"Uninsured"—that word we keep hearing as our elected officials grapple with a reform initiative that dominates headlines, talk shows and political rhetoric. But "uninsured" is a word that refers to people in the abstract. I wanted to show America who these people were, their struggles, their fears, their true challenges. I had spent time at free clinics before and wanted to shine a spotlight on this remarkable movement for all Americans, so we partnered with the National Association of Free Clinics to hold the free clinic in Houston's Reliant Center, which is the size of three football fields. This was an essential teaching opportunity as our nation finds itself in a time that tries our very soul.
We picked Houston because it has the highest rate of people living without insurance in the nation—30 percent, or about 1.3 million residents. Texas leads all 50 states with 25 percent of its residents living without insurance; the national average is a whopping 15 percent. We announced the clinic last week, and after an article appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday, preregistration surged and we had to close appointments by early Friday afternoon with 2,000 people scheduled to receive free healthcare. Saturday turned out to be the largest health relief mobilization in Houston since Hurricane Katrina. More than 700 doctors, nurses and volunteers turned out to help. The part you have to understand about Saturday is that it wasn't in response to a disaster—it was just another day in Houston.
And show up they did. They came as entire families. Many drove hours to get there; others hitchhiked. I walked out at 5 a.m. and greeted the first woman in line, Karen, a school teacher who could not keep up with her insurance payments. Think about it for moment: sitting on the pavement at 5 a.m. in the dark, waiting for a massive convention center to open just to see a doctor. This is what it's come to, and it should frustrate you as well. So many patients had tragic stories that still burn in my heart. Most were embarrassed to seek help and many felt invisible in society, like they didn't matter anymore.
Meet the patients in need of healthcare