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Health care 'safety net' for the poor is eroding, UTHSC physician indicates in JAMA editorial

A San Antonio girl is sent home from school with "pink eye." The school administration said it could not readmit her without a doctor's note, but her parents couldn't afford to take her to a physician. The girl sat at home for two weeks before her parents were able to save enough money for medical care.

The child is not alone. Approximately 360,000 San Antonians live without health care. Robert Ferrer, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), says these people are trapped in a socioeconomic spiral, a health care "system of no-system." His editorial, "Within the System of No-System" was published in the Nov. 28 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We have not had a system of health care in the United States in the sense that almost all other industrialized countries have," Dr. Ferrer said. "Our non-system's harmful effects on the uninsured are growing more systematized due to trends such as the increasing numbers of uninsured patients and economic strains that erode 'safety net' health care systems."

Dr. Ferrer works with other UTHSC faculty treating patients at the University Health Center-Downtown Acute Care Clinic. "We act as the 'safety net' providers," Dr. Ferrer said. "Unfortunately, the problem is difficult to solve locally because communities with high rates of poverty and lack of insurance cannot cope on their own with the economics of rising health care costs and growing numbers of uninsured patients."

Dr. Ferrer says the "health care system of no-system" affects an estimated 39 million Americans. Texas has the second highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas