Healthcare enrollment in Texas falls short of goal

03/12/2014 8:42 AM

03/12/2014 8:43 AM

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 vocally and 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 has also 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.

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.

“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.

Nationally, more than 4.2 million people have signed up for coverage. The government’s goal is to enroll 6 million people by March 31. Experts had predicted that enrollments would increase as the six-month enrollment period neared its conclusion. But total monthly signups fell from more than 1.1 million in January to 942,000 in February.

“Right now, I think it’s a stretch to reach 6 million, but it’s not impossible,” said Caroline Pearson, Avalere vice president. “The real challenge is that so many of the folks who enrolled in 2013 had previous coverage or high health care needs, so they were motivated to enroll. They were engaged with the health care system. Reaching young uninsured people is a lot harder. And I think that’s what we’re seeing. So it’s going to take some time.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau and The Associated Press.

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