Health & Science

Harris County’s Public Hospitals and Clinics Will Help In Obamacare Enrollment Effort

All across Houston, local health groups are gearing up for Tuesday. That's when uninsured Texans can start enrolling in new insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. One of the biggest players is Harris Health, the county's publicly funded health system.

The Harris County Hospital District was recently renamed the Harris Health System. This was to reflect the fact that it doesn’t just operate Ben Taub and two other hospitals, but 23 other clinics as well.

“We are the biggest public healthcare delivery system in the state of Texas.”

That’s Adrienne Mendoza, the director of patient access management. She says Harris Health treats 320,000 patients every year.

Two-thirds are uninsured, which means the county taxpayers and the federal government pick up the bill.

That could change, however, if many of those patients sign up for insurance in the Obamacare marketplace.

Mendoza estimates at least 75,000 of the system’s uninsured patients are eligible to get a subsidized plan, meaning the federal government will pay for part of the premium.

That would help the hospital’s bottom line.

“It certainly does help to have a patient have funding, versus not. Either way we’re here to help the patients. But of course any revenue that can come of it is a good thing.”

Harris Health is actually training 300 of its own workers, so they can help patients enroll in the new plans.

Deborah Boswell is director of community outreach. She says many patients are still confused about how Obamacare will work in Texas.

That might be because Governor Rick Perry continues to criticize the law, and the state has chosen not to implement some parts of the law that are optional.  

“I think we had to be active and pro-active to take steps to make the community aware that the law did pass and that it is starting October 1. Many people think because they live in Texas it doesn’t count for then, but it does.”

Boswell says even after the insurance marketplace goes fully into effect, many people will remain uninsured in Harris County.

For example, undocumented immigrants, and the poorest adults, who still won’t qualify for Medicaid in Texas, but can’t afford to buy coverage on their own.