University of Houston College of Medicine plans to open a low-cost direct primary care clinic for the city's uninsured population, thanks to $1 million donation received Wednesday.
The Cullen Trust for Health Care made the donation in an effort to increase access to primary care for vulnerable residents. The clinic is set to open in fall 2021.
"A direct primary care practice will add value to the local healthcare ecosystem by tackling one of the most pressing problems of our city: the lack of a comprehensive primary care system for the uninsured," said Renu Khator, President of the University of Houston, in a statement.
The clinic will be the first in a planned network of direct primary care facilities in the Greater Houston area.
Patients will pay a monthly subscription fee to the clinic for services like primary care, telehealth, basic office procedures, at-cost laboratory testing and access to medications at reduced prices. Same-day appointments also will be available.
The clinic's direct primary care model is an alternative to fee-for-service care. Experts say more clinics are turning to this model to assist uninsured populations, since they reduce the economic burden on patients by charging a low monthly fee. Direct primary care models also exclude third party payers, simplifying the process of providing care for physicians and patients.
"In this framework, the physician is accountable for the health of their member panel and will demonstrate long-term cost and quality outcomes." said Dr. Stephen Spann, who was dean of the UH College of Medicine since its founding in 2020, in a statement.
The clinic will be located in Southwest Houston, where up to one in three residents of Southside neighborhoods lived below the federal poverty level in 2019.
The staff of the clinic will be UH College of Medicine faculty physicians. The clinic will also serve as a training site for UH health professional students.
"We aim to improve the health of our patients by addressing their social determinants of health," said Dr. Omar Matuk-Villazon, director of the direct primary care clinic, in a statement.
About 22% of the population under 65-years-old in Harris County, where Houston is located, were uninsured in 2017, according to statistics from the Texas Medical Association. That percentage rose to over 25% in 2019, according to recent Census Bureau data.
Harris County's uninsured rate was nearly 36% higher than Texas' overall uninsured rate in 2019 and 172% higher than the national percentage of uninsured Americans.
The Affordable Care Act gave states the option to expand Medicaid in 2014. Texas is one of 12 states yet to expand Medicaid.
At least 40% of Harris County were eligible for Medicaid in 2019. These residents were between the ages of 18 and 64-years-old living at or below 138% of the poverty level.