JUNE 5, 2017
For those without health insurance, a serious illness or injury can seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. It’s no secret that most out-of-pocket medical costs are simply unaffordable for virtually everyone – that’s the primary reason people have health insurance. When someone doesn’t have that backstop of insurance, medical bills result in debt that never has a realistic chance of being paid – or people simply go without the care they need.
In Tarrant County, the third-largest county in Texas, an estimated 24 percent of the population lacks health insurance. Recognizing this gap between need and the ability to pay, the Tarrant County Medical Society (TCMS), the county-level arm of the Texas Medical Association, took action. In 2011, the TCMS created Project Access Tarrant County (PATC) to provide “healthcare access to the uninsured and working poor in Tarrant County.” Texas Health Care/Privia North Texas member Dr. Joe Todd, an Orthopedic Surgeon, was instrumental in the creation of PATC.
Dr. Todd, who is a former president of TCMS and was a member of the organization’s board of directors at the time, recalls that the Medical Society recognized the need to provide additional healthcare services for those in need. “The impetus for Project Access was to help people who fall through the cracks,” he says.
Over the last six years, PATC has delivered more than $4 million in donated healthcare services to Tarrant County residents, including surgeries and other procedures. The program has served roughly 350 patients to date.
The program works by recruiting physicians across a variety of specialty areas to provide pro-bono medical services to patients the program identifies as in need and qualified. According to TCMS, the target population for the program includes individuals who are living in Tarrant County; are uninsured or are on Medicaid, Medicare or Veterans Administration Health Care; whose income is at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; or are considered “working poor” with a medical condition that is preventing them from continuing to work.
The program helps patients with a variety of services, including helping to establish a medical home (a primary care physician relationship); access to physician specialists; hospital access for surgeries, if required; and ancillary services, such as anesthesiology and radiology.
The program partners with Catholic Charities on patient care. Catholic Charities has helped coordinate case management, transportation, translation, pharmacy benefits and other vital support services necessary for complete medical care. In 2014 alone, Catholic Charities helped schedule more than 2,400 medical appointments through Project Access.
Project Access would also not be possible were it not for the cooperation of numerous area hospitals that make their facilities available for surgeries and other procedures. Gallbladder and hernia surgeries are some of the most common procedures performed for patients enrolled in Project Access, as well as obstetrics and gynecology services. Dr. Ricardo Cristobal, a Texas Health Care/Privia North Texas Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, also volunteers with Project Access and has performed pro-bono surgeries.
Dr. Todd has performed several surgeries through Project Access, including one on a painter who lost his job due to carpal tunnel syndrome – he wasn’t able to hold a paintbrush before surgery, but now he can work again. “The vast majority of the people we have helped through Project Access needed surgical care for a non-life threatening condition,” Dr. Todd explains. “If you have a torn meniscus or shoulder injury, you can’t get that treated in the emergency room, but it’s nonetheless a serious injury that can prevent you from working, so it has to be treated.”
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