Dallas, TX – In today's KERA Checkup we want to remind you of a statewide service that will help you find low-cost health providers. KERA's Shelley Kofler says the first step is picking up your phone.
Dial 2-1-1 anywhere in Texas and you'll be connected with a trained specialist who knows about the low-cost medical services in your community.
Vicki Mize is the 2-1-1 Director in Tarrant County, which is a program of the United Way and the State of Texas. She says the top health-related requests fielded by her staff are for public clinics and Medicaid assistance.
Mize: They need physicals, they've got the common cold, they're looking for help to pay their insurance premiums.
Then comes help with dental care; paying for prescriptions and referrals to doctors who will accept Medicaid.
Kofler: Where do you send them?
Mize: Well, there are some community clinics but if it looks like it's going to be an ongoing need, or somebody's without work, has been for some time and they may have some ongoing health issues, we really want to encourage them to apply for the county hospital. That way they can receive ongoing permanent medical care at a reduced fee according to their ability to pay.
Kofler: In Tarrant County that would be John Peter Smith Hospital. In Dallas it would be Parkland Hospital. And I think in both cases you can't just go one day and get services that day. You have to go through an application process.
Mize: That's true. There's a classification process. That way they can get their prescriptions at a reduced fee and their ongoing medical care at a reduced fee.
Kofler: How long should you expect to wait from the time you apply to the time you actually get services?
Mize: If you need a specialist it may be several months.
Kofler: At the very least weeks?
As you might expect affordable providers are stretched. Health services that are absolutely free are nearly impossible to find.
Mize: There are a lot of wonderful services out there that provide help for health-related needs but there is a cost involved according to your income. You have to pay something. There are some dental services that provide lower cost dental. That can still be pretty steep for people who have no income. It's much more affordable than paying $150 to your personal, private dentist. Maybe $50 or $75 dollars is what somebody would pay at clinics that are willing to offer care at a lower cost.
And there's very little assistance for those who cannot afford their prescription medicine.
Mize: There have been some wonderful agencies, a lot of faith-based agencies, that have stepped forward to offer prescription assistance. Again it's typically one time for an antibiotic. Nothing on an ongoing basis.
Mize's advice to those who know they're going to need medical help is to pre-plan.
Mize: Don't wait until it's an emergency. Even if you're anticipating you might be losing your job or you may end up without health insurance call to find out what is out there and prepare and plan before the crisis.
The trained counselors at 2-1-1 can help you get started.