How Hard Can it Be? The Struggle to Find Health Care in Austin

Not long ago, I had a lingering cough for over a week, and it wasn’t getting better.  Though I had no other symptoms, the cough was starting to worry me since it was so persistent, harsh and uncontrollable. I woke up on a Saturday morning and decided I should go to an urgent care clinic to get a second opinion, and if needed, get the necessary medication to help me feel well again. All sounds really simple, right? Here’s the catch:

  • I don’t have health insurance. I work as a part-time contractor for two employers. As a result, I don't qualify for benefits.
  • I don’t have a car. I take the bus and ride my bike everywhere.
  • I live in a low-income neighborhood. I live deep in the heart of the east side of Austin.

As a result of these three factors, finding an affordable, open health clinic in close range to my house was virtually impossible.  First, when I typed in my zip code and the phrase “walk-in clinic” into a Google search, nothing anywhere close to my neighborhood popped-up.  A low-income neighborhood, mind you, that most likely has many uninsured children and families. Additionally, it was very difficult to navigate through the clinics that were listed, and I am someone who is constantly on my computer for professional and personal reasons. I can only imagine someone who is not computer savvy trying to find a clinic that is best for his or her needs.

When I finally found a clinic that was somewhat near my house, the starting price to meet with a physician was $135-$270. Tests and/or x-rays were an additional fee. When the receptionist could tell this was out of my price range, she graciously gave me the contact information for a community clinic in my area. When I looked the clinic up online, it was only open from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday and closed on Sundays. When I tried to call, a voice message told me I was calling after business hours (it was 11 a.m.).

This frustrating experience is why I’m glad health reform happened. I don’t see the law as a shining knight who will swoop down and save me from all my healthcare woes. But I do see it as a palpable alternative to the ineffective system in place right now that is unable to offer convenient health care to millions of Americans just like me. The health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion will make health care more accessible and affordable to the uninsured and underinsured, while allowing people who like their health care plans to keep them.

Not having coverage is a growing problem for Texans. Women, for example, are being shut out of services that used to be available to them, as the video below from reporter Andrea Grimes demonstrates. This matters for kids and families, too, since lots of studies have shown that when moms don't have health care, their children's health care suffers.

A lot of noise is being made about Obamacare right now, both true and untrue, which is all the more reason to tell our stories, call our politicians, and talk with our neighbors. Lingering cough or not, now is the time to be vocal.

Written by: Liz Moskowitz, Texans Care for Children