When Gene Oppenheim goes grocery shopping in Santa Monica, people often come up to him and stick out their tongues. It’s not a sign of disrespect, it’s because he has been a family doctor in Santa Monica since 1980.
Gene received his M.D. and Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from UCLA. After residency, he and his wife, Patricia Hoffman, went house hunting and bought the house they still live in on Harvard Street in Santa Monica.
He decided to open a solo practice and for ten years his offices were on Yale and Wilshire. During those years he also served on the Ocean Park Community Center Board and was a physician for the Sojourn Battered Women’s Center and for Stepping Stone, a center for abused and deserted children.
Gene was appointed to the City of Santa Monica Commission for Older Americans, and remembers holding a press conference, with then Assemblyman Tom Hayden, but no reporters came! Just as they ended, the reporter from the Evening Outlook rushed in and so they had to redo their speeches. The next day, the banner headline on the paper read, “Santa Monica Nursing Homes Refuse Medi-Cal Patients.”
At the same time that Gene had his medical office and was doing health care volunteer work, the insurance companies were creating managed care organizations. Gene said, “The work of dealing with the insurance companies was resource and time consuming and doctors formed group practices in order to be as efficient as possible in the administration of their offices so they could focus on the practice of medicine.”
When he looks at medicine today he sees “Wasted money, money that isn’t used for health care. It goes to profits for company executives and stockholders, the costs of underwriting – which are all the expenditures spent by insurance companies to identify only the healthiest people to insure, and administrative costs.”
He saw the managed care organizations as making it more difficult for him to give his patients the quality of care he wanted to provide and he decided to become a Kaiser doctor. “Kaiser is the way medicine should be practiced. It is an integrated system and more efficient. Doctors are on salary and so not paid by the number of patients they see or the number of tests they order. It is a good way for patients to get better care and to save money at the same time.”
His concern for the quality of health care in the U.S. made him decide to join the California Physicians Alliance, part of the National Physicians Alliance. They support single payer health insurance for all Americans as they think it is the only realistic answer to the question of how to deliver high quality medical care and keep the costs of health care from harming the national economy. As part of this group he has visited Congressman Waxman’s office to talk about single payer health insurance. Members of the National Physicians Alliance attempted to testify in the Washington Senate hearings.
All three of Gene’s sons do volunteer work. Jed at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Lucas on Civil Rights and First Amendment cases for Santa Monica Attorney Carol Sobel, and Jonas as a writing mentor for the Virginia Avenue Project.
Gene’s wife Patricia currently chairs the Community Corp of Santa Monica, an affordable housing provider and is Chair of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights. She is a former President of the Santa Monica Malibu Board of Education.
Gene remembers looking out the window of a west facing birthing room at Santa Monica Hospital at a spectacular 4th of July fireworks celebration. He is no longer delivering babies, but he continues to practice medicine and to work for high quality health care.