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Houston Embraces Obamacare Outreach

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Carrie Feibel, KUHF

Thu, Sep 26 2013

Two high-profile Texans are fighting the Affordable Care Act. Governor Rick Perry has loudly dismissed the law, and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor this week to rail against it at length-21 hours and 19 minutes to be exact.

On the other side you have Rosy Mota and her clipboard, standing at the door of a CVS pharmacy in one of Houston’s Latino neighborhoods, stopping shoppers.

"Hello, would you like a brochure about the new health care coverage that’s coming into effect? We’ll be here if you have any questions," she tells a customer.

Mota works for Enroll America, a national organization that has borrowed its tactics from the Obama re-election campaign. Using data-mining and digital maps, the group is figuring out where the uninsured in Houston live, down to the block and house level.

Enroll America has just seven workers for Houston’s 800,000 uninsured residents. But it is part of a coalition of organizations that include the city health department, the county’s public clinics and groups like the Urban League, which are trying to get the word out about health insurance marketplaces, which will open Oct. 1, providing resources to help the uninsured buy new coverage created under the health law.

“Regardless of whether you are for the Affordable Care Act or you’re against the Affordable Care Act, we’re not looking at it that way,” says Houston health official Benjamin Hernandez. “We’re saying that, from a public health perspective, getting people insured and getting them into the system is a good thing to do.”

The state of Texas is not providing any money or staff to help people sign up. So the city is using federal money funneled through the United Way and also tapping its own resources.

In fact, it considers the project so important that it’s using the same command-and-control structure that it uses during hurricanes. Instead of shelters and relief centers, the city is compiling a list of block parties, church events and festivals where people can learn about Obamacare and how to sign up.

“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.

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