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Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that Ben Edwards is the only doctor within a 45-mile radius of Post, Tex. Edwards is the only doctor within a 25-mile radius.

The only doctor in town

Health-care reform hits a small-town reality: Even with insurance, you need somewhere to go

Ben Edwards is the only doctor in Post, Tex. In fact, he's the only doctor in Garza County, which spans almost 900 square miles. The health-care needs of his entire community fall to him, but there are only so many hours in the day. This is where health-care reform runs into a small-town reality: Even if you have insurance, you need someone to treat you.
SOURCE: | The Washington Post - December 5, 2009
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 5, 2009

POST, TEX. -- Another morning at the clinic. Far away in Washington, the debate over health-care reform drags on, while here in barren West Texas, Ben Edwards is moving fast. He grabs the chart for his next patient, his ninth of the day, and enters Exam Room 5, where Alma Lopez, 51, waits to see the only doctor in town.

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"I feel it right here, tight inside," she tells Edwards, rubbing her belly.

"Do you feel anxious?" he asks. "Almost like a panicky feeling?"

"The stress with the kids," she tells him, beginning to cry. "It's always there. I'm always jumpy. I'm always anxious."

"You're doing the Lord's work," Edwards assures her after listening for a few more minutes. "They can be the death of you, but you're doing the best thing for those kids."

Then he hugs her and hurries on to patient No. 10, who is waiting in Exam Room 4.

"I'm always behind," Edwards says, summing up what it's like to be the only doctor within a 45-mile radius, and in that simple statement is his worry about what reform will mean:

What will happen in a place like Post, where the uninsured are waiting for a system to see a doctor regularly -- and there's only one doctor to see them all?

If all of Post's 3,708 residents had full health coverage, Edwards believes they would flock to his clinic, but his practice is already full with more than 2,000 patients. He has no idea how he would fit in anyone else.

In this working-class outpost in this vast, flat no man's land, the everyday health-care needs of an entire community fall to Edwards. Health-care reform is on its way, and it is up to him to care for everything -- every sniffle, ear ache and fever, every anxiety and sleepless night, every bad back and stomach pain and bladder infection.

And the truth is this: Edwards will not have time to treat them all.

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