This week’s Houston Chronicle article, “UTMB criticized for turning away charity cases,” contains numerous inaccuracies and presents a misleading picture of the indigent care we provide.
To suggest that we are “edging out of the charity care business” is ludicrous and does a tremendous disservice to the countless UTMB faculty, staff and students who are committed to improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
We take pride in our long history of caring for the state’s medically underserved and wish we could provide care to everyone who turns to us in need. But the need outstrips our resources. The entire nation is grappling with the issue of indigent care and in Texas, a growing state with one of the highest rates of medically uninsured, the associated financial and access challenges are particularly daunting.
But that hasn’t stopped UTMB from doing its part.
We project that by the time we close the books on this fiscal year, we will have provided $80 million worth of care for more than 16,000 unsponsored patients. Eighty-five percent of those served came from nearby counties; 52 percent were Galveston County residents. UTMB is making this major contribution to caring for the medically underserved despite a significantly reduced inpatient capacity. Moreover, more than 60 percent of the care we provide goes to patients who are unsponsored or covered by Medicare or Medicaid. While other providers are withdrawing from caring for these groups of patients because reimbursements don’t cover associated costs, we continue to serve these individuals.
The article also failed to mention that we have contracts with 29 Texas counties to provide hospital and specialty care at reimbursement rates determined by the state of Texas. Those state rates are set at a level to equal UTMB’s cost to provide care, and we would gladly enter into similar contracts with other counties, including Galveston County.
The story also completely failed to take into account the many community outreach programs UTMB has developed or supports that are designed to improve the health of uninsured Texans. Ironically, UTMB faculty and students staff the St. Vincent’s Clinic mentioned in the article. They also staff the Luke Society in Galveston, which provides free medical care to the poor and homeless on the island. Farther afield, UTMB continues to support two model programs created by our students — Frontera de Salud and Helping Hands — to provide access to care to impoverished communities in Texas.
Our Teen Health centers address the medical and mental health needs of approximately 18,000 primary and secondary school students in Galveston County. We also created the state’s first multi-share program, a collaborative initiative designed to help small businesses in the county provide affordable health coverage to their employees by splitting the monthly cost of premiums. This model initiative has inspired development of similar programs in six regions throughout the state. Similarly, state representatives approved $6 million during the last legislative session for UTMB to expand its highly effective community-based model for preventing and treating diabetes, which is now in four Texas counties.
Finally, our Community Health Program serves 500 high-risk, unsponsored local residents. Results indicate that this integrated care and disease management model is an effective way of helping patients with chronic disease maintain their health and prevent costly complications.
We obviously feel that this article was full of errors in facts and conclusions and has not done justice to the commitment of UTMB faculty, staff and students to improve health among the medically underserved.
We will be addressing our concerns with the Houston Chronicle. We are also developing a comprehensive overview of our efforts in this area and will be sure to share that once it is ready. In the meantime, thank you for all you do to help UTMB fulfill its vital mission to improve health for people around the world through our education, research and patient care programs.
Dr. David L. Callender