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AUSTIN -- While the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the health care reform bill, Austin's uninsured continue to seek relief from local non-profits.
Three nights a week, the empty waiting room room at Austin's Volunteer Healthcare Clinic is filled with dozens of patients. They have jobs, but they don't have health insurance.
"These are people who by and large are the working poor," said medical director Tom McHorse, who's served the organization for 35 years. "They have jobs, but remember what minimum wage is. If you're making $10 or $11 an hour and have a family of four to support, you have no disposable income."
McHorse and staff provide a range of care, offering walk-in appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The clinic also has open capacity for uninsured children.
"The goal is to try to guide people towards a healthier lifestyle, and what I mean by that -- They don't have to put up with a chronic disease," explained McHorse. "You can afford to go and get your allergies treated. You can afford to have your heartburn, indigestion treated. These people cannot. So either they suffer in misery, their arthritis goes untreated, or if it's something acute and severe, they go to the emergency rooms."
Even with more than 400 volunteers, at the clinic like everywhere, demand is going up while resources are being stretched thin.
"There is a shortage of specialty care for the uninsured and for the uninsured clinics or safety net clinics," said executive director Marci Roe. "So we definitely can always use volunteers, additional volunteers."
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, in 2010 nearly a quarter of Texans were without health insurance. In 2009, uncompensated care cost the state of Texas about $15.1 billion.
While doctors, lawyers, and lawmakers differ on the relative benefits and drawbacks of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), many in the medical profession have long suggested the current system has room for improvement.
"The complexities are such that, yes it needs to change," said McHorse. "How's the best way to change it? We're still trying to figure out."
"I would say yes there's a pressing need for reform, and yes things have gotten worse," said People's Community Clinic CEO Regina Rogoff, whose organization provides care for 10,000 working patients.
Rogoff warns that the current provider network is stretched precariously thin, and even as the new health care law makes millions more Texans eligible for medical coverage, finding a doctor may not be easy.
"If we don't have the providers, then it's kind of a hollow promise," said Rogoff. "And I think that's one of the crisis we're about to face. We don't have enough health care providers in the state."
Calling PPACA a step in the right direction, Rogoff believes lawmakers should rethink the entire approach to human health, citing the host of different programs addressing women's health, children's health, and dental care as separate and independent concerns.
"We've really piece-mealed the way we approach the human being, and I personally would much prefer to see a reformed system where people were treated as whole people," said Rogoff.
Meant as a shot in the arm for the working poor, health care reform has become a bitterly partisan political football. While the bill's fate now rests in the hands of nine Supreme Court Justices, doctors like McHorse simply do their best to continue to help those caught in the middle.
"The system that is on the books now is not perfect," said McHorse. "But as we think together, I think that strange word now called 'compromise,' we'll hopefully evolve into the best of all worlds."
"We receive feedback from patients and they are so very grateful that these services are available, and it really is wonderful," said Roe. "For me personally, it helps put everything in perspective."