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Houston Embraces Obamacare Outreach


Although the hospital district did not receive any federal money, it’s requiring 300 of its own workers to become certified application counselors under Obamacare, a five-hour on-line training process.

“I think we had to be active and proactive to take steps to make the community aware that the law did pass and that it is starting Oct. 1,” said Deborah Boswell, director of community outreach services for Harris Health System. “Many people think because they live in Texas it doesn’t count for then, but it does. So we want the uninsured population to know that they have options.”

In addition to uninsured whites, black and Latinos, Houston has large populations of immigrants from Vietnam, China and South Asia. Last week Asian American health advocates met to discuss the problem and hear from the city health director and a Medicare official. They shared concerns about people’s lack of information and trouble finding interpreters.

Yani Rose Keo works with Cambodian farmers from rural areas southwest of Houston. Many of them are refugees and fearful of what the law means for them as small business owners, and individuals.

“We are scared to death,” Keo told the officials.  “All the farmers, they have the small backyard - one acre, two acres of land and no insurance.”

“Please help us!” she pleaded. “What should I do, to help them?”

Denise Truong, program director at the Chinese Community Center, described problems she had with the government’s 800 number, which is supposed to offer interpreters in 150 languages. “First, either we can’t reach an interpreter and the phone is hung up, or we reach an interpreter and...the interpreter isn’t qualified to answer questions about the marketplace,” she said.

Michael Coulter, the Medicare official, said there have been problems with the interpreters, but they’re getting fixed and urged the groups to keep trying.

With almost 2.6 million Texans eligible to enroll in the marketplaces, the scope of the enrollment will be historic, Coulter says. “It’s a huge program. This makes our Medicare rollout that we did eight years ago for Part D look like a small Sunday school picnic.” Part D was the plan under which Medicare began to cover the cost of outpatient prescription drugs.

Mota is working with those Texans one at a time. She catches Maribel Hernandez’s attention by telling her that everything will be explained to her clearly. “There’s like no more fine print. It’s, like, plain.”

Hernandez is 38. Her family has insurance, but she’s unhappy with the coverage. Mota tells her she might find a better deal in the marketplace.

Another of Hernandez’s concerns is her diabetes. “It is pre-existing, so will they deny you because of that?” she asked.

Thu, Sep 26 2013

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