In the greater Houston region, there are almost 1.5 million uninsured people.
Houston city councilman Ed Gonzalez says the situation is unsustainable:
“The uninsured rely on a catch-as-catch-can network of doc-in-the-boxes, health fairs, emergency rooms and just plain suffering to get by.”
The uninsured also rely on the taxpayers. Taxes pay for both city health clinics and the Harris County health system, with its three hospitals and 25 other clinics.
That’s why city and county health workers are working hard at getting people to enroll in the new insurance plans.
The effort continued all week, even as the website remained virtually inaccessible.
“Let’s just walk right on out the gate and walk to the left.”
Rosalind Augustine and Sharisa Daniel work for the city’s health department.
They’ll spend the next six months doing outreach to the uninsured. It’s not easy work.
Houston health department workers Rosalind Augustine, left, and Sharisa Daniel go block to block in Houston's East End to distribute information about the Affordable Care Act.
Going door-to-door in East Houston, the two women encountered locked gates, barking dogs, and watery ditches. They crossed railroad tracks in the rain.
“You speak English? Oh why thank you we need your help.”
Augustine handed a woman a Spanish-language flier while a neighbor helped translate.
“We’re with “Get Covered America,” getting America signed up for the healthcare.”
There’s also a toll-free hotline for the region. It’s getting dozens of inquiries a day.
Demetria Lofton is with the Houston-area Urban League, one of the groups sponsoring the hotline.
She says callers are nervous about the individual mandate which starts January 1.
“They really don’t know what’s going on. So we basically try and calm their fears and say ‘Hey, it’s not as big a deal as you think it is, just calm down, we’re here to help.’”
Mario Castillo is the Houston leader of Enroll America, a nonprofit group.
He says people need to be patient with the website and keep checking back.
“Keep in mind that this is a marathon, not a sprint, we have a six-month open enrollment period. So there’s a lot of time out there we’re not too worried about that.”
The enrollment period lasts through March, but if you want a health plan that starts as soon as possible, which is January 1, you must enroll by December 15.
There are resources and more information at www.kuhf.org/acainfo.