misleading his patients with incorrect information.

He called the e-mail "the worst smear out there on health care reform."

He and his wife paid more than $14,000 out-of-pocket last year for health care, even with Medicare, which has covered his chiropractic care. He believes there are many benefits to the health care proposal.

Most of the items in the e-mail Moss was distributing have been deemed incorrect by reputable news organizations, Heltsley said.

He tried to explain that to Moss, he said. "He told me to go to hell."

"I guess I must just look like a little old man. That must be why someone would say something like that to me."

• • •

Both Heltsley and Moss say they have gotten their news and information from sources they trust. Both believe they are right. Both are bewildered by what's happened.

"This fury over health care has hit me," Heltsley said. "I couldn't imagine it happening to me with someone I have been going to for all this time."

"How did this get to this point?" Moss said. "Like at one of those stupid town meetings — we all need to breathe here, man."

But their differences appear irreconcilable.

Despite a call from Heltsley's wife, Moss did not call back to apologize to Heltsley.

"I just can't," he said.

His office sent Heltsley a formal dismissal letter, including referrals to other chiropractors for his back pain.

Heltsley was disappointed with the letter.

"After five years, it was like a real cold slap in the face," he said.

Heltsley has made an appointment with a new doctor. But he's not sure if he will go.

In the meantime, the fliers regarding health care legislation remain in Moss's waiting room.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

What he says

"I've been thrust into my own town hall meetings. I'm not a politician. I felt a concern and maybe a moral obligation to help them understand."

Chiropractor Michael Moss, 44

What he says

"Ethically, why would you put one of these papers out? A lot of people might be offended by this."

Jim Heltsley, 67

PolitiFact has analyzed the health care e-mail circulating at Moss' office. Check out our findings, 5A

Health care flier kills doctor-patient relationship 08/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 11:39pm]

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