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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Shaky Web Site Frustrates Insurance Helpers

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– Sarah Jane Tribble, WCPN

OPEN LATE IN HOUSTON: Local health officials say sign-ups in the Houston area reached 114,000 a week ago.

But a crush of last-minute enrollments over the past few days could push the final tally much higher, and city officials announced that six community centers would stay open until 10 p.m. Monday to allow people more time to try to enroll.

At the city’s service center on the southwest side Monday afternoon, more than 200 people were crowded into the lobby, and down two hallways. There were seven health care navigators on site, according to Solly Diaz, a division manager for the city.

“We expected, and we braced ourselves for it,” Diaz said. “We definitely ramped up our capacity. But even with that, the volume of walk-ins that we got was truly overwhelming.”

Navigators like Sandra Rodriguez helped clients do the bare minimum: set up an account, which would at least qualify them for an extension until mid-April. Around 2 p.m., Rodriguez turned from her keyboard, announcing a digital breakthrough.

“So now at 1:53 in the afternoon, after I’ve tried since 8:00 in the morning, we’re able to get into the system,” she said. “We’re going to start the application.”

The lucky client at that moment was Pamela Thompson, 50, a food worker in the Cy-Fair school district. Thompson recently found out she has high blood pressure, and she also had the flu this winter.

“I’ve been needing insurance because, you know, I stay sickly lately,” she said.  “And when I want to go the doctor I have to pay out-of-pocket to go.”

Thompson’s income hovers near the poverty line, between $11,000 and $12,000 a year. Rodriguez warned Thompson she might fall into a gap under the law: she might not earn enough to qualify for an insurance subsidy, and Texas isn’t offering Medicaid to poor adults in her income range.

Across the city, Francisco Juarez was waiting for help at the Multi-Service Center in Denver Harbor. Jaurez, 55, works for a small metal fabrication company. “They’ve been promising us insurance and to this day we still don’t have any,” he said.

Juarez has heart trouble and diabetes. But he hasn’t seen a cardiologist in nine months, and he can’t afford his prescriptions. “My heart,” he said softly. “My heart’s only 25 percent, and I’ve got three clogged arteries. So it’s pretty serious. I need to get some insurance somewhere.”

Juarez clutched a folded paper with his account information from healthcare.gov.  He had left work early, without telling anyone where he was going, hoping to see a navigator who could help him choose a plan before the deadline.

Tue, Apr 1 2014

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