Right now though, Claire has more on her mind than the next beautiful thing she'll create. Her family health history includes an extensive amount of breast cancer (her mother was diagnosed at 28) and she is a colon cancer survivor. Now, at 37, she's found a palpable breast lump.
She lives in Harris County, Texas, home of the massive Texas Medical Center, one of the richest, most medically intensive areas in the world. Some 40 institutions make up this city within a city.
Yet according to Shern Min-Chow, co-anchor of CBS-affiliate KHOU-TV in Houston, some 30 percent of Harris County's own residents are uninsured, far from easy access to the Medical Center campuses. That's about 1.2 million people, based on current census data. The national average is 16 percent, Min-Chow told the audience at last week's Seventh Annual Breast Health Summit, presented by the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas.
Women like Claire, with medical issues that are not emergent but ARE pressing, spend days, weeks, even months trying to have one health issue thoroughly addressed. So far it's taken two months to have an appointment at The Rose, Houston's leading facility for breast health services for under-and uninsured women.
First, Claire told me, she needed to have a referral to The Rose from a private physician to have a mammogram. She doesn't have a primary care practitioner, or PCP. So The Rose provided a referral so Claire could be referred back. Then another few weeks elapsed until she could see the doctor for the referral. This physician, in turn, was alarmed to the extent that she recommended and scheduled a stereotactic biopsy for Claire at The Rose. In turn Claire made arrangements to a friend travel to Houston so she could accompany her for the procedure.
That's where our last conversation had ended. Yesterday morning I thought about Claire while I was looking through my notes from the conference, so I dropped her an email. Ironically enough, the panel that Shern Min-Chow moderated was called, "Breast Cancer & Access to Care: The Texas State of Affairs." No one really has a clue. The private insurer pointed to the legislature; the public health official discussed the burgeoning workload; the think tank policy person ...just talked. If you asked anyone in the audience what was said the answer very well might have been, "it's a mess." Access to health care for the uninsured in Texas is a rudderless conversation.
What they needed on the panel was someone like Claire.
She arrived at the The Rose to find the test wasn't free, but cost $65.00. She was told that without the $65.00 she couldn't have the test. And instead of a sterotactic biopsy, where a small bit of tissue could be extracted for pathology analysis, the physician on duty that day said it wasn't on the schedule. After a mammogram, and an ultrasound, he said he couldn't see anything but that her breast were "very dense," a diagnostic problem in many younger women. He did add, as he was walking out the door, that she should probably get some "genetic testing."
And that's where it had all stopped when I talked with her yesterday. Nothing else has happened. She applied for Medicaid to find that she made $100 too much per month to qualify. She followed the instructions to apply for a Harris County "Gold Card," following the procedure online, only to find out half-way through that instructions have to be filled out and mailed in or delivered.
In the meantime, she says, the lump is still there.
And yes, I know it's October. We didn't have time to talk pink. We didn't have time.