Texans slowly but surely sign up for healthcare

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Tuesday at midnight is a crucial sign-up for insurance at the Healthcare.gov marketplace. If you don’t have insurance, you will face stiff fines from the government.

Even though she’s well known in Austin’s art scene, life as a folk musician doesn’t always pay the bills. For her entire life, Leti De La Vega has never had health insurance

“I just couldn’t afford it. Are you kidding me? I could barely afford my bills. I just kept my fingers crossed and hoped nothing would happen to me,” said De La Vega.

At 62 years old, that’s now changing. Leti will pay for her new private plan with her social security money. “At least I can look into it now, where I couldn’t even think about it before I just had to deal with it,” said De La Vega.

Leti signed up the same way Denee Booker did, on Healthcare.gov. She’s renewing her private plan from last year because her part time work at the Texas Legislature and activist groups doesn’t come with benefits. Our tax dollars will help subsidize Denee’s plan. She’ll pay around $7 a month.

“My needs are pretty basic. But before this came along it had been almost ten years before I had a well woman’s exam,” said Booker.

This is her third year buying from the private plans on the market place. Leti, on the other hand, doesn’t know if she likes the idea or not – this is her first time. “If you want to ask me at a later time to say, ‘Hey what do you think of your healthcare?’ Either it sucks, or ‘hey, yeah, right, thumbs up,'” said De La Vega.

Tuesday’s deadline is for people who need health coverage by January 1. There are two other deadlines: January 15 to get coverage by February 1 and January 31 for coverage by March 1. After that, you can’t enroll in a government health plan for 2016 unless you qualify for a special exception, such as having a child or losing other health insurance.

One change this year: if you don’t sign up, the penalty is higher. It’s now nearly $700 or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever is higher.

Texas leads the country when it comes to people without health insurance. The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show more 19 percent of Texans do not have insurance. That’s actually down from the previous year. In all, more than 5 million Texans live without health insurance. That’s more than 5 times the population of Austin.

The debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act continues. Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal the 2010 law. Not a single Republican in Congress voted for the law and all GOP candidates for president are campaigning against it.

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