The Gallup Poll released last week comes one year after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly one quarter of Texans lacked health insurance, the highest in the nation. While lawmakers and government officials say that the illegal immigrant population is the reason for the high number of uninsured, they will not be denied care at hospital emergency rooms.
One facility that tries to alleviate crowded ERs is the San Jose Clinic near downtown. Houston's privately funded and first safety-net facility is bustling with activity, with people young and old being treated. Paul-Anne Lewis is the clinic's executive director. She says she's embarrassed at the Gallup Poll numbers.
"Especially with here in the state of Texas, from a political standpoint, aren't looking to do a whole lot about remedying that situation — and I'm speaking about the Medicaid expansion that the rest of the country is looking for to really help remedy that problem."
She says expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act would help many uninsured patients here.
"About a quarter of the population of the people that we serve, over 4,000 people a year, would be eligible for Medicaid coverage. But unfortunately, our state has chosen not to accept those dollars and not to do that."
Despite its size at 33,000 square feet and many doctors who freely volunteer their time, Lewis says San Jose Clinic cannot provide care to every uninsured patient.
"We only have the capacity to serve about 30 percent of the uninsured population in our area now. So, with the decreasing number of Medicaid and Medicare providers, I am really concerned about those numbers, and the number of people that are gonna depend on clinics like San Jose, that are going to increase."
Dr. Sherri Onviego is medical director at San Jose Clinic. She says a lot of patients are also hard-working Houstonians who are self-employed and have no insurance.
"They will show up at an emergency room. Whereas the emergency room may not be able to deal with that capacity for a non-acute issue, because other patients who are a lot sicker, need that spot, like a trauma victim from a stab wound or a gunshot wound. So in that respect, I think that a shift has to be made, so that we can kind of get back into that mind set of having a medical home for these patients to go to."
Both Dr. Onviego and executive director Paul-Anne Lewis say San Jose Clinic will not turn anyone away because they have no insurance.