Texas has highest rate of uninsured as open enrollment deadline nears

Rosemary Cabelo uses a computer at a public library to access the Affordable Health Care Act website, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Rosemary Cabelo uses a computer at a public library to access the Affordable Health Care Act website, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — Fewer than 90,000 Texans bought health insurance through the new federally subsidized marketplace in the past month, leaving navigators, assisters and other officials working to enroll people with a hefty task as they near the March 31 deadline for open enrollment.

Up until mid-March, some 295,025 Texans had purchased health insurance through President Barack Obama’s signature overhaul program, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. That means just more than 87,400 residents bought coverage since mid-February.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation, nearly one in four, and a GOP governor, Rick Perry, who has vociferously opposed the program.

The department says more than 758,300 Texans are eligible to purchase insurance through the marketplace, and of those more than 414,200 could receive federal financial assistance to help cover the cost

Perry also has refused to expand Medicaid, despite federal dollars offered to do so. This will leave tens of thousands of Texans ineligible for financial assistance to buy a plan on the marketplace and above the income level required to receive Medicaid — meaning they will remain uninsured.

Florida is in a similar situation but has done better with enrollment. Even so, of the states that have opted not to create a state market place, Texas ranks second in the number of people who have chosen plans through the federal marketplace, said Katie Naranjo, Texas director of Protect Your Care, the group of organizations promoting enrollment.

“This is an important distinction given the opposition by Texas leaders to encourage navigators and increase coverage opportunities,” she said in a statement issued Tuesday. “It is clear from the numbers released today that Texans want to receive affordable health care coverage and pay their fair share into a system dedicated to relieving the burden of uncompensated care on hospitals and doctors. Despite Republicans’ best efforts to misinform and dissuade Texans about the Affordable Care Act, it is working and it is working in Texas.”

Nevertheless, Ben Hernandez, Houston’s deputy assistant health director, said he believes part of Texas’ problem is that the federal agencies chose not to advertise the program in the state once Perry decided not to expand Medicaid. So while city workers and others collaborating with them to educate and enroll people have contacted some 400,000 people, that is barely one-tenth of the population.

The city did recently spend about $40,000 to buy radio ad time and started taking out ads in fitness centers, however, it is difficult to saturate the market with local dollars alone, Hernandez said.

“We have encountered people who don’t know enough even in these late stages,” Hernandez said. “Part of that is getting the message out.”

Texas also has a large geographic area to cover and some navigators, especially in rural areas of the state, often have to drive hundreds of miles a week to help people enroll.

Of the nearly 300,000 Texans who have enrolled, 57 percent are women and 82 percent have received financial assistance. About 65 percent have selected the mid-level silver plan that offers a higher monthly premium and lower deductibles.

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