Access Indicators:

Dental Care Insurance Primary Care Safety Net Clinics

Access to health care depends on a number of factors, including the ability to pay, transportation to sites of care, and an adequate number of health care professionals to deliver care. Our region faces challenges in all three areas, with the most substantial burdens falling on the working poor.

Access to primary care is an essential part of healthy communities, as it can lead to better health outcomes. The positive story is that in the last two decades, colorectal mortality rates have fallen for all major ethnic groups. This may be due to increased screening, an important part of preventative care. One of the major challenges for this region, however, is that nearly a quarter of the population does not have health insurance, the highest rate of uninsured residents among our comparison regions. Additionally, only 49% of the region’s residents have coverage through employer-sponsored plans. The Affordable Care Act potentially will cover many of the uninsured, but the extent of the program’s impact on the region is still uncertain.

Because of a lack of access to primary care, the region’s emergency rooms are overburdened and many people rely on safety net clinics for primary health care. In 2011, 39.7% of all visits to Harris County emergency rooms were primary care related. There are 144 safety net clinics in the region which meet only slightly more than one-third of the demand for care. As more residents are expected to gain access to insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the demand for primary care through safety net clinics is expected to increase. Meanwhile, health care capacity is lacking. Data show that Texas has fewer physicians per capita than other large states, and physicians are increasingly declining to take on new patients, even those with private insurance. As the population and the health care workforce age, these shortages will be exacerbated unless action is taken to increase the health care workforce.