Band practice is winding down at Milby High School in Houston’s East End.
As students head home, adults file into the auditorium. It’s a Town Hall meeting on Obamacare, hosted by Democratic Congressman Gene Green.
Marjorie Petty is one of the speakers. She’s the regional director for Health and Human Services, the federal agency in charge of the law.
Petty tries to explain how the online marketplace will work.
“Now there’s nothing mysterious about the marketplace. The marketplace actually is an opportunity for existing insurance carriers to say ‘We want to bid on your business’ basically.”
Over the course of two hours, Petty and Congressman Green are peppered with questions and criticisms.
Laura Ante works part-time and is uninsured. She wants to know about the penalty people will pay if they don’t have health insurance starting in 2014.
“So how is that based and how — is it going to go up year after year and how much is it going to start at?”
Green says the penalty is the same for everyone — which isn’t entirely correct. In the first year, it’s 95 dollars or one percent of income, whichever is greater.
But Green is right about the next point:
“It does go up every year, if you don’t buy insurance. To the point where it might be cheaper to go buy an insurance policy to cover you and your family.”
Green doesn’t mention all the people who will be exempt from the penalty, like low-income adults and undocumented immigrants. (See FAQ: How Will The Individual Mandate Work?)
Alan Park designs piping systems. He tells Green there are too many unknowns — and that scares him:
“Why are we if you’ll pardon the term hell-bent for leather on pushing this thing through when so many people are afraid of it and so many other people don’t know how to answer the questions, and some of the questions that I’ve heard here tonight.”
Many of the questions can’t be answered yet. Like how much will the new plans cost? Which plan is right for my family?
In Texas, those specifics won’t be revealed until October 1, when the marketplace goes on line.
After the Town Hall ends, Laura Ante still has doubts. She’s a diabetic and skips medications that she can’t afford.
Even though the law is designed to help people like her, she remains unconvinced.
“I don’t see how it’s going to help me. I guess that’s what I’m saying.”
Ante says she used to be a Democrat. But the recession and the battle over the health law turned her against Obama.
“All he bragged about was change, change, change and all I’ve seen is bad change. … in the economy, in this law. I don’t think this law is good.”
But Ante says come October 1, she will definitely go online to look at the different health plans. And if she qualifies for a subsidy to help purchase one, she might just change her mind about the law.