How you can save on health care in Texas

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - At 7 a.m., Kevin and Shelley Doetticher, of Spring, are just starting what will be another back-breaking day of cleaning out dirty pools.

“We work pretty hard. Most days, it’s eight to 14 hours a day in the heat, the rain, the whatever. We work,” Kevin Doetticher said, with sweat glistening on his face.

The Doettichers work side by side, both on the job, running Kevin’s Pool Services, and at home, raising their three children.

And just like 4.3 million other Texans, they have zero health coverage. They simply cannot afford health insurance.

“We don’t have health insurance because it’s just outrageous. We have to choose food or clothing over health insurance, and food and clothing are just going to come first,” Kevin Doetticher said.

“We price it out. We were looking at spending around $900 a month on insurance with a $5,000 deductible that we would have to meet before the insurance would pay for anything,” Shelley Doetticher said.

Luckily for the couple, they found an incredibly cheap alternative to going to the doctor’s office.

It's a place called Express Family Care in New Caney, and it charges just $50 for an office visit.

“I went in and I had a sick kid and, you know, the first thing you ask when you are paying is: How much is this going to cost? And they said $50 and we were, like, no way,” Shelley Doetticher said.

Melissa Herpal, who is a nurse practicioner, who created Express Family Clinic. She now owns three of them -- in Spring, Conroe/Montgomery and New Caney. The clinics operate on one simple idea: Why not bypass the expensive insurance companies who dictate much of how health care is priced and charge everyone who comes through the door, insured or not, just $50?

“You come in and need to be seen. Our office visit is a flat $50 and that’s the price for everybody, whether you have insurance or not,” Herpal said.

Some services are even cheaper than $50.

If your child needs a flu shot, it’s just $10.

A full sports exam for school, with an electrocardiogram, is just $30.

If your kid needs a vaccine, it’s $10.

And there’s one more big difference -- Herpal doesn’t take appointments.

When you need help, you just walk in and get the help you need.

“Appointments just clutter up the day and waste time. If you come in here before 5 (p.m.), you are going to be seen,” Herpal said.

But what do you do if you have a more serious problem?

Let’s say you need an expensive test, such as a magnetic resonance imaging scan, Computerized tomography, an X-ray or a positron emission tomography for cancer.

At Green Imaging, which has 30 locations in Houston, board-certified radiologists will read your imaging at prices that are dramatically lower than what you would pay at a hospital.

Dr. Cristin Dickerson, a radiologist, started the company several years ago and now has arrangements with over 400 hospitals nationwide.

Her idea is as brilliant as it is simple.

She buys unused image machines at other clinics and offices at a huge discount and passes the savings on to her patients.

By limiting her overhead, she can offer people a great deal.

An example is the price of an MRI.

“Our MRI costs $250 to $450 in Houston. At the hospital systems in Houston, it will typically run you $1,500 to $1,700. In the specialty hospitals, cancer hospitals, children’s hospitals, it’s a multiplier of that -- up to the $5,000 to $7,000 range -- for the very same test,” Dickerson said.

In Texas, the uninsured capital of the United States when it comes to health care, there is another super-low-cost health alternative, called Legacy Community Health.

It’s a federally qualified health clinic with 34 locations, and it uses a sliding fee structure in which your payment is based on how much money you earn.

“You can have private health insurance and come here and we’ll take that. You can have no money at all, come here and we will serve you. I’d say, on average, most people we see may pay about $30 a visit,” Dr. Ann Barnes, chief medical officer at Legacy Community Health, said.

Lakeisha Parker is a grandmother and former nurse's aide who now has breast cancer.

Before she found Legacy and signed up for care, she could not even afford to see a doctor, so she often ignored her health problems or tried home remedies to cure them.

“It’s the truth -- $50, I would say, is the most I’ve ever paid for health care here, to receive all my medical care at Legacy, and that includes my prescriptions that I’ve needed here,” she said.

Parker, having survived cancer, knows how valuable this place is to her and thousands of other Texans.

“I would probably be dead without this place,” she said.

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