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Cutting Criticism

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STILL WAITING FOR REIMBURSEMENT for that hammertoe operation six years ago? Dr. Sam Bierstock may not be able to persuade your insurance company to pay up, but he will feel your pain, and he’ll probably leave you in stitches—not the medical kind—as he kicks into a bluesy number like “You’re One Hip Mama ‘Cause They Won’t Pay for Two.” “They ought to fix you, baby, ’cause your limping makes me cry,” he wails, “but they just keep saying that their costs will be too high.”

Frontman for Dr. Sam and the Managed Care Blues Band, Bierstock, 50, a retired ophthalmologist from Highland Beach, Fla., has set aside his scalpel to needle the medical insurance community and protest the pit-falls of managed health care. Not only do insurers take too long to repay patients, he says, but doctors paid set fees by insurers feel as if they are working in a system focused on profits, not sound medicine. “They’re going to get a fixed amount no matter what effort they put in or how good they are—it can’t work,” concludes Bierstock. He plays more than a dozen gigs a month at medical conventions and seminars, has launched a Web site ( and just released a CD, Minimal Service, featuring such crowd-pleasers as “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Blue Shield” and “Mastoid Sally” (“Grind, Sally, Grind”).

The son of a scrap merchant and a homemaker, Bierstock, now divorced and with three grown daughters, was born in Kitchener, Ont. After a shoulder injury left him with diminished feeling in his fingers, he gave up his practice in Rhinebeck, N.Y., in 1992 and moved to Florida, where he became a medical management consultant. Frustrated in that job by doctors’ low morale, Bierstock, who had played trombone, guitar and banjo as a kid, quit to form his blues band earlier this year (the keyboardist, a dentist, is the only other doc on board). They’re booked through 1998, so they’re resting comfortably. “If I tried to explain managed health care to the public seriously, I’d put everybody to sleep,” says Dr. Sam. “This way it’s great fun, and we’re educating the public.”