Affordable Care Act

Interview With Local Healthcare Leader Ron Cookston About Obamacare’s ‘Individual Mandate’

The health reform law known as Obamacare goes fully into effect next year. Americans without health insurance will have to obtain some kind of policy, and many Texans will turn to online marketplaces to shop for them. KUHF Health and Science reporter Carrie Feibel sat down with Ron Cookston. He directs Gateway to Care, a local coalition that is getting ready to launch a massive outreach campaign to the uninsured.

Feibel: Obamacare is now the law of the land, and a big part of that is that every American must obtain health insurance by this January 1 or face a penalty. Is Texas ready for this deadline?

Cookston: No, we’re not. And we’re particularly not ready in a large geographic area like Houston/Harris County and the counties adjoining because it’s so large and so few people have any information.

Feibel:  As you know, Governor Rick Perry has said many times that Texas won’t participate in some of the optional parts of the law, like setting up a so-called health exchange where people can shop for policies online.  And what that means is that the federal government will step in and set up an exchange for Texans. What do we know about this exchange?

Cookston:  In states where the state has decided to do an exchange they have begun to make people aware for the last two years. Unfortunately, that has not happened for people in the state of Texas. And frankly, people are hearing sometimes not very kind things about the Affordable Care Act or what’s called Obamacare and therefore have not been paying attention and do not realize that they’re going to be impacted and they’re going to need to make a decision.

Feibel: It sounds like there is going to be a mad scramble to get the word out to people, you’ve got to sign up for these exchanges starting Oct. 1 to be ready by January 1.

Cookston: Exactly and just in the region we serve, the Gulf Coast region, there’s at least 800,000 people that will need to make a decision. And the studies that have been done have shown that 65 percent of those people feel they are going to need face-to-face assistance.

Feibel: There are more than 4 million uninsured people in Texas – and a quarter of those are in the Houston region.  Even for our listeners who have insurance, what can you tell them about how that affects all of us?

Cookston: We’re all paying for the people that don’t have health insurance now. If I do have health insurance, my plan is costing $1,200 more per year in the Houston-Harris County market than it is in other places where larger numbers of people are in fact covered. Health care is not free. The cost has to be covered somehow. So either that cost is paid for out of county taxes when I pay my taxes on my home, property taxes, or it gets passed on to the rest of us that have health insurance coverage.

Feibel: Tell me about this campaign you’re rolling out. If someone listening wants to help, how can they get involved?

Cookston: You bet. It is going to be called “Get Covered Texas Gulf Coast.” And if people would like they can go to the website which is  and find an opportunity to complete a survey to stand up and say “I want to help in my neighborhood.”

Feibel: So you might even be looking for people to knock on doors, pound the pavement, get people enrolled in healthcare.

Cookston: Exactly, this is going to have to be done person by person, neighborhood by neighborhood, church by church, organization by organization, and it’s going to have to be done by people that other people trust. This can’t be done by some bureaucrats.

Feibel: Particularly in Texas where there’s already some mistrust of the law.

Cookston: Exactly, and much misinformation about what the impact of the law will be.


For Carrie’s Question & Answer article click here.