Uninsured in Houston among the worst in the nation

By James Thompson


HOUSTON – A front page article in the 8/30/09 edition of the Houston Chronicle notes that Houston is among the worst in the nation in terms of uninsured residents. This great, culturally diverse city which is the nation’s fourth largest, frequently boasts of the Texas Medical Center, which is world-renowned for medical treatment and research.

 Houston is the largest city in Texas, a state which has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured. Four congressional districts in Houston are among the worst ten in the nation. Thirteen of Texas’ districts fall in the worst thirty in the nation.

Although there were clear class differences, the state as a whole ranked very poorly. Even the wealthiest districts had at least 15% uninsured. There was not a single Texas district that ranked in the top half of the nation. It should be pointed out that this is the case just after President Bush left office. During Bush’s administration, it was well known that Houston companies were richly rewarded with no-bid contracts in Iraq and have been recipients of extremely generous bailouts from the federal government. Also, major oil companies reported the highest profits of any industry in history during the Bush administration. It appears the corporations failed to share their rich rewards with their employees.

The Chronicle article points out that six million Texans are uninsured. This includes one in five children. There are 1.3 million uninsured in Harris County which includes Houston. This is more than any other county in Texas. Rep. Al Green says 500,000 are underinsured. Speaking of the astonishing rate of uninsured in Texas, Rep. Green says, “It’s not something I’m proud of.” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee calls the disparities in health coverage between the wealthy and poor in Texas “a link for disaster and call for serious attention.” In poor districts, the rate of uninsured ranged from 46.4% to 26.4%.

 The article also points out that “Houston’s best-insured district is John Culberson’s Westside district…It ranks 244th of 435 in the country…Culberson calls American medical care ‘the greatest health-care system that the world has every known.’”

 These clear class differences have energized Houstonians. Numerous Congressional town hall meetings have been held with large numbers of people demanding health care reform in a very public way. Some of the early meetings were disrupted by the goonish characters which have gotten a lot of attention in the mainstream media. A friend of mine attended Al Green’s town hall meeting and reported that it was marked by civility and the 1000 plus people attending strongly supported health care reform and shut down the disrupters with no problems. An article in the Chronicle called Green’s handling of the meeting “masterful” and said it was a model of how to conduct such a meeting.

 There will be a rally at Houston City Hall on 9/3/09 at 6:30pm and health care activists are eagerly looking forward to it. It has been endorsed by Harris County AFL-CIO, SEIU, Justice for Janitors, Organizing for America and the Harris County Democratic Party.