Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Obamacare sign comes down as policy choices dwindle

American Health Underwriters put up an Obamacare enrollment sign on its downtown Fort Worth office in February 2014.
American Health Underwriters put up an Obamacare enrollment sign on its downtown Fort Worth office in February 2014. Star-Telegram/David Kent

Obamacare policies are disappearing in Tarrant County as insurers pull out of the federal heath insurance marketplace.

And now the Obamacare sign in downtown Fort Worth has disappeared as well.

Since 2014, shortly after the Affordable Care Act took effect, American Health Underwriters touted its services by erecting a bright red Obamacare sign on its building at 830 Taylor St., near the Federal Building, that encouraged consumers to “Enroll Here.”

Sensing a growing market, the business focused on helping consumers sign up for ACA policies, which offer federal subsidies based on income. But the business has changed direction since the death of its founder and owner, James Cashion Jr., in April, said Linda Greene, chief financial officer.

Shortly thereafter, the family decided to sell the Taylor Street building, where it had operated for 30 years, and relocate to 1525 Merrimac Circle, near the Trinity River across from University Park Village.

The Obamacare sign came down in recent weeks and won’t be used at the new site, Greene said. With insurers announcing their withdrawal from the Texas market — only Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide ACA policies in Tarrant County next year — American Health Underwriters will shift to sell medicare supplement policies.

“It’s hard to stay in that business when you only sell it for three months,” Greene said.

It certainly was a sign of the times.

Permian surge

The billion-dollar deal announced last month between Blackstone Group and Fort Worth’s Jetta Operating is part of a wave of outside money flowing into the Permian Basin that’s beginning to recharge the Texas oil machine.

This year, deal-making in the Permian has accounted for about half of all energy acquisition spending in the continental U.S., amounting to more than $14 billion, according to the Wood Mackenzie research firm. That’s because the Permian has emerged as the most economic place to drill at today’s low oil prices, said Ben Shattuck, one of the firm’s principal analysts in Houston.

“You can make money in West Texas today,” Shattuck said in an interview.

The new capital has already boosted the Permian rig count in recent weeks, and the upswing is expected to accelerate. Shattuck expects the field to add as many as 150 horizontal rigs next year, up from about 165 currently.

For its part, Blackstone said its decision to commit $1 billion to a joint venture with Jetta at this time reflects its confidence in the Permian and in its partner.

“I’d say it’s less a call on the cycle and more a call on the basin,” said Angelo Acconcia, a senior managing partner who oversees Blackstone’s energy investments. He said he doesn’t expect any quick rebound in oil prices, calling Blackstone “long-term investors.”

Jetta, run by Greg Bird, is the company building the Frost Bank Tower, a 25-story office building at Taylor and Sixth streets in downtown Fort Worth. Jetta plans to take three floors in the building, which is expected to be completed next year.

The Blackstone folks got to know Bird when they bid on Jetta assets. They lost out on that deal this year, but the two sides forged a relationship that led to the joint venture, to be called Jetta Permian, that will look for assets in the Permian’s Delaware Basin.

Bon Appetit lauds Buc-ee’s

Apparently, it’s not just Texans who have a thing for Beaver Nuggets, beef jerky, sparkling bathrooms and gas pumps as far as the eye can see.

Bon Appetit, that national magazine and purveyor of all things good taste, has named Buc-ee’s the best rest stop in America.

Now tell us something we don’t know.

Texans have been basking in the Buc-ee’s glow for a few decades now. There are 25 in the Lone Star State and counting. The first Fort Worth Buc-ee’s opened in May, across from Texas Motor Speedway, and a Denton location is coming next.

Several chefs interviewed by Bon Appetit praised some of Buc-ee’s signature items, such as the addictive caramel-coated corn puffs called Beaver Nuggets, the fabulous fudge made on site and the garlic beef jerky, which is just one of many flavors of smoked and dried meats.

Gordon Dickson

and Rick Press


Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko