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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Houston Embraces Obamacare Outreach

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“Otherwise you would have...organizations going to the same territory, knocking on the same doors, talking to the same number of people, and when you look at Harris County, we’ve got close to about a million uninsured people, so there’s a lot to go around,” said Hernandez. “So that’s why we want to organize, so we make sure we get to all the different pockets in the county that need to hear about this.”

In addition, the Harris Health System is getting involved on a large scale. The publicly-funded safety-net system runs two hospitals and 16 community clinics. It has a lot to gain from Obamacare: It sees 250,000 uninsured patients every year. An estimated 75,000 of those make between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty level, and could therefore be eligible for subsidized coverage on the marketplace.

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.”

Thu, Sep 26 2013

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