Healthcare reform looms large in Texas

Thu Jul 30, 2009 8:22pm EDT
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By Chris Baltimore

HOUSTON (Reuters) - At Ben Taub General Hospital in the rich U.S. oil hub of Houston, 52 people wait in a holding room designed for 26, in beds crammed so close together that patients can touch one another.

"They can't even go to a doctor, most of these people," because they lack health insurance, said Angela Siler Fisher, an associate medical director there. "We are their doctor."

The Texas Medical Center -- which is the size of Chicago's downtown Loop and has its own distinct skyline -- draws patients from around the world to its private rooms and specialized, cutting-edge treatments.

Houston, the fourth-largest American city, is a case study in the extremes of the U.S. healthcare system.

It boasts the immense medical center that offers top-notch care at its 13 hospitals, but also has a higher ratio of uninsured patients than any major U.S. city: about 30 percent. Cancer patients can get advanced radiation treatment, yet others need an emergency room just to fill a prescription.

"We've got wonderful access to high-technology procedures -- the best around -- if you are insured," said Guy Clifton, neurosurgery professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

President Barack Obama's top domestic priority is to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and expand coverage to most of the 46 million uninsured Americans. That would mean nearly 6 million Texans, including the one in six U.S. uninsured children who live there, could get health insurance for the first time if the plan is enacted.

The president's $1 trillion healthcare reform bill faces opposition in Congress, as well as in Texas, which has the highest uninsured rate in the nation - about 25 percent. Polls show many Americans are skeptical it will succeed.   Continued...

<p>A patient waits in the hallway for a room to open up in the emergency room at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas, July 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>