Concealed Care

If you’re uninsured in Galveston County, finding charity health care services is like searching for the Holy Grail: You want to believe it exists, but you can’t find it.

A report by the nonprofit Cancer Coalition of Galveston County, “Clearing the Fog,” documents the hurdles the uninsured face finding health care. While area providers report millions in charity care, they sometimes claim not to have such programs when needy people ask. They also don’t have clearly written guidelines for charitable or reduced-cost health care.

During 2007 and 2008, coalition members repeatedly visited and phoned area providers, including the University of Texas Medical Branch, Mainland Medical Center, and Galveston County’s 4C’s clinics. The health providers told surveyors that charity programs didn’t exist, though UTMB alone claims to spend $120 million a year on charity care. Surveyors reported that UTMB employees said it was impossible to obtain written material about free care or financial assistance.

This is not the first time that declining services for the uninsured have been documented in Galveston County (see “Storm Over UTMB,” March 20). Since the release of the report in November, hospital executives have questioned the veracity of the coalition’s findings.

Ben G. Raimer, UTMB’s senior vice president for health policy and legislative affairs, told the Houston Chronicle that he was “fairly certain that signs were posted” in UTMB clinics before Hurricane Ike struck last year. He added that policies have been online since 1993, along with “exhaustive information about our indigent care and charity care.”

Soon after Raimer’s disclaimer, UTMB posted signs in Spanish and English in its hospital and clinics about discounted or free services. The medical branch also announced that it would audit its policies on charitable care.

Do you think free access to journalism like this is important? The Texas Observer is known for its fiercely independent, uncompromising work—which we are pleased to provide to the public at no charge in this space. That means we rely on the generosity of our readers who believe that this work is important. You can chip in for as little as 99 cents a month. If you believe in this mission, we need your help.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2016-17 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.