Health Care for All ... or Just Some?

Misappropriating funds or marketing?

UT-Dell Medical School (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Central Health critic, attorney Fred Lewis, issued another salvo against the health care district last week, this one concerning the agency's marketing campaign. Citing two Central Health billboards bearing the slogan "Health Care for All," Lewis again charged the district with misappropriating funds intended solely for indigent care and using the money instead to burnish the agency's image. "CH has found a new way to misspend taxpayers' money and not benefit the poor," wrote Lewis in a press release. "It initiated last week a massive TV, radio, social media and billboard campaign to improve its board, staff, and supporters' images. ... It is spending $557,000 on its marketing budget this year, [and] spent $523,000 last year."

Lewis called the two Central Health billboards (as well as related media ads) as "fluff" designed only "to improve the board and staff's reputation with their well-educated, elite friends, not enroll residents in the ACA [Affordable Care Act] or provide public health awareness." He denounced the marketing campaign as a waste of taxpayer funds aimed at "economic development" instead of health care for the poor. Lewis also denounced the agency because, he said, Community Care Collabor­at­ive, "a nonprofit set up by CH to operate its Inte­grated Delivery System, has refused in the last month to produce financial documents, claiming it is not subject to the Public Information Act or Open Meetings Act." He said Central Health is spending millions in public money, "but there is no transparency, no accountability." (Lewis has also sued Central Health over its funding of the UT-Dell Medical School.)

CH spokesman Ted Burton wrote in an email that "Ninety-six percent of Central Health's annual budget goes to health care delivery." He said the media campaign "educates the public about its mission and services to facilitate access to health care by those who need it and informs Travis County residents on how their tax dollars are being used," and is in part a response to directives by Travis County Commissioners (who oversee the agency) to be "more transparent, proactive and clear in our public education efforts." Burton pointed to similar campaigns by other public agencies (Capital Metro or AISD).

Burton said the multimedia and multilingual campaign serves to "direct people to where they can easily access information about how to get care." One of the two billboards, he said, is located in the 78758 ZIP code, where it reaches a large number of low-income and minority residents. He also defended Central Health support for ACA enrollment (citing $3.5 million for education and outreach since 2014): "Today, thanks to the efforts of Central Health and our many dedicated partners, 68,000 previously uninsured Travis County residents now have health coverage," wrote Burton. "And last year, Central Health served about 144,000 Travis County residents – about 1 in 10 residents."

Burton concluded, "'Health care for all' isn't a change in Central Health's mission, it's a call-to-action for a public education initiative – an aspirational belief that everyone should have access to quality care."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Central Health
$291 Million Plan to Provide Health Care for Travis County Residents
$291 Million Plan to Provide Health Care for Travis County Residents
Central Health's budget to serve nearly 200,000 residents

Mike Clark-Madison, Sept. 6, 2019

Making Patients – and Sendero – Whole
Making Patients – and Sendero – Whole
Central Health aims for quality care and better finances for nonprofit health plan

Michael King, Dec. 28, 2018

More by Michael King
Two New Music Documentaries About New Orleans Merge Genres and Generations
Two New Music Documentaries About New Orleans Merge Genres and Generations
A river runs through it

May 20, 2022

How the Filibuster Has Already Undermined Democracy
How the Filibuster Has Already Undermined Democracy
The recent attacks on reproductive rights reveal another reason to let the filibuster burn

May 6, 2022


Central Health, Fred Lewis, Ted Burton

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle