Deadline nearing to buy insurance

03/06/2014 9:59 PM

03/07/2014 3:42 PM

Pub crawls, health fairs and bus tours are part of a push to get Texans signed up for healthcare coverage through the federal insurance marketplace before the March 31 deadline.

Texas has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured at nearly 25 percent — more than 6 million people. In Dallas and Tarrant counties, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey’s district has the largest percentage of uninsured people of any congressional district in the country, at 38 percent, according to 2012 data from the United States Census Bureau.

After a slow start, about 207,000 Texans had enrolled in health plans on the marketplace as of Feb. 1, although 4.88 million Texans are eligible for coverage through healthcare.gov, which offers federal subsidies based on income, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are glad that all 207,000 people who signed up have the peace of mind and security that comes with having health insurance, but we do acknowledge there is more work to be done to make sure Texans know about this,” said Christine Sinatra, Texas spokeswoman for Enroll America.

Push to enroll

Enroll America, an independent nonprofit, is the nation’s leading healthcare enrollment coalition with a goal to “reach uninsured consumers where they are with the facts they need to get covered” said Mimi Garcia, the director for Texas at Enroll America.

“We really are in all-out push,” Garcia said, adding that more than 3,000 March events are scheduled for a “ Countdown to Get Covered” campaign to reach youth, women, Latinos and Africa-Americans across the country.

Events in the Metroplex include a pub crawl in Dallas, a 5K Fun Run Outreach to the Uninsured in Dallas and a Hispanic Wellness Coalition Enrollment in Fort Worth.

Jessica Coscia, spokeswoman for Veasey’s office, said they are also planning education and outreach events to boost enrollment the week of March 17, though those are not yet finalized.

Veasey has been heavily involved with enrollment efforts since the launch of the federal marketplace, part of the federal law known as Obamacare, in October.

Data compiled by his office show that 55 percent of the uninsured in his district have a high school degree or less and are employed in low-wage jobs that tend to not offer health insurance.

Fifty-seven percent “are also foreign born and do not have any experience with the insurance market in the U.S.” he said in a statement Thursday night.

“I will continue to collaborate with DFW Metroplex community organizations to ensure that every uninsured Texan has access to quality, affordable health insurance,” Veasey said.

Citizens who fail to obtain insurance by the March 31 deadline will be fined $95 per uninsured person, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher, on their 2014 income taxes, under terms of the Affordable Care Act. The fine is set to go up in coming years.

Most of the push to get Texans enrolled is making sure that low and moderate-income individuals are aware of the tax credits and financial help available to them, Sinatra said.

A study released in January by PerryUndem, a healthcare research firm, found that 70 percent of the 900 uninsured adults surveyed had not visited the online marketplace and 69 percent did not know that financial help is being offered.

About 4 million people have signed up nationally for plans through state and federal marketplaces, though over 47 million non-elderly Americans were uninsured in 2012.

Troubled start

Rollout of the Affordable Care Act programs have been mired in errors, leading to new regulations by the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service to delay until 2016 enforcement of a mandate that requires mid-sized employers to provide insurance.

The federal marketplace also got off to a bumpy start, with technical problems on the website hampering people from signing up through November.

Some Republicans in Congress have called for the enforcement of the individual mandate to be delayed as well.

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